Ballroom dancing in Cambridge – past and present


On Cambridge’s old ballrooms through to today’s dance societies

A look through the British Newspaper Archives shows that it wasn’t just Cambridge University Colleges that hosted ballroom dancing balls. ‘Town’ could more than match ‘gown’ as they dressed up for a night out.


Robert Sayles (now John Lewis) formal dinner dance, from the Cherry Hinton Community Archive.

It may seem strange to think now, but in times gone by the major employers of the town would regularly host big formal parties for their staff and families. Robert Sayle – which eventually became part of the John Lewis Group is featured above at the old Dorothy Ballroom – now Waterstones Bookshop. When I look back through the archives, one of the things that strikes me is the decline of the large employers – and the social groups and ties that brought staff together. In the local media today you tend not to see such large gatherings featured.

Cambridge also hosted (for want of another word) ‘local society balls’ – for example the Cambridge News hosted an annual ball at The Guildhall. There was also an annual ball for domestic staff in Cambridge – the photo below from the British Newspaper Archive quotes the Cambridge Daily News that over 600 people attended the 1939 ball at The Dorothy Ballroom.


There were also lots of small dance schools dotted about. They would regularly post adverts in the local newspapers. I found an advert for one in my neighbourhood.


From the British Newspaper Archive.

The site is now a guest house – and has been for as long as I can remember (which goes back to the early 1980s.

Cambridge’s formal ballrooms and rollerskating rinks – the two could easily double up – closed throughout the 20th Century. I note – almost with sadness that a number of our city’s civic meeting places were either demolished (such as the old Rendezvous below), bought up by university colleges (such as the Old Bull Inn hotel on King’s Parade) or converted into some sort of retail – such as the old Dorothy Ballroom (Waterstones) and Victoria Cinema (Now M&S food hall & menswear).


Picture from <- worth a look on Cambridge’s old cinemas

“So…what happened to all the ballroom dancing?”

It was kept alive by the Cambridge Dancers’ Club amongst others. CDC was where I learnt to dance. For decades the club held beginner’s classes at the St Columba’s Church Halls on Downing Place. Robin and Glennis taught many a generation of student and local town resident alike until their retirement in 2003.

For those of you interested, the society runs lessons to this day for beginners – see their timetable at There is also a ‘Meetup’ group for dancers in and around Cambridge here which covers more than just ballroom.





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