We're fools whether we dance or not, so we may as well dance - Japanese proverb
On the box
Dancing has discovered a new-found respectability and popularity in recent years. For a long time it was the 'also ran' below acting, singing and painting as an art form, but now we find the winner of 2008's 'Britain's got talent' was a dancer, and most noticeably 'Strictly Come Dancing' is pulling in the viewers at the prime time Saturday night television slot, as well as being replicated in the USA as 'Dancing with the Stars'. There's even an Irish dancing version, with more than a nod in the direction of Michael Flatley and Riverdance! This is a far cry from the heady days of 'Come Dancing' back in the 1960s, when amateur dancers who were telephone operators by day had enthusiastically sewn all those sequins onto their ball gowns by hand. And as they strutted out with mile-wide grins to do the military two-step, Terry Wogan honed his warmly affectionate but slightly tongue–in-cheek commentary style. Debate now rages amongst contemporary self-styled 'Strictly' fans as to where the boundaries lie between it being a dance competition and an entertainment programme. The voting public gets a say in who is voted off each week, and in this year's series, the unlikely and ungainly figure of political broadcasting heavyweight John Sergeant has a huge amount of support from the public, which has kept him safe from the drop zone….so far. But is it fair that better dancers are being eliminated ahead of him?
On the stage
Well, who said life was fair! This year's Belfast Festival at Queens has drawn to a close, and I was lucky enough to see two very different performances of contemporary dance. The first was 'Entity' staged by the Random dance group and choreographed by Wayne McGregor. I've worked with Wayne before, and it's great to see him continuing to promote dance into new and untried venues: he took this piece to Glastonbury, to enormous acclaim, and to, one assumes, a whole new audience. The sheer power and stamina of the dancers was inspiring, but a flyer giving their names, or details of the music used, would have been appreciated. Instead the audience were left completely unaided in interpretation of the show, and without acknowledgements of those who made it happen. At least the auditorium for that one was pretty full. The other piece I saw was from enfant terrible Michael Clark: it was the first show of this year's festival that I booked tickets for, and I got seats in my absolute favourite spot in the Grand Opera House. It was rather disappointing to find on arrival, then, that only 300 seats had been sold, in a venue which holds 1,000. Hmm, that new fascination with dance still has some way to go to get a conservative Belfast audience out on a cold October night to see some innovative and cutting edge stuff, which included nudity, and a soundtrack incorporating the Sex Pistols. Oh well, I thoroughly enjoyed 'The Stravinsky Project', which culminated in a live performance of 'The Rite of Spring' for two pianos. Bravo bravssimo!
On the floor
I'm also still enjoying learning Scottish Country dancing. I've invested in a pair of proper dancing shoes, which are very soft leather pumps. I've also bought a book of basic steps, and a CD of the music. Though to be fair, you can read all the books you like, and watch all the DVDs you can find, but the only way to get better at dancing is to get on the floor and do it! Especially with Scottish country dancing, it's hard to practise on ones own, as the tricksy bit comes when you are creating patterns with about seven other dancers. I think I've just about got the hang of the Reel, which involves weaving in and out of others like a figure of eight with three loops, made more complicated by the fact that they are doing likewise… but some of those turns done in couples, with French names like Poussette or Allemand are still a mystery. We're looking forward to taking part in a big social ball for St Andrews Day at the end of November: Dai will wear a kilt, of course, so I just need to find something that is comfortable and light enough for dancing in, with a bit of a swirl to the skirt. And no, I will not be sewing on any sequins.