by Rod Ceballos

The Northsider is proud to present a new A Thousand Words photo essay. In ‘An Age to Dance’ photographer Rod Ceballos shows us an evening in Brunswick with members of the British Isles Association Inc.

To see the whole photo essay we invite you to see the HD video version hosted at Rodmar Studios’s YouTube channel through this link.


An Age to Dance


When most people think of life beyond sixty many notions come to mind, but grace, elegance  and sensuality are usually not among them. And yet they should be. At least when you consider the dancers at the British Isles Association Inc.

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Meeting every Tuesday night at the Brunswick Town Hall, dozens of men and women come together to roll, swing and twist their way through hours of beautiful music. Some come with their partners, others on their own, yet from the moment they arrive they all form part of something greater. Something fun and timeless.

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For over three hours they move with practice grace throughout the hall. Between songs some dancers take a breather, others jump at the sound of a favourite sound, and ultimately everybody dances with everybody.

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The ladies look their very best, turning and whirling, literally flowing across the floor. The men are light on their feet, masculine and gentle in their moves, secure in skills younger lads seem to lack.

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At the British Isles Association Inc. dance everyone is experienced at life. Everyone has loved, lost, and lived through ups and downs. And perhaps it’s for that reason that everyone feels compelled to attend, to connect, to have a laugh. Regardless of aches and losses they may endure, everyone shows up for a chance to enjoy life as they once did, and as they very obviously still can.

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One of the most amazing things about this nights is the live music, compliments of The Hat Band. The band is formed by a trio with over a century of experience combined; they play the great songs from the forties and fifties flawlessly, never missing a beat.

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Ian McCann (vocals), Angus Wynd  (drums) and Graeme Howie (keyboards) fondly remember how these dances were once the social event of the week, attracting large crowds at venues all over Melbourne.

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“There must have been a thousand people at the dance hall in Heidelberg then!” tells McCann. “We would have our regular jobs during the week and played on weekends, every weekend.” adds Angus Wynd, whose regular job was teaching engineering at university. Whether playing together or with other groups, these musicians have had hundreds moving to their every note for decades now.

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The British Isles Association Inc. was began post 1945 by returning service men and women wanting a way to socialize and reconnect in post-war Melbourne. With the oldest current members circling 85, they were barely adolescents when the group started. Still, like all the other members, they grew up with this music in their homes, passively making it a part of themselves.

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Both Elizabeth Coulsell and Barbara Poulton, president and secretary of BIAI respectively, recall how in a time before televisions became commonplace, families would sit around the radio and enjoy these tunes. They themselves were not of an age to be out dancing, but both remember learning some basic steps at school in preparation for formals and church socials.

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Eventually growing up with other trends in music, it wasn’t till 1990 that Barbara walked into a ballroom class in Hawthorn and discovered her passion. She recalls how just a few years ago the group had more members, and hopes many new people can join them still. “This is good mental and physical stimulation. It’s good cardio exercise, and most importantly it’s good socially.” She says.

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Having done some line and ballroom dancing, Elizabeth became involved with the association only ten years ago when she walked into a dance at the Brunswick town hall. Now acting as the group’s president, she invites everyone to come and have a go; the association welcomes new members of all ages and levels of experience.

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With the passing of time the purpose of the association has evolved into something even more important; it’s now an alternative for senior citizens to get out and socialize, make new friends and enjoy themselves in a space they feel comfortable in.

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It is also possible that amidst such romantic tunes and physicality some may even find a bit of romance… Admittedly this is pure conjecture on my part since everybody is too discreet to confirm, but also too honest to deny.

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One of the most touching moments of the evening is the final tune. Singing in unison with a simple and joyous choreography, the group renders Advance Australia Fair with notable pride.

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This is the ritual at the end of each evening, emotional and sincere, and always fresh. It is a song that, like a ribbon through their lives, binds all their years of experience since that first anthem at school. Same song, same smiles, same hearts.

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If you would like to find out more about the British Isles Association Inc. and it’s activities please contact Barbara Poulton on (03) 9383 7398. They will be glad to have you join them!


Rod is the Northsider’s photography editor, occasional photographer and random writer of bits and pieces. His number one fan is his ten year old daughter, who thinks being published in Internet equals being famous. To see more of this work click here.



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