We’re fools whether we dance or not, so we may as well dance – Japanese proverb
On Friday evening I had the very strange experience of driving through the gates of my old alma mater, Coleraine High School. I hadn't set foot in its hallowed corridors for nigh on 30 years—what would it feel like to be back?
I was there because it was the venue for a weekend school run by my Scottish Country Dancing group, and I'd been eagerly anticipating spending such a concentrated period of time focussing on dancing. And being my old school, it meant that I could stay with my parents, who still live nearby.
Friday night was a ceili night (I often use that alternative spelling, as it's easier to get points in Scrabble with the shorter version) and I'd persuaded my Mum and sister to accompany me. Mum always did enjoy a bit of a boogie, although replacement hips and broken bones in her foot have hindered her dancing in recent years. My sister D (another CHS old girl) is an expert line-dancer. I knew both of them would have a great time, and wouldn't be intimidated by any of the dances. As I collected D in my car, her next door neighbour was pulling out of the drive, and my Mum commented that she was a Scottish dancer too, and we wondered if she was going to the same venue. Sure enough, in typical Norn Irn style 1, she turned out to be an instructor with the local group.
The first person to come over and ask me to dance was one of the Bangor instructors, who funnily enough I used to know when he taught me line-dancing about 10 years ago. So I asked him if he would have a dance with D instead. Mum and D knew a few of the common dances like the Canadian barn dance and the Gay Gordon's, and any dances that were new to them they were able to pick up very quickly. Well, I think I hardly sat out any of the dances! There was always someone volunteering to be my partner for the next dance, and when the dance required groups of three (like the Dashing White Sergeant), me and my family were a ready-made set. I must say, that felt really good, to be taking part in a new activity and getting my family to join in too.
SMILE DAMMIT, SMILE!
Saturday morning's classes concentrated on basic technique, which I thoroughly appreciated. Going to my usual weekly class we tend to do a quick warm-up and then straight into learning dances, so it was great to go back to basics on the Strathspey steps, the pas-de-basques, and the most important technique of all— smiling at your partner. I was amused by the sign on the changing room door behind the stage, which had lost its leading "C" and so suggested that there were still some very cruel PE teachers employed by the school!
I had arranged to meet D for lunch after the class. It was the day of the Lord Mayor's Show so there were a few bits of street entertainment around —Clive Culbertson was playing Long Train Running outside the town hall in The Diamond, proving that nothing has changed in the last 30 years! We found a table with a good view of the River Bann to enjoy our toasties and cappuccinos, and then worked our way back up the town via a few key shops. Coleraine always had a reputation as a good shopping town, but the recession has hit it badly, and the big Woolworths store right on the main street wasn't the only vacant premises we passed. We had a look at the huge variety of shoes in Bishops (and laughed at some of the prices), I picked up a couple of old National Geographics in a charity shop, and we spent a good while in Couples, one of my favourite independent boutiques which stocks a large range of unusual clothing not available from the high street multiples.
By this stage my poor feet were absolutely aching, and I was glad to get back to my parents' sofa and rest them for an hour. Mum helped make the final decision on what I was going to wear for the Saturday supper-dance, a more formal affair than the ceili. I was very tempted to wear a light cotton frock which was trimmed with beads around the neck and hem, as well as unusually in the centre of the back. But in the end I opted for an ankle length bronze taffeta skirt teamed with a blue and bronze silk top. Mum lent me some bronze coloured beads and necklace which set the whole outfit off perfectly.
There must have been 100 people attending the Saturday ball: they'd come from all parts of Northern Ireland, as well as from Dublin, Scotland, and even a couple from Germany! The men all looked very dashing in their dress kilts, and the women looked gorgeous in their pretty frocks. During a rare moment when I wasn't dancing myself I was in awe at the sight of this large group, all moving gracefully as one, twirling and turning in unison, and of course everybody remembering to smile!
We had a very tasty supper, complete with a glass of wine (this is the first time I've seen alcohol at a Scottish dancing do, as they are usually held in church halls and are therefore dry events). Back after supper, the mood grew even more cheerful, possibly one of the side-effects of the wine. At one stage I was dancing beside my usual class instructor, who managed to get her bracelet entangled in the weave of her knitted top, and couldn't move her right arm for the rest of the dance. How we finished that dance without collapsing on the floor in fits of laughter about her wardrobe malfunction I don't know!
I looked at my watch and couldn't believe it was 11 o'clock— I'd told Mum and Dad I'd be back about half ten! So, like Cinderella, I hastily cast off my dancing shoes and hurried home in my little car before it turned into a pumpkin.
Well that was a fantastic weekend of dancing and fun, but oh my aching calves!