John Hutson’s – 50 years dancing at the Hall

Memorial Hall History …..John Hutson


I have been running a Ballroom & Latin American dance school at the Memorial Hall in South Woodford for about 50 years. I am now in my ‘senior years’ & still going strong.

I was introduced to dancing originally when I was a very young man & attending Wanstead High School. Having started  tuition there, I enjoyed it so much that Ie carried on with lessons after I left school.

As a young I had originally been working with a dance school in Wanstead, but the building was sold & demolished to make way for a new block of flats.

I then switched to working in a hall attached to  St Phillip & St James Church in South Woodford ,which was also subsequently demolished , when construction of the A406 took place.

Using the Memorial Hall as a base for the dance school came about originally because, having previously attended one or two events there I found it to be a rather pleasant place. Enquiries were made & it transpired that there was suitable space vacant & so I moved  the dance school there.

Later on, when I was 52 years old, I was offered the chance to take early retirement from mys office job & this led to the opportunity to spend more time developing the dance school.

The dance school offers lessons to both children and adults.  New pupils are taught the Cha cha cha & Waltz as their first dances, being the easiest to learn. Other dances such as Jive, Quickstep, Samba & Rumba follow on shortly as well as a social rhythm dance, which is enjoyable & easy going.

Dances such as the Foxtrot, Tango and Paso Doble are not usually dealt with until they have attended for around about a year, at which point ,they have enough good general experience to make it that bit easier to do.

Pupils are invited to prepare for dance exams if they wish to and quite often also take part in competitions. Some of the competitions take place at the Memorial Hall whilst others may be in other locations such as Ipswich, Canvey Island or Margate. The competitions at the Canvey Island venue usually take place 4 or 5 times a year.

The pupils have to dance in solo events as well as competitive couple events and either myself or one of my helpers will partner the pupils where necessary.

Some of the competitions are at quite a high standard and this gives those entering them a challenge.

I organises competitions at the Memorial Hall for his my dance school pupils and in the past I have organised much larger events, in which as many as 7 or 8 other dance schools have taken part…..some 4/500 people overall.

These were held in venues in Stratford, Dagenham & at a school premises in Chingford and they required a lot of work to prepare & run.

Some pupils stay at the dance school for a long time whilst others tend to drop out gradually as time passes.

The classes are normally run at 3 different  levels of knowledge and keeping  all pupils happy is of paramount importance.  After about 6 months of tuition it is good if around two thirds of pupils are still attending.

Some people come along for only one lesson….but then Ballroom dancing is not necessarily for everyone !…and some come along looking to meet someone to partner them, and to join in for the social experience.

Many of the pupils come from Woodford & the surrounding areas such as Wanstead, Chingford  & Loughton.

It is very noticeable that demand for lessons & classes increases each year when ‘Strictly Come Dancing’ starts on the television. The first year it was broadcast it had a tremendous positive influence for the dance school . It has continued to do so but not quite as much as initially.

Much of the teaching is undertaken by myself with help  given by both current & former students.

The dance school is very popular with children of Eastern European origin and they can be very good. Some of the 9/10 year olds from places such as Poland, have been taking lessons in their home country since they were 5 years old & are hard working & disciplined. It’s fun to teach the children who come into the school at this level and they are often the first to try to help other children in their class.

One student came to the school when she was 9 or 10 and advanced quickly to Gold standard by the age of 17 years. She needed a male partner to progress further and I managed to find one and she & her new partner are now taking lessons with a Russian couple in Wimbledon & entering International competitions.

Although the school lost her as a pupil she still remained helping some of the other students until fairly recently.

The Memorial Hall itself has not changed that much since I started the dance school here 50 years ago although the new dance floor is a great improvement –  no holes for pupils to fall into !

The classes and various other parties and competitions at the dance school have proved to be a source of a great deal of social activity and enjoyment over the many years I have been teaching there !

For further information about John’s classes please go to

15:00 28 December 2015

When I first found out I would be taking ballroom classes I thought it would be a great way to battle the Christmas bulge and get New Year fit.


