It is with great sadness that we record the death of Joan Slater, one of the British skating legends.
Joan was born, Joan Dewhirst, in Manchester, in the late 1930’s. As a young child she attended ballet classes and took music lessons. However, it was when, aged 11, she took to the ice at Manchester Ice Place, that Joan discovered her true calling.
Her progress was swift. Joan passed figure tests in both English and International Style as well Pairs and Ice Dance, having joined the NSA in 1948.
In January 1950 Joan passed her silver ice dance test but such was the strength of the Manchester ice dancers that she was not able to gain selection for the Manchester team in The Northern Ice Dance league, then a very prestigious competition. How things were to change within a year.
After the then traditional summer break, when ice rinks closed for refurbishment during the summer, Jean Westwood formed a partnership with Laurence Demmy, leaving her previous dance partner, John Slater looking for a new partner, and the rest, as they say, is history. John selected the then 14-year-old Joan and, after a few club competitions she made he debut in the Northern Dance League. The League was based on compulsory dances and these proved to be a great strength for Joan and John. By the year end their partnership was cemented and they had a star spot performing a number based on the Rhumba to delight the audience at the Christmas show.
1951 proved to be an even more pivotal year for the dance couple, after less than a year together, they were selected as one of the British entries in for the International Ice Dance competition, in Milan. The competition was the forerunner of the World Ice Dance Championship, which was inaugurated the following year. They were delighted to win the silver medal, behind Demmy and Westwood, announcing their status as major world competitors.
The couple were pupils of Jack Wake, in Manchester, but made the trip to London to be coached by Gladys Hogg. Joan absorbed many of Gladys’s values and credited her for their success.
A few months after the Milan competition, the positions were reversed, and Joan and John won the first of their three British Ice Dance Championships, with Demmy and Westwood taking the silver.
Joan and John achieved even more success in 1952 and 1953, when they not only retained their British titles but also won silver in the World Championships.
Even with this success, ice dance was not the only string in their bow (or blade on the ice) as they also won the British Junior Pairs Championship, at Richmond, and Joan not only regularly won Ladies Singles competitions at club and open level but was also the British Junior English Style Champion.
Having achieved so much as amateurs, the couple turned professional in 1954 and also married in July of the same year. Together they joined “Ice Capades” and whilst touring still found time to compete in the World Professional Championships, winning six times in the next seven years. They only took a break for a year when the first of their two sons was born, in 1958.
Now with a family to consider Joan decided coaching would be more settled than show skating and so began a new career, every bit as successful as her competitive career.
Teaching first in Liverpool, followed by Manchester and Birmingham, Joan finally settled in Altrincham, where she remained, forming a formidable coaching career that lasted for decades. Joan only moved to Deeside when Altrincham first closed.
Along the way, Joan added to her family in spectacular way, when she failed to make it to the hospital, and gave birth to her second son on the M62!!
Joan coached from beginners to Olympians and it is impossible to impress her importance to British Ice Dancing, and to skaters from other countries as well.
She took pleasure in coaching adults and regularly accompanied her pupils to the Adult Championships, but she had great success in coaching, Susan Getty and Roy Bradshaw, Karen Barber and Nicky Slater, Sharon Jones and Paul Askham and Sinead and John Kerr to British Champions or international success. She also coached Lloyd Jones to the Junior Championship when he was with Leigh Rogers before he went on to win the French Championship with Pernelle Carron.
There did not seem to be an area she did not cover. Joan was very ambitious and determined, whilst being thoroughly professional. She had drive and enthusiasm and together with her dedication to our sport, she instilled these values into her pupils as well as giving them confidence and belief in themselves. Joan was a true role model.
In 2007 she was awarded a very well-deserved MBE.
After a lengthy and spectacularly successful career ill health took its toll and Joan moved into a care home in Bramhall but the story did not end there. It was at Bramhall that Joan received her Lifetime Achievement Award from Peter Morrisey, on behalf of our association. A fitting award for someone who has been a terrific ambassador for our sport. A legend.
Joan died on 14th April 2020 and is survived by her sons, Nicky and Kim.
British Ice Skating Historian
15th April 2020