Like The Prose 2020 Day#2

Today’s offering has a dance-related theme. Those who know me will know that I am just as unco-ordinated as my storyteller – on a holiday to Thailand some years ago, I signed up for dance-based exercise classes and was so bad at them that after a few sessions, the instructor stopped turning up! (That incident inspired a chapter in one of my YA novels, ‘You Were There For Me Too’, in which the protagonist has a disastrous ‘Popmobility’ session whilst at university.)

Hopefully, none of you are quite as unco-ordinated as I am and you will enjoy ‘The Rhythm of Life’.

The Rhythm of Life

I seem to have made clumsiness an art form.

Dance was never really a part of my life. Despite growing up in the 1970s, disco passed me by. My parents were God-fearing Methodists who attended a tiny church with a congregation that barely made it into double figures and consisted mainly of old ladies in hats. Due to the advanced age of the latter, strenuous social activities were out – with the result that my weekends were spent not at dances but at Beetle drives. Even someone with my total lack of co-ordination could manage to shake a die out of a tumbler and then draw the part of the beetle’s body that corresponded to the number of spots.

But as I grew older, dance began to insinuate itself into other areas of my existence. Every year of Junior school, I dreaded the Christmas party and the obligatory four weeks of ‘dancing lessons’ beforehand. Instead of PE in the hall, we would all line up in our aertex tops and navy-blue gym knickers (I think the boys probably wore shorts) and form two parallel rows of girls and boys. The record known as ‘March of the Mods’ would be placed on the turntable, and then the teacher would direct us through the steps: “Heel, toe, heel, toe, heel, toe, heel, toe, forwards, backwards, one and two and three!” Even then, it was a struggle for me to co-ordinate the actions with the music – and this was the easiest dance!

By the time I started secondary school in 1978, the films ‘Saturday Night Fever’ and ‘Grease’ had made John Travolta a household name and the school disco became a termly ‘treat’. While everyone else swung their hips seductively or gyrated with the grace of a gazelle, I shuffled miserably from one foot to the other, completely clueless about what I was supposed to do. Was I meant to move my arms, for example? And if I did that, should it be in slow motion, as if I was swimming, or something more frenetic that suggested I had a wasp inside my clothing? I suffered through five years of this torture before sixth form started and the rest of my peers decided they’d outgrown such childish pursuits.

You might have thought I’d be able to avoid the terror that was dancing once I was an adult, but no – it turned out that weddings and birthday parties always included an obligatory turn on the dance floor. I wouldn’t have minded so much, but I’d see geriatric relatives strutting their stuff with insouciance, putting me to shame as I swayed miserably in a corner. Even my own children, traitors as they were, moved in time to the music with effortless cool, making me wonder how my own physical ineptitude had skipped a generation.

With all this in mind, you might wonder why, in my forties, I signed up for a weekly ‘Dancercise’ class. In my defence, I didn’t read the details properly: I saw there was an evening exercise class at the local community centre and thought it would be a good way of keeping fit. It was only as the class started and all the other women began to flow their way through complicated dance steps that I realised how out of my depth I was. We started off with three side steps to the right and then three to the left – something even I could manage; but then the instructor started spewing our random words I’d never heard of: “And grapevine, and double turn, and shimmy!” I watched as everyone else’s body undulated in a rhythmic ripple and tried to do the same; unfortunately, my own torso just twitched uncontrollably like a dying fly. “And gallop!” At least I could get that bit right. I galloped enthusiastically to the left, then realised that everyone else was galloping to the right. Scuttling sideways like a crab to avoid being mown down by a herd of co-ordinated, lycra-clad women, I began to wonder if I could slip out early while everyone else was concentrating on their quickstep and their jive.

Somehow, I managed to fumble my way through the rest of the session, sighing with relief when the thirty minutes of jigging about was over and we were able to concentrate on the ‘stretching’ element instead. Chatting to some of the other women as we left, I learned that they all attended ‘Modern Dance’ lessons at the centre in addition to ‘Dancercise’ – and some of them did ‘Tap and Ballet’ as well. It wasn’t surprising, then, that they knew all the steps; but I still think they had a natural rhythm that I just didn’t possess. I also knew that I was unlikely to return.

A few weeks later, I noticed an ad for ‘Zumba for Seniors’ and briefly wondered if that would be a better option – surely octogenarians with hip replacements wouldn’t gallop as quickly as the women in ‘Dancercise’. And then I remembered the grannies at the parties I’d been to and how even the ones with multiple hip and knee replacements had been able to move in time with the music, and I realised that I couldn’t even compete with people twice my age.

I’m dance illiterate – but I’ve learned to live with it.

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