As featured in The Irish Times Magazine, Saturday April 5th 2008.
The Irish Ballroom. Whether you were there for a Foxtrot or to get jiggy with Big Tom and the Mainliners, there's always been one vital ingredient. The ground beneath your feet. The ballroom floor. If the venue didn't have the right floor, then it didn't matter how swanky your pumps or slippers were, how fine your posture was, how speedy your ankle-twirlingit all amounted to nothing if the floor wasn't right.
The right floor is a floor you can glide on. Step forward Lambert, Brien & Co, 'lamp oil refiners, soap merchants and wax chandlers to Her Majesty', once headquartered at 64 Grafton Street, Dublin, where Monsoon is today. In the 1890s, they developed a Ball Room Floor Polish to ensure everyone could Minuet with unconditional grace. This green and gold Victorian beauty promised an instantaneous and perfect dancing floor without the traditional heartaches of rubbing, grease and dust. All you had to do was pierce a few holes in the lid, sprinkle merrily and smudge in the polish with a normal house brush.
By the mid-1950s, the Showband scene was running amok and ballrooms were erupting on every crossroad and drumlin in the land. Showbands rarely lacked polish and they were always keen on gloss. The chances are Cinderella wouldn't have made it back to her carriage alive if the Prince had been using Grano floor gloss correctly. Created by Ovelle Ltd of Dundalk, this ballroom floor gloss, complete with Silicone, had instructions as simple as they were alarming: 'Sprinkle lightly and evenly over the floor - the dancers will quickly make it slippery'. Is that where the word slipper comes from? Ovelle emblazoned the fetching orange and brown canister with a sketch of a shapely blonde, one bejeweled hand confidently draped over the shoulder of a white-suited lothario sporting a thick black pornstache. As if to enhance the impression of a satin and lace pile up, the blonde appears to have a black eye.
By the late 1960s, Ireland's ballroom era had slipped and fallen. The new age was all about Parish Marquees, Parochial Halls and Orange Halls. And they needed neither polish nor gloss.
© 2008 The Irish Times