Keeping Time

With Shirley Sommerville By Sarah Lochhead
Age is More: Meet Shirley SommervilleBirra Ahmed, Daisee Duong, Sydney Andaloro, Zain Burgess & Leah Seltzer
Birra Ahmed, Daisee Duong, Sydney Andaloro, Zain Burgess & Leah Seltzer


Everybody has a story. If you take the time to ask questions and listen, you might even uncover a piece of dance history. Here’s one such gem. 

In this short video we meet the energetic ninety-years young, Shirley Sommerville of Milton ON. The video was part of The Revera and Reel Youth Age is More Film Project in celebration of Senior’s Month, which is in June in Ontario. The project aims to bring “youth and older adults in creative collaboration to foster intergenerational friendships and combat ageism,” according to the group’s website.

Sommerville began dancing at the age of five and studied several styles including highland, “toe dancing”, ballet, Spanish dancing, and tap. Although not mentioned in the video, among her teachers were tap instructor Pete McCabe, who made house calls, and Toronto studio owner Laura Thompson. At the age of ten, she appeared on The Ken Soble Amateur Hour and won second prize for her tap dance performance. The band Canadian Mountaineers saw her on the show and asked her to join them on the radio. She performed with them every week for a year on CFRB Radio. Tap was her indeed favourite. Sommerville danced in a tap ensemble instructed by Louise Burns. The group performed in locations across Ontario and at the Royal York for a News Year’s Eve event welcoming in the beginning of 1947.  

In the video, Sommerville comments that she danced and juggled working right up until she married. There’s a dance angle to that story too. She and her husband met at the Palais Royale, a dance hall that still operates on Toronto’s Lake Shore Boulevard today.

Sommerville’s dance story continues, not only by way of this video with her sweet Charleston moves, but also by way of her granddaughter, Carly Manuel. Manuel is a founding company member of Simcoe Contemporary Dancers in Barrie, ON. “Simply knowing that we share this bond is very rewarding,” says Manuel. “Even though my love of dance took me in a contemporary direction, it is always nice to know I am following in her footsteps.” 

At the root of publications, archives, blogs, social media, etc. are the relationships and conversations that create community. I’ll never forget the day I helped a woman carry a parcel up the stairs at Honest Ed’s only to learn I was speaking to Jeanette Heller, who at the time was the oldest living Rockette. Taking the time to speak with our elders is how histories are unearthed. So let’s keep digging as a way of keeping time.

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