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Astor tea dance returns to Plymouth

Posted on April 1, 2019

The popular Astor tea dance is to be held on Plymouth Hoe for the first time since World War II as part of the Lady Astor Statue Campaign celebrating 100 years of women in Parliament.

For one day only, on May 26, there will be dancing again with a band, professional dancers on hand and sailors in uniform between 1pm and 4pm.

The original tea dances were organised by Nancy and Waldorf Astor during World War II to boost morale after the city was bombed almost beyond recognition during the Blitz.

On March 20, 1941, King George VI and Queen Elizabeth visited Plymouth to view the bombing damage. Only hours after they left, Plymouth was engulfed in fire in one of the worst air raids the UK had ever seen. In just a few nights, from March to April of 1941, 59 bombing raids took place. Plymouth would never be the same again: 1,172 civilians lost their lives and over 4,000 were injured.

Astor’s generosity and humanitarian efforts touched many lives as Plymouth re-emerged from the rubble. In the wake of this devastation the tea dances were held on the Hoe with Lady Astor joining in with the dancing.

At the time Waldorf Astor said: “The people of Plymouth have danced on the Hoe during the darkest days of war. They will dance here again in peace on a Hoe which overlooks a city which has been planned for them, for a wider, freer, healthier, and more prosperous life.”

As part of the Lady Astor Statue Appeal many pensioners who remembered Nancy Astor contacted the project. Among them was Alice Jones, 92, who said: “I danced on the Hoe promenade in front of Elliot Terrace, Lady Astor on the microphone urging us girls to dance with the many servicemen from all nations. A statue in her memory is long overdue. Her good works will live on forever. God bless her. We will ever be grateful to her.”

Project leader, Alexis Bowater, said: “We had so many people contacting us with memories and in particular recalling these tea dances that we thought it would be a fun, fitting and poignant tribute to them to fulfil the promise Waldorf Astor made all those years ago.

“The people of Plymouth will dance again on the Hoe, in peacetime, on May 26 this year, with representatives of Her Majesty’s Armed Services and those who remember the dances from the first time round. We are keeping the event free to join but all donations and sponsorship is of course very welcome.”

The “Nancy Astor Tea Dance with a Twist!” is presented by Plymouth Dance. It includes a band and professional dancers who will be on hand to dance with members of the public. Everyone is welcome on the Hoe in Plymouth overlooking the Sound.

Participants are encouraged to bring their own refreshments although there are teas available at nearby cafes, the Crowne Plaza and also the Treasury.

Image: Lady Astor dancing with a Royal Navy Soldier on Plymouth Hoe. Photograph: The Box (Plymouth Museums Galleries Archives)

Nicola Rayner was editor of Dance Today from 2010 to 2015. She has written for a number of publications including The Guardian, The Independent and Time Out Buenos Aires, where she cut her teeth as a dance journalist working on the tango section. Today she continues to dance everything from ballroom to breakdance, with varying degrees of success. Her debut novel, The Girl Before You, is out in May 2019.

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