Published: May 19th 2012
May 19th 2012
Slow, slow, quick, quick …..
Back in the olden days when everything, of course, was in black and white my friend Bob Withey and I decided to join a ballroom dancing school that was running a series of classes over the Easter holidays. We had no interest in dancing and no idea what it really entailed. The theory was that ballroom dancing classes were an excellent way to meet girls. Haven’t you always found that there is a significant gap between theory and practice when things social and personal are involved? Well, we signed up for the class at the front office and then stumbled in our boyish way into the dance hall. Blimey, strike me down with a fever – girls? The hall was full of them – about 30 all told – and just Bob and I! You might be thinking Nirvana or Shangri La or something similar. No – pretty well the opposite. Both going to all-boys schools we were big on fantasy and really rubbish on the ways of the real world. 30 girls and just we two – we were almost literally petrified – and couldn’t move off our seats when the dance teacher instructed to ask a girl to be our partner – perhaps because there was too much choice but mainly through the embarrassment of being in the company and having to do something about it.
I know that Bob and I carried on with the course but the rest of the sessions have all been blanked from my memory – all I know is that both Bob and I were utterly unsuccessful in achieving our objective for the £2 we paid for the lessons. And this brings me to the point of this blog entry – the way that some psychologists will explain adult frailty through the impact of childhood experience. So when Jean (at Donny’s last Friday) asked whether I would come along to her ballroom dancing class session at Half Tree Hollow (I promise you, yes) Community Centre ‘as they were short of a man’, I immediately found myself saying ‘Yes’ in-line with my approach whilst here on the island to have a go at everything and simultaneously feeling a deep dread in the pit of everything at the prospect of resurrecting that Easter fiasco of many years ago.
Despite trying to unsuccessfully wheedle my way out of the session I found myself at the community centre door last Wednesday. I was, of course, on-time but not on-time with St Helena time keeping where there seems to be a significant flexibility in what might be meant by 7.30. Dry –mouthed, I eventually got in the hall – fortunately recognizing a few others – but still wondering what my mouth had got me in to and wishing that I had stayed indoors.
However, the initial anxiety was shed by action – the hall had been set up for an audience to watch some form of presentation on the stage. Now, perhaps this was an early Christmas production, I don’t know, for on stage – amongst a range of props was a Christmas Tree – yes, yet another one and it is still May! Now, when I say ‘set up for an audience’ I really do mean that. In front of the usual rows of chairs that we find in Community Centres all over the world (I’m guessing her, but you’ll know what I mean) there was a row of arm chairs – yes, hogging the front row. I immediately thought that a group of elderly people had been dragged complaining from their residential home to go and watch a production of amateur thespians or school children. ‘I’ll only go if there are some comfortable chairs this year’ they may have insisted. And comfortable chairs there were, my imagination suggests, occupied by a gang of grumpy old folk (and I can’t help but picture Barry R as one of this curmudgeonly group) challenging the actors or young children to entertain us!
The chairs had to be moved and the activity drove the anxiety away – to be replaced by an almost manic need to show off. We were all introduced and I met with my partner whom I shall call Joan – because that’s her name. Straight into the waltz – you know, one, two, three – and then trying to fiddle your way out of the corner because you can only dance in straight lines. I have to say I was pretty good – ‘Is this really your first lesson?’ more than a few other Fred Astaires asked me. I answered in the affirmative but thinking that maybe in the dark days of that Easter holiday I had, perhaps, learnt something. I approached the waltz with something of a swagger that clearly suited the occasion.
Next was the Rumba – yes something exotic from South America which makes me think of Edmundo Ross and his orchestra that used to play on Sunday afternoon radio – which, for those who can’t remember those dark days, really was in black and white, in every way! And thinking of those days and the Rumba – does anyone remember the Rum Baba? A dessert that made an appearance in the early sixties when people realized that their homes could be used for social events, such as ‘dinner parties’, rather than just as a haven for the family. Is rumba linked with Rum Baba in any way? They both sound vaguely exotic in a made-up fashion. Well, the Rumba is clearly my forte ‘drop your right hip and then your left. No, Michael, don’t wiggle your hips like that, drop them one at a time.’ Now, my right hip dropped as if I was a natural but my left hip needed a bit more persuasion. But, still, I gave it a go. Did you know that good rumba dancers will slide their feet rather than lifting them? My partner and I mastered the steps as quick as a flash and Rumbared all over the room – a bit trickier once Jean put on the music – but this gave me the opportunity to show off all my natural rhythm and clear the links that I have with the southern continent – well, that cruise and a few stops on the way. The Rumba is clearly my autograph dance and one that I shall show-off when ‘Celebrity Comes Dancing’ comes knocking on my door.
The evening finished with the Quickstep – Jean said ‘Remember, it starts with slow, slow, quick, quick, slow’ and my immediate response was ‘Victor Silvester’. Clearly my knowledge of early sixties dance band-leaders was something that truly impressed all my other dance compatriots. But not as impressed as they were to be when they all undoubtedly heard Jean say that my trip step (I think it was called) was ‘perfect’. Perhaps she was being relative to the rest of my performance – but, well, ‘perfect’.
Not a bad performance – and I shall but say that the partner of a fellow dancer in a yellow shirt (whom I shall call M*ke to save his blushes) clearly gave Joyce a covetous look at her partner. The left hip may not have dropped on request but the trip step was ‘perfect’.