WA History

Twelve Mile Dance

Dominating the top right advertising column of The Daily News, Billy Heaton and Clive Kerger boldly announced that they would be “Dancing to Fremantle for £100“. Both men represented rival theatres. Billy was backed by Union Theatres and was dancing at the Princess Theatre in Fremantle while Clive was representing Charles Sheridan’s Piccadilly Palais de Danse.

The dance off was scheduled to take place on Saturday, 9 June 1928. Billy was to go first. He and his partner would leave the Piccadilly Ballroom at 1:30 pm, dance along the streets of Perth, pass through the suburbs of Claremont and Cottesloe and continue dancing until they reached Fremantle. After Billy’s arrival at the Princess Theatre, Clive would complete the return leg. He and his partner were expected to arrive back at the Piccadilly Ballroom in Perth between 8 pm and 9 pm. The man who completed the dance the fastest would be the winner.

Clive Kerger (left) and Billy Heaton (right) with two of their partners.

Accompanying Billy and Clive were a number of women partners. Billy’s partners included: Una Barnes, Myrtle Crellan, Ivy Marshall, Hazel Collett and Ida Armstrong. Clive’s partners included: Cecilia Birch, Kathleen Crowe, Molly Crowe and L. Edelman. The women would follow in a car and would change over as the one dancing grew tired. A jazz band also travelled in a car nearby and provided the dancers with music.

Billy Heaton (left) and Clive Kerger (right) with some of their dance partners.

Clearly the dance off was a gimmick in order to promote the theatres and while many people in Perth considered it a “senseless affair” they nevertheless turned out in droves to watch the start. It was reported that there were so many people on the street that trams and motor vehicles were held up.

Crowds surrounding Billy and Una.

At exactly 1:30 pm, Billy and his first partner, Una Barnes, stepped off from the Piccadilly Ballroom and started dancing down Hay Street before turning down William Street.

When the signal to start was given hundreds of excited young men and women pushed, shoved, and buffeted each other in a mad rush to get a close-up view of the dancers.

The Daily News (Perth, WA : 1882 – 1950); 9 June 1928; Page 2; Twelve Mile Dance
Billy Heaton with Una Barnes on Hay Street.

On William Street they danced towards the river and then foxtrotted down St Georges Terrace. They were to dance to Fremantle by way of Mounts Bay Road and were followed by a large number of cars and young people who ran behind them.

To help with their challenge, the Marshall Shoe Co. fitted both men and all the women with specially made dancing shoes. The women also wore silk stockings provided by Bonds.

The starting pace set by Billy and Una was described as “breathless” and they completed the first mile (alternatively dancing the one-step or the foxtrot) in about 10 minutes. While Billy was used to long distance dancing, the women were not and frequent partner changes were necessary along the way.

Having left Mounts Bay Road, they danced along the Perth to Fremantle Road (Stirling Highway) and at about 2:50 pm Billy and his partner reached the Claremont Fire Station. It was noted that after 80 minutes of continual dancing, the women were “feeling the strain” and Billy was “sweating profusely“.

Billy and one of his partners dancing past the Claremont War Memorial.

The event was not without anecdotes. Traffic blockages were common and in Cottesloe the line of cars extended for 200 yards. An elderly lady excitedly yelled out to one of Billy’s partners, “You’re a Briton, darling,” while another woman offered money to an attendant clearing the road, instructing him to buy the male dancer a drink.

Nearing Fremantle

From the Perth to Fremantle Road they turned into High Street and then Market Street. Having spent 2 hours and 24 minutes dancing, Billy finished the last section with Una and arrived at the Princess Theatre in Fremantle at 3:54 pm.

Billy and his partners at the finish.

Crowds greeted them upon their arrival and remained to watch Clive and his first partner depart at 5:30 pm. They chose to return to Perth via Cantonment Street, Adelaide Street, Perth to Fremantle Road (Stirling Highway), Loch Street, Railway Road and Hay Street. Unlike Billy, they faced inclement weather. Being the start of winter, darkness set in early and showers hindered their progress. Apart from the weather, the only other incident was the loss of Clive’s shoes when he reached Milligan Street in Perth. Not missing a step, he was said to have replaced them while dancing.

Clive and his final partner were met with densely packed spectators as they danced along Hay Street towards the finish. Two policemen on motorbikes helped lead and clear the road while many vehicles and people on foot followed behind. As they drew closer police eventually lost control of the crowd which resulted in interruptions to traffic as well as several women fainting.

Dancing with apparently renewed energy the pair reached William-street, but it was with difficulty that they made their way through the vociferous throng, which congregated at that point, to the finishing base.

The West Australian (Perth, WA : 1879 – 1954); 11 June 1928; Page 14; Dancing Marathon

Clive and his partner finally danced their way to the Piccadilly Ballroom in Perth and recorded a time of 3 hours and 12 minutes. It was much longer than Billy’s time and Billy was declared the winner and the recipient of the £100.

While many people reported positively on the event, the Kalgoorlie Miner was highly critical and deemed it, “…difficult to find any merit in the performance.” They highlighted that similar feats had been completed in the past and harshly opined that aside from the large public interest, the competitors had not done anything worthwhile and certainly had not contributed anything “…to science, art, sport or the general good of mankind.

It’s not known whether Billy Heaton and Clive Kerger read such articles however it did not stop them from attempting another dance off. Two days later it was reported that Charles Sheridan of the Piccadilly Ballroom was not satisfied that the dance to Fremantle was on equal terms and issued another challenge; a 72 hour endurance dance to take place on 27 June. Billy accepted the challenge and while he persevered and danced for 45 hours, he succumbed to the strain and collapsed. Clive however continued dancing, completed the full 72 hours and in that instance was declared the winner.



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