Wendy and I only ever had one lesson with Peter Eggleton, the icon whom the world lost last month. It was a workshop event, so my experience with his teaching was very limited. His quiet voice made it very hard to hear him. But I was inspired by the passion with which he communicated, and the message of staying true to the foundational technique of ballroom dance. His legacy is one that all dancers should aspire to.
At the age of 10, Peter Eggleton tap danced on top of a washing machine to perform for his family. His dancing career began in earnest as a teenager while training for the stage. This background as an actor likely contributed to his great ability to express himself on the dance floor.
To learn the steps, he first studied Victor Silvester’s book that used illustrations of feet to show the various figures. Inspired by this, he went on to join a dance school and even before turning 18 and being drafted into the British army, he had completed his bronze medal test.
Peter trained with some of the great British ballroom icons such as Josephine Bradley, Phyllis Haylor & Len Colyer. These teachers created a foundation in proper technique that served him well as he continued to develop his skills. He would later say, “If you don’t get that technical information early enough and develop a solid understanding of it before you get all that difficult choreography, you will probably run into problems later.”
Deeply committed to becoming a great ballroom dancer, he became British and World Amateur Ballroom Champion dancing with Diana Gradwell before turning professional.
“If you don’t… develop a solid understanding of [technique], you will probably run into problems later.”
As a pro, he partnered with Brenda Winslade after initially resisting the idea because he was intimidated by her high level of expertise. After all, she was a studio owner and top professional dancer, and he had just left the amateur ranks to teach. When he finally accepted the offer from his coach, it was Brenda who refused, feeling that Peter was too tall for her. They agreed to just dance a show to try out the partnership. It was a huge success.
With the remarkably talented Brenda Winslade, he became an icon of the professional ballroom dancing world. Competing against the world’s top dancers like Harry Smith-Hampshire and Doreen Casey, Bob Burgess and Doreen Freeman, and Bill and Bobbie Irvine, he was known as a gentleman in the midst of all that rivalry. He became the Ballroom dancer everybody aspired to be. He focused on having fun, even as he strived to win. Everyone who knew him, including those who competed against him, admired him greatly.
Peter learned early on that top level dancers should not try to duplicate the styling of other dancers, something that is so common among competitors. He tried. Initially he tried to copy Len Colyer but was rebuked for his efforts. Eventually he understood that every dancer needs to know their own style and focus on that if they wish to become great. And if they have the foundation in great technique, they can have their own individual style.
Peter and Brenda were a 10-dance couple, but when the catsuit men’s costume styling became a thing, he figured that was it for the Latin side and he switched exclusively to ballroom, where he and Brenda really shone.
His remarkable record of success includes
- 3-time British Open Professional Ballroom Champion
- 3-time World Professional Ballroom Champion
- 8-time International Professional Ballroom Champion
- 6-time United Kingdom Professional Ballroom Champion
- Recipient of the Carl-Alan Award, 2003
After Brenda died in 1979 following a lengthy illness, Peter retired to Tampa, Florida and continued to teach into his very old age. He passed away just days after his 95th birthday, and only about a month after the loss of his beloved wife Pamela.
We should continue to take away lessons in dance from icons of the art such as Peter Eggleton, as it is the foundation of dance even as it continues to change and evolve. Learn more about the icons and their lives in the remarkable book Ballroom Icons by Brigit Mayer.