The Rivoli Ballroom: foxtrots and fancy flock

In a sleepy corner of SE4 lies leisure-time London’s most fabulous belle of the ballrooms: the Rivoli Ballroom.

Now London’s only intact 1950s ballroom, the Rivoli started life as the Crofton Park Picture Palace in 1913, before unveiling its current incarnation on Boxing Day 1959, complete with the rich 1920s-revival décor that’s still intact today.

The 1960s and 1970s were boom times, with social-dancing sessions packed with locals, most-wanted status for charity gala functions, company parties and milestone birthday celebrations, and even occasional performances from such ‘luminaries of lite’ as Acker Bilk and Pan’s People.

But the 1980s saw partner dancing’s star fade, and the Rivoli, with the constant renovation required to keep it at its most ravishing, became harder to maintain.

The shrewd response of Bill Mannix, for more than 30 years the building’s owner, was to carve the Rivoli a parallel career as a sought-after location for TV, videos and movies (credits include the Brad Pitt/Robert Redford thriller ‘Spy Game’ and Justin Lee Collins’ 2010 C5 chat-show ‘Good Times’), and a venue for hipster, one-off concerts (take a bow The White Stripes, Kings of Leon and Florence and the Machine).

The Rivoli’s future was secured in 2007, when English Heritage awarded the building Grade II-listed status, protecting it from being ‘repurposed’.

‘Every time I go to a Jive Party night,’ says Peter Stechman, fiftysomething and a jiver of 10 years, ‘I’m so thankful the Rivoli got its listing. It’s not just about the dancing – buildings like this, which were made so people could meet and enjoy themselves together, are a precious part of our heritage.’

Rivoli Ballroom, 350 Brockley Road, London SE4 2BY, 020 8692 5130

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