Once the most glamorous dance hall in Sydney, the Trocadero on George Street hosted queens, dukes, and international stars, as well as Sydneysiders out for a good time.
The Trocadero, affectionately known of course as the ‘Troc’, was once the most glamorous ‘palais de dance’ in Sydney.
The dance hall opened in 1936 as Sydney was struggling to get out of the Great Depression. It was situated on the western side of George Street, south of Bathurst Street – where the cinemas are these days.
The ‘Troc’ encapsulated the glamour of Hollywood and promised better times ahead. The hall was built in the art deco style, the entrance topped by a sleek sandstone tower that was floodlit at night. The interior featured lavish carpet and art deco detailings. There was a large dance floor and enough seating for 2000 people. A scallop shaped band stage with coloured lights featured live bands every night. The resident band was called the Trocadero Orchestra; trombonist Frank Coughlan was the band leader for most of the Troc’s 35 years.
The ABC broadcast live from the Trocadero every Monday and Thursday night – so even if you couldn’t afford the time or the money to go to the Trocadero, you could listen to the latest jazz and swing music.
The Trocadero became the place to be – where Sydneysiders dressed up to dance and have a good time. Friday and Saturday nights were the biggest nights of the week. There are plenty of Sydneysiders whose parents and grandparents met on the Trocadero dancefloor and fell in love.
The venue was also popular for charity functions, debutante balls, receptions, gala parties, and pageants. The Chinese community had a regular ball there, known as the Dragon Ball. During WW2 the dance hall attracted American servicemen out for a good time, and women flocked to learn the latest dance moves from these exotic visitors.
The Troc started out as a swing and jazz palace, but by the mid-1950s the leading dances were the quickstep, the foxtrot, the waltz and the tango. Crooners were in fashion. Then later came the samba, the jitterbug and rock n roll. But the advent of the swinging sixties signalled the start of the Troc’s demise as dancers began to make their way towards other venues.
The Trocadero finally closed its doors on 5 February 1971, and was eventually demolished to make way for the new Hoyts Theatre cinema complex. During its 35 years of life, it’s been estimated that more than one million pairs of feet danced at the Troc.
Head to the Dictionary to read Garry Wotherspoon’s entry on the Trocadero here: https://dictionaryofsydney.org/entry/trocadero
There’s some great footage of jitterbugging at the Trocadero on YouTube here: https://youtu.be/m2FmhMRx6ag , and a Cinesound news piece about the Troc’s closure to make way for the cinema complex in 1971: https://youtu.be/96U6q9oMAf4
You can find a few clips on the National Film and Sound Archive of dancers, balls and fashion parades at the Troc too:
French mannequins present the New Look 1948: https://www.nfsa.gov.au/collection/curated/french-mannequins-present-new-look
Gay Night at Movie Ball, 1964: https://www.nfsa.gov.au/collection/curated/annual-movie-ball-troc
You can listen to Frank Coughlan’s Trocadero Orchestra on the NFSA website too: https://www.nfsa.gov.au/collection/curated/life-without-love-frank-coughlans-trocadero-orchestra
Dr Lisa Murray is the Historian of the City of Sydney and former chair of the Dictionary of Sydney Trust. She is a Visiting Scholar at the State Library of New South Wales and the author of several books, including Sydney Cemeteries: a field guide. She appears on 2SER on behalf of the Dictionary of Sydney in a voluntary capacity. Thanks Lisa, for ten years of unstinting support of the Dictionary! You can follow her on Twitter here: @sydneyclio