Carnmoney octogenarians still tripping the light fantastic

Life partners on and off the dance floor: Stewart and Betty Massey. INNT 10-506CON
Life partners on and off the dance floor: Stewart and Betty Massey. INNT 10-506CON

They may have a combined age of more than 160 years, but Carnmoney’s answer to Fred and Ginger have no plans to hang up their dancing shoes any time soon.

Stewart and Betty Massey met at a dance in the Plaza Ballroom in Belfast in 1950 - and they have been together, on and off the dance floor, ever since.

Stewart and Betty Massey pictured after winning the Tango Cup in the mid 1970s.

Stewart and Betty Massey pictured after winning the Tango Cup in the mid 1970s.

The Carnvue couple, originally from Rathcoole, danced in amateur competitions all over the UK and Ireland for more than 25 years, including appearing several times on the BBC’s ‘Come Dancing’ TV show.

They won many ballroom titles including the Ulster Championship, Mid Ulster Championship and the Willwood Championship in Dublin, and even represented Ireland at the World Championships.

“It was fabulous,” Stewart recalls. “We danced all over the place and got to meet so many good people. We made some great friends.”

In 1977 the couple, whose son Brian is also a champion dancer, decided to turn professional and turned their talents to teaching, passing on their skills to budding dancers at classes across Northern Ireland.

At one time they taught four ballroom and Latin classes each week, but now they take just one class - at Monkstown Community School on Tuesday evenings.

The 15-week programme, which runs twice a year, has been running for almost four decades and still attracts 28 people each week.

Stewart and Betty, now both aged 82, are long-time members of the National Association of Teachers of Dancing. They’ve loved teaching their classes over the years and say they plan to keep going “for a while yet.”

“When they (students) come to you at first some of them don’t know their left from their right, but after a few weeks the awkwardness starts to wear off and before the end of the class they are dancing. It’s great to see,” Stewart explained.

Betty, who in 1966 got into the grand final of The Ballroom Queen competition in London, is unable to dance at present due to health problems. But she still regularly attends classes to offer tips and advice from the sidelines.

“I love dancing. It’s a great sport, there’s no doubt about it,” she said.

“It keeps you young. I know I’m not in good health now, but when I go to the hospital they can’t believe the age I am.”

Stewart, whose favourite dance is the waltz, would recommend dancing to anyone.

“It’s really good for you. There are real health and social benefits. You have the cardiovascular side of it when you’re exercising and you’re also out meeting people and making new friends,” he added.

“The great thing about it is that it’s something you can do together. One of you isn’t going out and leaving the other one sitting in the house, so that’s nice.”