On an August weeknight thirty years ago, we were staying in the little town of Belmullet. The Co Mayo town is easily found on a map; it is the top left-hand corner of Connacht. The evening was fine and we sat talking. Around nine o’clock the youngest daughter of the house came into the room, announcing her intention of going to a dance. Around two hours later, she reappeared. ‘How was the dance? I inquired.
The young woman looked at me strangely, a mixture of curiosity and bafflement. ‘I haven’t been to the dance, yet’.
Growing up in an England where pubs called last orders at 10.30 pm. It seemed unusual in a rural community that anyone would be heading out to a dance at 11 o’clock.
‘The doors don’t open until eleven – the band will play until three or so, it depends’.
Even at the age of 21, it seemed to me that to go to a dance until three and then go home and then get up for work in the morning would demand a huge level if stamina, not to mention enthusiasm.
A radio feature recalled those days of night time dances. The interviewer talked with men who had played in bands in the 1960s and 1970s, those who would come home from work and wash and change before getting in a van to travel a couple of hours to a hall or hotel where they would be playing. One venue held a regular dance from ten until four, another went on to five or six, people travelling home in daylight. One band member recalled regularly arriving home at seven or eight in the morning and washing and changing before heading out for the day’s work.
Did people have more energy in such times?
Revellers now might spend all night at clubs in their home towns at weekends, or on holidays in the warmer climes of places like Ibiza, but will then return and sleep until the afternoon. Drive through parts of Dublin unfrequented by tourists in the early hours of a weekday, or of any country town, and people are scarce; the days of dancing until dawn seem long past.
Have we lost our staying power? How many people now would go to an all night dance on a regular basis and then go home to change for work? Perhaps they were sleepy at work, perhaps bosses were less demanding, perhaps they were just fitter.
Maybe fitness is the difference, people used to manual work all day and then riding a bicycle to a dance hall, perhaps ten miles away, were presumably considerably physically stronger and possessing far greater stamina than their counterparts today.
How it felt to work all day, and then dance all night, before going to work the following day shall for evermore remain one of life’s imponderables.