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Were you taught to dance at Lochee’s Star Ballroom by Dundee’s Fred and Ginger?

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Bob and Betty Barty were the Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire of Dundee and ran the Star Ballroom in Lochee for more years than anyone can remember.

Half of the city must have learned to waltz at the Star, thanks to the local legends who won several competitions as a duo.

From the night they met at Robertson’s Dance Hall in the 1940s, the couple were still going strong on the dancefloor well into their 80s.

These images from the DC Thomson archive document the night one of the city’s most famous couples took to the floor for the first time.

A whirlwind romance

While he might not have initially spun her off her feet, the romance between Bob and Betty Barty was still a whirlwind.

They first met at Robertson’s on Well Road in the 1940s.

The city dance hall held its own dance academy from 8pm to 10.30pm and was well attended by Dundee’s youth, which eventually included the Barty’s once Betty convinced her mum and dad to let her attend!

Having done Highland and tap dancing as a child, the young Betty couldn’t wait to graduate to ballroom dancing.

Bob and Betty Barty. 1978.

Betty soon wrote to her father, who was at that time serving in the Forces in India, to ask for his permission to go to Robertson’s.

He said no – but Betty was determined.

During an interview to mark 50 years of dancing together, in 1999, Betty said: “I’ve always loved dancing.

“I was devastated when my father said I couldn’t go.

“But I pestered my mother, and she gave in.”

Her mother, who loved dancing, couldn’t help but give in to her teenage daughter’s pleas.

Bob and Betty Barty. May 1978.

While at Robertson’s, Betty met Bob for the first time.

Despite his dashing good looks, the Dundonian had two left feet and left much to be desired as a dance partner.

Betty remembered: “Bob would keep coming over and asking me to dance, and I used to think, ‘oh no, here he comes again’, for he really was a terrible dancer.”

However, the young Bob was determined to impress.

A riveter in the Caledon shipyard, he was no stranger to hard work.

Bob and Betty Barty in the Star Ballroom, Lochee. 13 June 1978.

Betty added: “Bob and I used to go to the Locarno.

“He could see all the good dancers there and decided he wanted to be able to dance like that.”

Bob took himself off to May and Tommy Glennan, the city’s well-known dance teachers, and got himself some lessons.

His efforts at their Parker Street studio paid off, for he became a polished performer and got himself the girl.

Bob and Betty pictured with one of their many trophies. 1983.

Betty added: “He became so good that May suggested he get himself a partner and think about entering competitions.”

That was no problem to him, he said – he had a partner already!

Only Betty didn’t know it yet.

However, she still agreed to go along to his lessons and became his dance partner.

The underdogs

Nobody believed they would win, at first, Betty remembered.

Betty said: “May didn’t think we had what it took to win.

“She took one look at the height of Bob, and another at the height of me, and thought we were a bit mismatched, to say the least.”

However, the dance instructor still took the pair on, and soon they were stepping out together off the dance floor as well as on it.

On Valentines Day 1953, they got married.

Not even their honeymoon could stop the couple dancing. 13 July 1983.

They even interrupted their honeymoon in Aberdeen to return to Dundee to take part in a heat of a national competition.

It was the beginning of their success when they made it through to the final.

From then, no dance floor was safe from the dynamic duo.

Going professional

The couple represented Scotland in a national competition at London’s Earls Court in the late 50s.

Betty said: “That was a fantastic experience.

“We’d never been to London before and it was an all-expenses-paid trip!

“There were terrific dancers from all over the UK – it was a different world.”

The old Palais dance hall in 1976.

Bob and Betty left the amateur ranks after their success in London, and turned professional in 1959.

It was at this point that they began teaching other would-be ballroom stars.

The Glennan’s had left Dundee, and Bob and Betty took up the mantle at Robertson’s, which later became the West End Palais.

In 1967, the Barty’s took over the Star Ballroom in Lochee, where they continued to teach until they were well into their 80s.

Soon, Bob and Betty Barty were leaving the Palais behind for the Star Ballroom.

Bob and Betty taught hundreds of dancers at the Star Ballroom.

Their students ranged from top performers, to couples who simply wanted to be able to complete their First Dance without falling over.

Betty particularly remembered the championship winners they had coached.

She said: “We had two couples who competed on Come Dancing.

“Danny Walls and Morag McDonald, and Charles and May Stewart, were about the best we’ve ever taught.”

Keep Fit Disco at Star Ballroom. 27 February 1988.

“There was also Fritz Wilson and the late Frank Hogshaw Jr. who were twist champions.

“Frank won a Carl-Alan award.”

The Carl-Alan awards were dubbed the ‘Oscars of the dancing world’.

They were first introduced in 1953 by Eric Morley and named after the joint Chairmen of Mecca Dancing Ltd., Carl Heimann and Alan B Fairley.

Mecca Dancing Ltd owned ballrooms all over the country; in every major town or city was a Mecca ‘Palaise de Danse’.

With so many successes, did they ever meet a student they couldn’t teach?

Betty added: “Some folk are really gifted, and take to it right away, but you never know until they step on to the floor.

“To be a good dancer, you need to be light on your feet and have a sense of timing for the music.

“But there’s nobody so bad that you couldn’t teach them to dance.

“Some folk may take to it quicker than others, or be better performers, but everybody has it in them to get round the dance floor.”

Except, that is, for their son Robert, who they could never encourage to take to the floor.

As well as teaching, Bob and Betty were in demand all over the country as judges and examiners.

Betty was a judge on Come Dancing, the predecessor to Strictly which ran on and off on the BBC from 1949 to 1998.

Unlike the popular Saturday night show, its contestants were not celebrities.

Bob was an adjudicator at the World Championships.

Dundonian through and through

Over the years, the Barty’s had numerous offers to go abroad and teach, but Bob refused to leave Dundee.

Betty said: “We could have been living in America or Germany.

“But Bob wouldn’t go.

“He’s a Dundonian through and through, he loves the city too much ever to leave it.”

Bob and Betty Barty with their ballroom dancing pupils at Star Ballroom. 11 January 1995.

The couple retired in 2009 and threw a party to commemorate the occasion at their second home, the Star Ballroom.

Friends, pupils, and guests of the ballroom tutors Bob and Betty Barty gathered for the retirement bash, and were even joined by Dundee’s Lord Provost!

Mr John Letford dropped in to pay tribute to the Dundee couple, who he described as “legendary”.

Bob and Betty with competition winners JJ Laing and partner Sean Wyllie. 13 June 1995.

Mr Letford said: “The pair have made significant contributions to both Lochee and the city over the decades.

“They are two Dundee legends and what a team they have been down the years.

“We presented a couple of wee civic gifts and I think Betty was a little bit moved – but like most Dundee women she has no pretensions and just gets on with it.”

Keep dancing

At the time, Betty said: “I’ve been overwhelmed by the presents, flowers, and gifts.

“I’ll not be doing any more teaching but I’ll still go dancing.

“I love it – I couldn’t just stop.”

By this point, the couple were aged 80 and 79 but were determined to keep dancing for as long as they could.

Dancing with the stars

Bob sadly died in 2016, aged 86.

Betty described him as “an inspirational person”.

She told the Evening Telegraph in 2016, “I’m absolutely devastated to have lost Bob.

“He was the best.

“But we really have had a fantastic life together.”

Betty herself passed away at home in April 2020, aged 89.

After over 50 years of competing, instructing, and doing what they loved, now the renowned Dundee dance teachers are dancing with the stars.

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