Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Who Is the "Dancing Man" in Elizabeth Street, Sydney on 18 August 1945?

It's the image that captures a city's emotions.

The "Dancing Man" is the name given to the man who was filmed dancing on the street in Sydney, Australia, after the end of World War II. On 15 August 1945, a reporter took note of a man's joyful expression and dance and asked him to do it again. The man consented and was caught on motion picture film in an Australian edition of the newsreel Movietone News. The film and stills from it have taken on iconic status in Australian history and culture, and symbolise joyous elation to war's end.

There has been much debate as to the identity of the dancing man. Frank McAlary, a retired barrister claims that he was the man photographed pirouetting in Elizabeth Street, Sydney, on 15 August 1945. A Queen's Counsel, Chester Porter, and a former Compensation Court judge, Barry Egan, both claim to have seen Mr. McAlary being filmed dancing. The television programme Where Are They Now, produced by Australia's Seven Network, attempted to solve the mystery of the dancing man's identity. The network hired a forensic scientist who examined the film reel and picture and came to the conclusion that it was indeed McAlary.

McAlary recalled later in an interview that it was a "very spontaneous affair. Chester Porter, myself and Barry Egan [a former Compensation Court judge] and his wife came out of the Law School building [in Elizabeth Street] and were standing there on the edge of the crowd and a Cinesound truck was going along filming and Chester Porter said, 'give 'em a show, Frank'. So I said ok and I jumped out and did a series of twists and turns, and as I was doing them I suddenly thought, my God, my master solicitor will see this if it gets on the newsreels and I'll be in trouble. So I darted off into the crowd. That's really all that ever happened".

The Royal Australian Mint, however, chose to portray Ern Hill as the dancing man on a 2005 issue $1 coin commemorating 60 years since the World War II armistice. Mr. Hill has made a statement that, "The camera came along and I did a bit of a jump around." The coin, sculpted by Wojciech Pietranik, does not bear any name.

Australian 2005 $1 coin Peace Dancing Man.

Rebecca Keenan of Film World Pty. Ltd., says the dancer may be Patrick Blackall. Mr. Blackall has claimed, "I'm the genuine dancing man," and has signed statutory declarations that he is the man in the film. These remain not alone as many others maintain a claim to the moment, it is not conclusive and may never be.

Frank A. Epton, a retired Chartered Accountant living in Alstonville, NSW before he died in February 2013, claimed that he was one of the soldiers in the background of the still image of the dancing man (the soldier without a hat). Papers and photos found in his possession during the administration of his estate support his assertion.

In the years since this newsreel was first shown, the mystery surrounding the dancer’s name has compounded the fascination with this audiovisual record. Even now, his identity remains in dispute and a number of men over the years have claimed to be the figure in the newsreel. But whatever the genesis of this scene, it illustrates how resonant icons can make historic news events timeless and, in doing so, embed themselves into the national consciousness.

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