Reporter Ellena Cruse learns ballroom dancing from John Hutson
Reporter Ellena Cruse learns ballroom dancing from John Hutson

Years of perfecting Spice Girl routines in the playground may not be classed as direct experience but as an avid fan of Strictly Come Dancing I hoped I would be able to pull something out of the bag.

As I walked in to Memorial Hall, High Road, South Woodford I was greeted warmly by John Hutson of John Hutson School of Dancing.

He grew up locally and first started dancing when he attended Wanstead High School at 15.

He carried it on when he served in the Air force and pursued it as a hobby when he came home and worked in insurance.

Programme Name: Strictly Come Dancing 2015:The Strictly Come Dancing dancers – (C) BBC – Photographer: Guy Levy

“I still competed in local competitions,” said John.

“And then one day the principal of Wanstead School of Dance asked me if I would like to train as a teacher.”

Since that point, he has gone on to teach thousands of eager pupils how to dance and eventually he set up his own school.

“I think we will start with the Cha-cha-cha,” said John, as he took my hand and led me into the middle of the floor.

Reporter Ellena Cruse with dance teacher John Hutson
Reporter Ellena Cruse with dance teacher John Hutson

“It’s a good one to begin with.”

He led me through the first few movements and we repeated it several times.

Once I had got that down he added the next section and we practised that before starting from the beginning.

I found the way John broke it down so manageable and was amazed that I could remember the steps.

Strictly Come Dancing 2015: Kellie Bright, Kevin Clifton – (C) BBC – Photographer: Guy Levy

I wasn’t surprised that John was a good dancer, but to be able to communicate and share his knowledge so effectively was a real skill.

“As well as teaching classes and private sessions, we get a lot of couples coming in to practice their wedding dance – that’s really popular and they have often seen routines on YouTube and on TV,” he said.

“One couple only started coming to me for their wedding, but they enjoyed it so much that seven years later they have stayed and are training for competitions.”

Just as I was getting to the point where I didn’t know if I could take any more steps in my head, John turned on the music and I stopped thinking and started dancing.

Reporter Ellena Cruse on the dance floor
Reporter Ellena Cruse on the dance floor

The beat carried me through and I was thrilled to be able to get through a whole routine and furthermore I thoroughly enjoyed it.

The music cemented it in head and I found myself relaxing and could work on the position of my hands as well as my feet.

After trying Latin, John gave me a taste of ballroom and showed me the Waltz.

I found it less natural then the Cha-cha-cha and a lot more formal, but again under John’s great direction I twirled around the room.

Strictly Come Dancing 2015: The Strictly Come Dancing dancers, Jamelia – (C) BBC – Photographer: Guy Levy

“However much you learn reveals how much more there is to learn,” added John.

“But it is so satisfying seeing people improve and get so much out of it, whether it is on a social level or through competitions.”

We had time to go though one last dance and my heart sank when I found out it was going to be the Jive.

Isn’t that the bouncy one that short people are good at?

Reporter Ellena Cruse learns ballroom dancing from John Hutson
Reporter Ellena Cruse learns ballroom dancing from John Hutson

Sceptically I took all 5ft 9 inches of me back into the middle of the hall and tried not to think about Jay and Aliona’s amazing Pulp Fiction Jive on Strictly Come Dancing.

John took me through the routine and to my utter astonishment I absolutely loved it.

I picked up the routine well and we added in a few more twirls and sequences.

It was only a basic Jive but when we put it to music I didn’t want it to end.

It could have been a sense of achievement or my endorphins kicking in, but I had an electric feeling running through my body and I could see how addictive it could become.

Dancing was a lot more complex then I thought it would be – I have a newfound respect for the celebrities on TV – but John put me at ease and explained everything so well, and I would definitely like to pursue it in my own time.

I can’t recommend the session I had with him enough.

The John Hutson School of Dancing has been running for 40 years and all lessons take place in Memorial Hall, South Woodford.

For more information or to book group or private adult and children’s classes call 0208 590 3442 or visit




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