Gloria Sheaves

The life and times of the dancer Gloria Sheaves

The former dancer who was born on 28 April 1913 at Stour-Row near Shaftesbury in Dorset, the fifth child born into a family of cattle farmers. She was christened Gwendoline Marjorie Allard.

One of her earliest memories was around the time of her sixth birthday seeing bluebells growing around the family farm. “I never thought I’d grow up to be a Bluebell girl,” she said.

At the age of seven she was sent to St Margaret’s Boarding School in Burnham-on-Sea where her love affair with dance began with her first ballet and ballroom dance lessons.Miss Chevitt picked Gloria out and gave her special tuition. During her school holidays Gloria would take the family gramophone into the barn and practice her dance steps. By the time she left school Gloria was dancing at professional standard and could face auditions.

Gloria Sheaves in her dancing days

After debuting as a dancer on the London stage, Gloria took the stage name Leonie Allard and left England to become a member of the renowned Bluebell Dance Troupe at the world famous cabaret The Moulin Rouge in Paris.

As well as dancing in the chorus line of can-can girls, Gloria was selected by Madame Bluebell for a Spanish dance routine, for jazz cabaret and for an oriental speciality dance involving back bends and acrobatic movement.“If you think young, you grow young”Gloria Sheaves, dancer
In 1934 not many people travelled abroad and Gloria recalled how adventurous she was considered to be. Paris itself was considered risqué and she was a young woman alone. “We were considered very daring you know in those days. Kicking our legs high up in the air while performing our can-can routine. We were scantily clad too. But we never behaved improperly with any of the men.”

On leaving the Moulin Rouge Gloria then danced in cabaret acts in Czechoslovakia, Hungry and Romania. Gloria once showed me some of the publicity photos she had done. “They were taken at a Bond Street studio in about 1937. Well, they got me the jobs, anyway,” she said referring to photos of herself in an oriental belly-dancer costume.

Theresa Roche

World War II brought Gloria back to London where she danced in London’s West End during the war. In 1941 Gloria met Richard Sheaves. They married in 1942 after a whirlwind romance. Shortly afterwards he was sent off to war, to Egypt. Gloria carried on dancing and her husband returned after the war to enjoy over 60 years of marriage.

Blessed with a daughter in 1945 Gloria decided to leave the stage and in 1953, now calling herself ‘Gloria Sheaves’, she founded the Gloria Sheaves School of Dance in Southmead, Bristol. As her reputation for quality tuition soared, pupils flocked to her. In addition to holding teaching qualifications in Ballroom and Latin dancing her invaluable stage experience and choreographical skills enabled her pupils to gain professional work as dancers both in the Hughie Green show in the 1970s, in Warner holiday camps and on the original Come Dancing programme.

The dancer in later life

Gloria had this photo taken in 1937Gloria has also enthusiastically taught hundreds of people ballroom and Latin dancing up to competitive standard. From 1963 Gloria started organising competitions as well as teaching dance. She was also vastly in demand nationwide as a competition judge. During her so called retirement she threw herself vigorously into organising groups of dancers to go into old people’s homes in Bristol to entertain the residents.

Her generous nature led to universal admiration throughout the dance world and Avon Amateur Dancing Club were instrumental in gaining the M.B.E. award for Gloria which she received from the Queen at Buckingham Palace in 2001 for her services to the performing arts.

In September 1999 Gloria closed her dancing school. Two weeks later I received a phone call: “It’s Gloria Sheaves here. I want to take a look at your dancing.” It was a phone call that transformed my dancing. It was also the beginning of a very close friendship. I will never forget my first lesson with Gloria when she said to me: “If there’s one thing I’d like to pass on before I go it’s my daily limbering exercises.”

Gloria back in the day

To my astonishment I witnessed her at the age of 86 demonstrating high leg kicks, touching her toes, lying on the floor and cycling in the air and then springing up and placing her leg high on the ballet barre. Every Thursday night for the past five years Gloria Sheaves has given my dance partner Philip Sherwood and I her undivided attention. Undaunted by her age Gloria revisited the Moulin Rouge in Paris last year.

She once said to me: “If you think young, you grow young.” I’ll leave the last word to Gloria, quoting what she always used to say each Thursday night: “Well I’ll be seeing you dear but keep on dancing, otherwise my work is wasted.”

Theresa Roche

Theresa Roche is an actress and director, known for G.O.D.TechComatose Avenue (2009) and Kamikaze (2016). For more on Theresa visit and you can follow her on social media.