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FRANK SPEERIN (1908 - 1996)


The Mercury (Hobart, Tasmania), Monday 13 August 1928, page 5


Frank Speerin, the ex-champion Marathon dancer, who is to commence his attempt on the 160 hours non-stop dancing record at the Trocadero cabaret at 12 noon to-day, gave another excellent specialty dance at the Trocadero assembly on Saturday night. He was generously applauded and was the recipient of many offers of personal cooperation from prominent local dancing friends. 

At 11.45 a.m. to-day Mr. Speerin will undergo the preliminary massage, etc., at the hands of his trainer and attendant (Mr. S. M. Lowe), whose services have been retained since Mr. Speerins earlier successes. Mr. A. F. Golding, of Messrs. Golding and Sons, jewellers, will act as official time check throughout the feat.

Ladies willing to act as partners are requested to notify the Trocadero management. A special concession has been made for the benefit of theatregoers and those otherwise engaged earlier in the evenings of this long distance endurance effort. The public will be informed from time to time of the progress of the dance by a clock to be placed at the entrance to the Bursary Building.

Frank Speerin was the only child born to parents Francis George Speerin and Alice Armstrong in Sydney, NSW, Australia in March 1908.

He was a great grandson of John Speerin, from Limerick, Ireland and Elizabeth Summers.

Frank Speerin was baptised Ernest William Speerin and he later changed his name to Francis Ernest Speerin, reason unknown. He was 6 years old when his parents divorced in 1914 and Frank lived with his mother and her second husband, Peter Wood in Sydney.

Nothing is known of his early life (from 1908 to 1923) but he clearly learnt to dance as a young man. He probably started out as a ballroom dancer and he may even have learnt Irish dancing as a young lad.

From newspaper articles from 1928 to 1931, we know he entered dance marathon events in Australia.[[1],[2],[3],[4]

]It is unclear exactly when and where his career began, but at various times from 1928 to 1931 he held the world record for endurance dancing.

So , what is endurance dancing?

Dance marathons were a novelty which appeared to be particularly popular during the 1920s. These events lasted for an hour with the winning couple being the one which completed the most laps around the dance floor in the allotted time.

From an article in the Riverina NSW Weekender, At the Archives, by W. Doubleday on Aug 9, 2008 we have ...

In a more extreme version, Mr Frank Speerin, an Australian Dance Champion, chose Dixieland as the site for his attempt to break his own world record for non-stop dancing in May 1931. Incredibly Speerin lasted for 172 hours breaking his existing record. He danced from 8pm on Saturday 16th May until midnight on the following Saturday 23rd May.

A summary of newspaper reports on Frank would suggest he was a slightly built young man who was a gifted dancer with an easy, graceful style which fascinated onlookers!

He was tough and determined, with an inflated ego.

No doubt, he was physically fit and had strength and flexibility.

He loved dancing, wanted to be famous and win lots of prize money.

There were rules and regulations to be observed during any world record attempt and there was continuous music as well. During the day sessions, disc gramaphone records were played alternating with pianoforte and in the evening sessions an orchestra played live music.

There were many all night watchers at the contest who cheered him on and applauded when he reached certain targets.

Conditions inside the dance hall were far from ideal and were described as close air in the cabaret, caused by congested dancing and cigarette smoke.

All the time Frank took only liquid refreshment and damp cloths!

Sometimes he had small meals and massage treatments.

Towards the end of the marathon attempt, there were medical doctors in the audience to observe and ponder Franks great effort. It seems Frank never needed medical assistance at the end of any of these attempts.

Dixieland Entrance

Frank travelled up and down the east coast of Australia competing in marathon dances. Most of the venues were in large cities and large country towns. 

So how did he do it?

As the record attempt progressed, no doubt Frank became drawn and haggard, his eyes sunken and bleary, and he probably had a fixed vacant stare on his face. It is speculated that to combat sleep deprivation, some contestants could self hypnotise....could Frank do that?

I have been unable to locate any official reference to these world records and I have only newspaper reports to go on. Frank is quoted as saying he held his first record in 1926 and his last successful attempt was in 1931 on 10 Oct at Rockhampton, in Queensland, Australia where he set a new world record of 220 hours.

Frank married for the first time in Feb 1927 to Olive May Sparks and had 1 child called Francis Austin Speerin. Olive died in 1933 and Frank remarried in 1934. His second wife was Jean Ethelwynne Leggo and they had 2 children, Alice Jean Speerin and Robert John Speerin.

After his dance career was over, or even whilst he was marathon dancing, Frank worked in Sydney as a tailors presser. When he remarried he was living in VictoriaAustralia. At that time, he worked as a car salesman.

Frank died in 1996, at age 88 years.

He was survived by his wife Jean, and his three children, Francis Austin Speerin, Alice Jean Speerin and Robert John Speerin and his 2 granddaughters, Karen Anne Speerin and Caroline Maree Speerin. 

Pam Hector
Sep 2011

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Last update: Sep 2011

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