The Irish Pensioners Forum of East London held their first Tea Dance since March 2020 last week, in the midst of all the uncertainty then, no one could have predicted it would be another 18 months before they could all meet again. Over 65 members were in attendance this time, with many other members back in Ireland after a long-awaited time to return to see friends and family at home.
The Irish Pensioners Forum of East London formed in 2012 after Sally Mulready of the Irish Council of State, saw a need for a forum to cover the East London Irish. The forum has gone from strength to strength, organising not only regular tea dances, but also social outings and cultural trips. The current chair, John O’Connor, who has had this role for eight years, said he was delighted with the big turn out last week and is looking forward to building a full calendar of events over the coming year.
Many of those who attend Irish-run Tea Dances in London today like to dance to Irish songs of emigration and love. In fact, many in attendance met their partners in the Irish-run Dance Halls that dominated all areas of London in the 1950s and 1960s. Coming back to dance is both an opportunity to remember those days and it is also a way to reconnect with other Irish people in retirement. A regular topic of conversation is to remember the fun that was had in the dance hall days.
This generation are famous for their imprint on the cultural fabric in England and for being a close-knit community. As group dancing fell out of fashion by the 1970s and people found themselves more responsibility in work and with their families, the dance halls ceased to exist in the same strength they had. It is only in the last ten years that the proliferation of Irish-run tea dances across Britain is getting the recognition and attendance it deserves.
If you know anyone in the boroughs of Newham, Barking, Dagenham, Tower Hamlets, Hackney, Redbridge and Havering interested in coming along to the next East London tea dance, it will be in Durning Hall, Forest Gate on Thursday 8 October at 1.30pm, and the first Thursday of every month at the same time and place thereafter.
There are other tea dances held across England specifically for the Irish community, so do get involved – of course everyone from all nationalities are welcome!
“O body swayed to music, O brightening glance,
How can we know the dancer from the dance?”
W.B. Yeats ‘Among School Children’ 1928