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New honorary research fellow to study theatre’s famous fan dance

Dr Larraine Nicholas, Senior Lecturer in the Department of Dance is to become an Honorary Research Fellow at the University of Roehampton after her retirement later this month.

Posted: 21 August 2014

image for news story New honorary research fellow to study theatre’s famous fan dance
Dr Larraine Nicholas will interview former Windmill dancers Sylvia Lavis, Jill Millard Shapiro, and Terri Keighley, whom she met in July Photograph: Larraine Nicholas
A dance historian, Dr Nicholas has a 20-year association with Roehampton. After gaining her PhD in 1999 she then joined the Department of Dance as a lecturer. Dr Nicholas has taught on both the BA and MA programmes and continues to supervise doctoral students.

As an Honorary Research Fellow, Dr Nicholas will embark on a project entitled ‘Dancing and Posing: The Professional Lives of Dancers at the Windmill Theatre, 1932-1964’. A major output of her research will be an oral history project with Windmill dancers from the 1950s and 1960s.

Dr Nicholas, who is ‘delighted’ to continue her research at Roehampton said: “The Windmill is best known for featuring static nude women on stage and for remaining open throughout World War II, despite the bombs. Much has been written about these aspects, but academic research has not yet studied the dancing specifically. I’m interested in how dancers and choreographers trained, rehearsed, and performed at the theatre, in a tight-knit community devoted to high professional standards.

“These women are astounding in their recall of and pride in the performances they did. They could perform a variety of styles, including ballet, tap and the speciality fan dance in which the skill was never to reveal the nudity of the dancer between the ostrich feather fans. I am trying to bring more of a Dance Studies perspective to our understanding of the Windmill, learning more about the choreography performed and how the choreographers worked".

During her time as a lecturer, Dr Nicholas’ primary research interest has been into the cultural and historical context of British choreography in the mid-20th century. Her latest book, Walking and Dancing: Three Years of Dance in London, 1951-53, focuses on a period when the ‘ballet boom’ was at its height and London was the ‘dance capital of the world’. This is set against important cultural events that recently had their 60th anniversaries, such as the coronation of 1953, but also against the global politics of that postwar period.

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