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Guest blogger: Vicki Milliken

4 April 2021

One of the preoccupations of my heroine in The Battle for Eliza, besides the hero, is ballroom dancing.

I am a self-confessed lover of ballroom, having been introduced to it in my early twenties. I can still remember the social nights at Orchard’s Dance Studio in Fortitude Valley, Brisbane. Twice weekly the lights would blaze from the top floor of a building in Gipps Street.

The evening would always start with a progressive to the tune of Two Hearts by Phil Collins. After that, females lined up along one row of seats and males along another on the opposite side of the room. We’d all wait patiently for the next available staff member—those who had been anointed as being able to dance well—who would dance one song with each student before returning them to the end of their respective lines.

One of the rules of etiquette at Orchard’s was that a request to dance couldn’t be refused. I remember feeling pained on more than one occasion when, having waited patiently in line for a staff member and reached the front of the queue, I was suddenly spotted by an exuberant but awkward fellow student and asked to take the floor. Groan!

Sometimes, fortune intervened, and my favourite staff member would ask me to dance out of turn, having ensured that neither Nola, Dick nor their daughter Joanne Orchard were watching.

My love of ballroom revolved around the physicality, learning the intricacies of steps and patterns, and of course, having a legitimate reason to chat up the opposite sex or to be chatted up.

Roll forward ten years and I found myself living in Melbourne. One of my first priorities was to find myself a dancing studio. That search brought me to Pat McGuire’s in Yarraville. Sadly, neither Pat nor his studio are still with us. He was a fiery, passionate dancer, in his seventies, whose claim to fame was having never been beaten at Tango, in competition.

It was at this studio that I discovered two additional loves. Ballroom dancing exams or medals, which allowed me to dress up, complete with diamantes, swinging skirts and feathers, and my husband, who came without either sparkles, skirts or feathers—thank goodness!

Those of my parents’ generation and older remember their youth being spent dancing—up to six times a week—and the opportunities for romance, fun, friends (and fitness) as they waltzed, foxtrotted, quickstepped and jived.

It is Eliza’s love of dancing that throws her together with one of the sailors from the USS Oklahoma—Wil. Together they set out to win a waltz competition during the madness that was fleet fortnight, in Melbourne, in 1925.

Competitions were common. Some were serious, others less so. Balloon dances were in the latter category and involved couples circulating the floor with a balloon tied around the female’s wrist or ankle. The idea was to lay siege and burst other competitor’s balloons with a small pin or other means. The couple with their balloon intact at the end were declared the winners.

Of course, ensuring Eliza was dressed elegantly and in keeping with the times was important and formed a serious part of my research. In 1925, low backs were common, as was beading, embroidery and fringes. Newspaper articles of the day report lengthy descriptions of women’s attire at important balls and dances—turquoise blue and silver frosted lame; sequin and jet encrusted black georgette; white satin romaine with rows of crystal fringe interspersed with floral bead embroidery; feather bordered flame georgette with a neckline of diamante. Sigh!

Eliza appears in a stunning art deco ballgown in one scene. I searched high and low for a photo that I could model the gown on, and this is it, worn by Norma Shearer in the movie Upstage in 1926. And before anyone writes to me, yes, this is the year after Eliza appeared in it. A girl ahead of her time!

Writing The Battle for Eliza was fun—not the least of which was stepping back in time and losing myself in the ballrooms of 1925 Melbourne.

Australian author Vicki Milliken opted out of the corporate sphere to follow a passion to write. The Battle for Eliza is her first historical romance. When not writing, she spends her time cycling, ballroom dancing, travelling, reading and drinking chai lattes. She is looking forward to the day her writing keeps her in champagne.

You can find Vicki here: Website | Facebook 

The Battle for Eliza

Allies become enemies in affairs of the heart …

It’s 1925, and twenty-five-year-old Eliza Sinclair is determined not to be left ‘on the shelf’. Inexperienced in romance, she decides to master the art. But finding love is proving harder than she imagined.

That is, until ten thousand American sailors arrive on Melbourne’s shores. Caught up in the excitement, Eliza enters a dance competition and is thrilled to find herself partnered with Seaman Wil Sanders. Wil is fun and lays on the charm, and his kisses make it clear that the contest isn’t the only thing he wants to win. And if that’s making Alex Heaton question his commitment to his bachelor lifestyle and his role as her honorary big brother, then she isn’t complaining.

Eliza finds herself caught in a tug of war between the two men. Navigating the battle for her heart and finding her happy-ever-after, will require Eliza to draw on all her newfound confidence and savoir faire.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. 11 April 2021 10:38 am

    Thanks Amal and Regis! Very happy you both enjoyed it. The next one is deep in edits!

  2. Regis Garnsworthy permalink
    10 April 2021 7:02 pm

    As a resident of Melbourne I thoroughly enjoyed the book and it’s relevance to Victoria’s history.

  3. Amal Torres permalink
    6 April 2021 1:26 am

    Loved the book! I am not much of a reader but could not put the book down. Can’t wait for the next one!

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