We're fools whether we dance or not, so we may as well dance – Japanese proverb
Wind: A breath of heart
New Year, New Challenge! I'd been finding the beginners' classes in Scottish country dancing on a Monday night just a little too easy, so I decided to see how I'd get on at the more advanced class, held every Tuesday. I was a little nervous as I went through the double doors into the draughty church hall, but I recognised a few faces from the Christmas party, and the team that runs the classes came over to me straight away and made me feel very welcome.
The class instructor is a lovely Scottish lady, who'd recently broken her arm falling on the ice, but she still managed to call the steps to the dances, and was ably assisted by her husband who operated the remote for the music, and interjected the odd acerbic quip, keeping the mood jolly and light-hearted. We began with a warm-up: oh my poor leg muscles! The weeks of non-dancing over the Christmas period have certainly taken their toll. And then it was straight into the first dance, a simple Gay Gordons. I vaguely remembered this from ceilidhs on Skye last summer, and was able to keep up without getting too lost.
Then we started into the class proper. The format was the same as for the beginners' class: a dance is announced, perhaps a little of the background is explained (who it was written for, what the various wheels and turns represent), any tricky movements are practised, and then there's a walk-through for the first couple. I quite like being first couple, as it's good to get the opportunity to walk through the all the steps, and see the various shapes and patterns from a dancer's eye view, which is very different to just watching from the sidelines. But it's a very exposed position, as everyone else in the set is watching you, in most cases trying to learn it themselves.
We started with a horseshoe chain, so called because the dancers' positions are reversed and upside-down. Dances usually start with the men on the left and the ladies on the right, (looking towards the front of the hall), and the couples are numbered 1,2,3 down the set: the horseshoe chain is performed with the men on the right and ladies on the left, and the first couple is in position number 3, with the third couple at the top of the set. It was reassuring that this was new to everyone, so we were all learning at about the same pace.
The class continued at a much faster pace than the beginners, so we went through about half a dozen different dances in the 2 hour class. We finished with a dance called Snowdrops in the Storm, which was written for a Japanese dancer. When it had been presented to our instructor on a visit to Japan, it had been beautifully presented in a decorated laminated folder, bearing the legend Wind: a breath of heart. Some things just don't translate very well!
Many of the dances we were practising and learning will be performed at the Burns Night supper coming up on 24th January, which I'm really looking forward to. Can't decide what to wear yet though. It's easy for blokes—they just put on their kilt and they look instantly dashing.
I enjoyed observing the dynamics of this new group: I was certainly the youngest there, but that didn't bother me at all. There were pairs of ladies who were obviously catching up on all the gossip and family news from over the Christmas break, and who had to be good-naturedly 'shushed' on a number of occasions. I got chatting during the break to a couple who'd been dancing for years: the man was getting ready to celebrate his 60th birthday by completing the Mourne Walk (a testing hike of about 20 miles), followed by a celebratory ceilidh. He certainly didn't look nearly 60! His wife has steel rods in her neck, which made it a bit awkward for her to see all round when she's dancing, but I was inspired and impressed that this injury hadn't stopped her dancing all these years. Indeed, she was soon giving me details of other classes she went to, including wood-turning, Pilates and Zumba.
Zumba? I hear you cry. Yes it was a new one on me too (and I must check whether or not it's a valid Scrabble word…). It's an exercise regime based on Latin dance moves, and it sounded right up my street. So the following Wednesday, I arrived at the venue.
It is held in Hillsborough Village Centre: this was an initiative to make the most of school buildings out of hours, so during the day this is a primary school, but each evening it hosts a wide range of classes from pottery to Spanish, as well as being the meeting place for the local Women's' Institute. Anyway, back to Zumba. The class wasn't too full, consisting of about 20 participants, all female. I was relieved that although many of them were quite young, none of them appeared to be the super-fit bronzed toned and skinny gym bunnies that can be intimidating in intense aerobics classes. The routines are all based on Latin dance moves, and I was overjoyed to the point of almost laughing aloud to discover that moves I'd learned years ago in classes as diverse as flamenco and belly-dancing were getting an airing. There's an awful lot of ass-shaking involved as well, which is quite handy really, as I have an awful lot of ass to shake.
Our instructor, Sarah, is 6 months pregnant, and still seems to be able to manage all the dancing around rather gracefully. It's always good to have an instructor who is inspiring, and Sarah is certainly that. I can't wait for next Wednesday!