Jim Vickers-WillisSquare Dancing at Earls CourtIron Lung Life Support

 

PEOPLE Magazine wrote:

"If ever an Australian film producer decides to turn out a colossal, scintillating, technicolour, musical extravaganza of the struggling bright boy soars to fame variety, he has an ideal subject on tap, guaranteed to produce a tear in the eye, a pang of joy in the heart and rhythm in the feet – ace Melbourne square-dance caller Jim Vickers-Willis............."

That was July 1953. Then followed a real life drama.

Having survived service as a Spitfire pilot in World War 2, Jim was thrust into the centre of the brief but spectacular 1950's Australian square dancing boom - an entertainment boom that had the whole of Australia tapping its feet. Jim quickly became one of Australia's highest paid entertainers, calling for thousands of dancers, night after night in Melbourne and Adelaide's largest Ballrooms, beamed by radio into homes throughout the nation - ironically, despite acute stage fright.

At the height of this entertainment fame, aged just 36, Jim contracted polio - a disease for which there was no known cure (nor a vaccine at that time).

As he lay hour after hour, day after day, gasping for each breath in an iron-lung life support system (pictured top right), Jim fought for life, and Australian square dancing lost a figurehead, and the 1950's boom quickly subsided.

Doctors advised Jim he would live for 5 to 10 years, and gave him little hope of escaping the iron-lung. Jim's fight, to defy this medical opinion, and go on to live a long, productive, and influential life, despite paralysis, is as inspiring a story as you'll ever hear, rich in its clues on how we can all find great happiness by rebounding from our own life struggles. Jim passed away peacefully on December 30th, 2008 - Aged 90.

Information on Jim's life is available in the tab titled JIM'S STORY - told through historical audio, video, newspaper and magazine clippings that illustrate the highs and lows of Jim's life, and showcase the attitudes he held that enabled him to not only cope with his life challenges, but to thrive.

He tells his story too in his autobiography "The Magic of Life!" (2006) - available here to read. As you can imagine, surviving polio had a profound effect on Jim's thinking - and a quality of life crusader was born. Thousands have since benefited from his insights, some of which he spelled out in his 1970's best seller book, "Are You (Really) Fun To Live With?" which is also available here to read. "Fun" was generations ahead of its time in educating frankly about our need to develop new attitudes towards our relationships and towards our sexuality - an idea that many found challenging for the day, and which led to Jim being publicly chastised by those forces as a "sex maniac". Of course, Jim was up for this fight too, and his response was simply 'magic'.

In the AUSTRALIAN SQUARE DANCING tab we are archiving 1950's Australian square dancing resources, including music, news clips, and photos. This includes Jim's best square dance recordings, which you can listen to. Also available are some rare classical recordings by other 1950's Australian and overseas callers, including Eddie Carol, Bill McGrath, Jack Murphy, Leonard Hirst, Irene Hewitt, Wally Cook, Graham Rigby, Gary Cohen, and renown American caller, Joe Lewis. A couple of articles, written by Jim and by Jack Murphy tell us their stories of the Australian 1950's Square Dancing boom.

Jim would be tickled pink to know that a very keen group of people continue to enjoy the fun of square dancing today through square dance clubs around Australia, and in so doing are keeping this wonderfully wholesome social and community tradition alive - links to these clubs are provided here at Square Dance Links.

Jim's family hopes you enjoy visiting Jim's website, and hope it provides you with some valuable information, and perhaps some inspiration too. A polio vaccine was discovered in 1955 - one year too late for Jim. For obvious reasons, we support Rotary International's relentless mission to eradicate polio by vaccinating kids from polio in third world countries, and we would appreciate that you click here to go to their polio web page and consider donating to this very worthy cause.

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Australian Square Dance Story

Click below to read the story about the 1950's Melbourne & Adelaide square dancing BOOM!


An Australian Square Dancing Story - The Epicentre of a 1950’s Entertainment BOOM!

 


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