While updating our links page we notice that this site is no longer available.
Could anyone advise if it has been taken down or moved?
As there was a lot of history on that site and it would be a shame if it was lost.
If it is no longer being used, we would be interested in obtaining the data and place it on our site as a service to preserve the history of Square Dancing in Australia.
If you can help locate this missing site, please contact us via our Contacts Page.
Jim Vickers-Willis dominated the Australian Square Dancing boom of the 1950’s. His calling was different, creating a popular style of square dancing that was unique to Australia (click to sample). His popularity was unparalleled – he was a great teacher. He called to many thousands of dancers at one time, and his square dances were broadcast on radio and also on early Australian television. At one time, Jim’s 1 hour “Lets Go Square Dancing” Program on ABC 2 TV (produced by John Petrie) held the channels #2 rating, behind “Sgt Bilko” – this program was also sold in the UK. Jim also did the first outside broadcast for Channel 7 Adelaide – a program televised from the Palais Ballroom in front of 1500 dancers. A few years later Jim appeared on Bert Newton’s Tonight Show, on Channel 7 Melbourne.
Jim produced many quality square dancing resources – resources that help beginners to learn whilst also challenging the more advanced dancers. You can learn to square dance using FREE downloads available from this site. Some of Jim’s original recordings and instruction books are available for purchase from the right hand bar. There are also over 90 live and studio recorded square dances amongst these resources.
All these square dancing resources are also included in one bundle on the ‘Australian Square Dancing CD’, which is also available for purchase at right, with delivery by mail.
Jim’s square dancing entertainment success is only the tip of the iceberg to Jim’s extraordinary life story, which took a dramatic twist when, at the height of his square dancing popularity, he contracted polio and was placed into an iron lung life support system. Jim’s fight to escape the iron lung and go on to live a long and fulfilled life despite post-polio paralysis, is an inspiring human interest story. Click here to find out more about Jim’s Story.
So, let’s talk a bit about the unique style of square dancing introduced by Jim in Australia.
Australian square dancing was distinctive – although square dancing’s origins were from America (itself based on traditional European dancing), more than half the square dances that became popular in Australia during the 1950’s boom originated in Australia. This productivity was fueled in Melbourne by competitiveness of various square dancing camps – two in particular, the Jim Vickers-Willis and Bill McGrath camps. It was once said that “McGrath sounded like Footscray (salt of the earth) but attracted the Toorak crowd (the well-to-do), whilst Jim sounded like Toorak but attracted the Footscray crowd.” Whilst Bill built up square dancing through the burgeoning Square Dance Clubs, Jim performed at the large public ballrooms which were broadcast on radio, and also on television. Rivalries developed as Jim, in particular, gained celebrity stature, and a huge public following.
Jim also became popular because of his very particular style of square dance calling – a style that was uniquely Australian rather than American hillbilly – a style Jim calls”Australian Hoedown” (click here to listen to Jim’s unique calling in the 1950’s to a very interesting remix of the square dance classic, Alabama Jubilee).
Jim’s calling approach had a number of distinctive features:
The dancing was fairly simple, often repeating 6 to 8 basic steps for most of the night enabling everyone to join in,
The calling was mostly directional with each step being called, rather than calling a phrase that required a movement (i.e. a sequence of steps),
The singing style was melodic rather than country, which was easier for Australian audiences to understand
Keeping it interesting but making it as uncomplicated and simple as possible was what Jim found to be a vital key in helping very large numbers of people to join in the square dancing. He kept it easy but interesting by creating variety – mixing 2/4 time tempo followed by 6/8 time, and using dance arrangements (rather than more and more complicated steps and movements) to keep the dancers interested.
In the first two years of the square dancing boom, Jim’s regular square dancers came to know about 100 singing calls – some of them knew them off by heart. He used these for dance arrangements. He’d do one round of a singing call then switch to one round of the next singing call and then the next. Often there were about six singing calls in the one bracket. This kept everyone on their toes – including the caller and the band – and created great variety and interest without requiring the introduction of more and more complicated steps and movements which made it hard for new beginners to join in.
Jim also introduced a degree of sport into his square dancing. He used impromptu calls to challenge sets to pit their skills against the caller, with sets making mistakes being eliminated until the last set standing is declared the ‘winner’ . His Australian audiences also had great fun playing “nine-pins”, in which there is one extra man or woman in each set, and a type of musical chairs occurs, with one person missing out and eventually being eliminated. These activities were especially appealing to the ‘sports mad’ Australians.
Reprinted from the cached version of the now defunct vickers-willis.com website
Jim Vickers-Willis – The not so square Australian square dance entertainer, born July 16, 1918, in Mill Hill, England. Died peacefully Dec. 30, 2008, in Melbourne Australia in the loving arms of his life long sweetheart “Wifey” Beth, together married for more than 60 years. Very much loved father to Susie, Peter and Tony. Pa to Justin, Sascha, Linda, Kellie, Amber, Katy, Emily, Rebecca, Jareth and James. Great Grandad to Kiani and Jake. Foster father to Merle. You achieved so much despite the hurdles life threw at you and, in doing so, you’ve set such a wonderful example to us on how to find the “Fun” and the “Magic” in life. A life of courage, determination and wisdom. Flying free once again. We will miss you very much but will thrive in the warmth of your spirit. `Til we meet again. – Jim’s family.
Publication: Herald Sun