Gallery: Strictly Come Dancing’s Brendan Cole says former ballroom dancing champion Sally Nice has definitely still got it!
PUBLISHED: 17:40 14 February 2014 | UPDATED: 17:57 14 February 2014
It wasn’t long ago that Sally Nice went on holiday in a wheelchair, wracked with pain, and her dancing days looked to be over. But two hip replacements later and she’s enjoying a twirl with Strictly’s Brendan Cole.
Steven Russell hears how she beat wear and tear
It was the moment Sally Nice triumphed over ageing.
She was enjoying a late-summer barbecue with friends in west Suffolk. There was a lively band and it was hard not to move with the music – especially for someone like Sally, who’d inherited her parents’ sense of rhythm and become a champion ballroom dancer like them.
She stepped onto the grass and danced – just a few months after a hip operation at West Suffolk Hospital.
It was an amazing transformation. Just a year earlier, on holiday in France with friends, she’d been in so much pain she’d had to use a wheelchair. “Couldn’t keep up at all,” she remembers.
Now, at that party in West Row, “everybody was coming up and saying ‘Look at you!’ They’d seen me in Normandy the year before and I couldn’t do anything. They couldn’t believe it.”
And the good things have kept coming.
This week, Sally met Strictly Come Dancing’s Brendan Cole at the Ipswich Regent theatre, when he was in town for his show Licensed to Thrill. She even had the chance of a twirl with a dancer she counts as one of her favourites.
“Sally has definitely still got it,” said Brendan.
“It was a pleasure to meet her and also a pleasure to do my bit for the West Suffolk Hospital.”
The 67-year-old met him after her family bid just over £300 in last year’s Neonatal Unit Christmas Auction, run by West Suffolk Hospital Charity.
“Dancing is a tough old game and my hips and knees took a bit of a battering over the years. However, the operation has helped me no end, so it was nice to help the hospital via this auction,” says Sally.
“Strictly is without doubt one of my TV highlights and Brendan is my favourite dancer. So to get the chance to have a twirl with one of the best in the business was amazing.”
Dave Gooderham, fundraising manager for the hospital, said: “The charity auction was a great success and raised more than £5,700 for our neonatal unit.
“Sally’s prize to meet Brendan Cole and watch his show at The Regent was one of the many ‘money can’t buy’ options that we offered and I’d like to thank everyone who donated prizes and all those who submitted bids. Plans for next year’s auction are already underway.”
Sally was born in Bury St Edmunds in 1946. Parents Cyril and Kathleen were accomplished ballroom dancers who competed across the country. Growing up in that world, it was little surprise their daughter proved a chip off the old block.
She danced with different partners, at one point becoming under-16s East Anglian champion. She had lessons in London and it was serious stuff. Once she’d moved into the adult category, Sally enjoyed successes with dancing partner Andy.
She also danced with her dad. “Dancing’s not good for your knees and your hips, you know. My mother had a lot of arthritis. My father was slightly younger than her, and fitter, so we went in a few competitions together.”
They were heady times. In consecutive years in the 1960s Sally represented the East of England on the BBC’s popular Come Dancing show once with Andy and the other time with her father.
She married Roland in 1967, later had children, “and became an Ipswich town addict”. There wasn’t much time for dancing.
“I didn’t do much competitively after about 1969, 1970. But socially I loved always to dance, and that was what really saddened me – when I went to parties and things latterly and couldn’t dance because I found it so painful.”
It was about five years ago that the real trouble started – “pain, not being able to walk very well, and really bent over. It’s not something you’d wish on anyone”.
Sally admits: “It was frustrating when you were at something” – such as a party – “and seeing people going round, and you knew you couldn’t. Very frustrating.”
Did she fear she’d never dance again?
“I suppose I had given up, really. My pains were never in my hips; they were in my knees. Initially, because my mother had bad knees, I thought that’s what it was.”
But then she saw a surgeon who said “No, your knees are fine. It’s your hips.”
Sally – who lives at Whepstead, near Bury St Edmunds – recovered well from the two replacement operations.
“After the second operation, within two or three weeks I knew I was pain free and able to stand upright. Marvellous! I was so grateful to the hospital for what they’d done.”
Since then she hasn’t danced frequently, “but it’s nice to know you can. If you go to a function, you know you can join in”.
Was it dancing that actually caused her difficulties?
“That is a debate! My late mother would have said ‘No! It was riding every weekend, getting soaking wet, never changing; always putting the horse before your own needs.’ That can’t help, can it?”
Perhaps it was a combination of her two youthful passions, she thinks. Both can be hard on the body.
Still, that’s all in the past. Life can’t be bad if she can take a twirl with Brendan.
Sally was hooked on Strictly Come Dancing when it arrived on the BBC a decade ago, triggering a new sparkling new lease of life for a pastime whose star had waned.
“I just think now that my mother would have loved it to see the Strictly series. It (ballroom dancing) was still going on, but it was much less popular in the ’80s, but has had a revival.”
Sally, who works for family firm Saxon Monumental Craft, was pleased to see the Regent jam-packed for Brendan’s show. He, along with Anton du Beke, is one of her favourites of the professional dancers and mentors – “because I started with the ‘old time’, rather than the modern and the Latin, and they tend to favour those (older) kinds”.
Brendan’s also got a warm personality and is good with helping those he’s trying to teach.
“It’s not easy. Some people are not gifted in that department, are they?” laughs Sally. “They might be celebrities, but they’re not easy to pull round, I shouldn’t think.”
And, judging by her quick turn in Ipswich with the New Zealander, he’s also a smooth mover?
“Oh yes! Definitely!”