Murder on the Dancefloor: A Busy Week

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We're fools whether we dance or not, so we may as well dance – Japanese proverb

Kept on my toes

My, but I've had a busy week dancing! At my usual Tuesday evening class last week, one of the main dancers asked if I'd join a demonstration team for an evening performance next week. I was absolutely chuffed to be asked – OK I know I can dance, but I've only been doing Scottish Country Dancing for less than 2 years, so I'm flattered that my efforts have been noticed.

Before that, there was the Annual Dance in Ballylesson. I'm always full of good intentions to go to the regular class here, but as it's on a Friday night I usually have something more pressing to do, more often than not involving a sofa and a glass of wine. But this particular Friday I'd just received a letter telling me that I hadn't been shortlisted for promotion at work. That sort of news always brings on a wave of self-doubt, so, tempting as the wine bottle was, I felt I needed to go and do something that I KNEW I was good at. And so I managed to get myself along to the hall where all the usual suspects were gathering. The dancing was good, I only sat out one dance, the supper was very tasty, but the highlight of the evening for me was the strange notices around the place. I've put these in my journal already, so apologies for those of you reading this for whom it's a case of déjà vue all over again.

The first was under a clock, and the inscription read:

'Presented in memory of Mr and Mrs John Smith by their nephew and niece Dr and Mrs Fred Jones', which makes me want to see that family tree. Then, above the fire extinguisher was the exhortation 'Do not touch this fire extinguisher!' I'm sure there might be some extenuating circumstances. No? But the pièce de resistance was the carved stone in the entrance hall which read: 'Beneath this stone there is enshrined,
A legacy to whom may find', which I'm still trying to work out!

Fast forward to Monday night, when I attended a St Patrick's Ceili in my old stomping ground on the Castlereagh Road. Ceilis are less formal than other events, and many of the dances are suitable for beginners, so it was good to see some new faces coming along for the crack. There was a live band, too, which is always a bonus. And my friend Patrick, who always dons a green glittery wig to honour his namesake saint. Now, no do in Norn Irn is complete without something to eat, so at half time three trestle tables were swiftly erected in the centre of the room, and soon covered with a dizzying array of sandwiches, piping hot sausage rolls and cocktail sausages, buttered slices of fruit and gingerbreads, and an assortment of cakes and buns. And it didn't take too long for the repast to disappear either! In the second half, I sat out the one dance I cannot abide (The Irish Rover), but as I was clapping and cheering from the sidelines I found myself thinking how lucky I am to live in a society where dance is a much loved tradition, and is practised and enjoyed so frequently.

Tuesday night saw me back with my usual weekly class, and we spent some time checking that the members of the demo team knew the steps for the dances we planned to show. And then even more time discussing what to wear – short sleeved white blouses or long? Black tights or tan? Who had a sash and who needed one? And who knew how to tie it correctly?

I was glad I had St Patrick's Day itself off, as I needed some recovery time!

On Thursday morning, I printed off the crib-sheets detailing the dances we were to do that evening, and tried to get them into my head. It's a good job my office staff already know me to be slightly eccentric, or they might have wondered at me pacing around in circles and twirls in the privacy of my own office room. I got dressed for the night demo, in my new floaty black skirt that I'd got from TK Maxx, and my daughter even remarked at me putting on some make-up, a rare event. Well, one has to look good for one's public, even if it is only half a dozen people in a village hall out in the middle of nowhere.

It took me a while to find the hall, and all the others were already dressed and huddled around the crib sheets with our teacher, finalising how many times through each dance we would do. I was to be dancing 2nd lady for the first group of 3 dances, and was paired with one of the more experienced gals. She helped me to tie my sash properly, and I'd brought plenty of safety pins to attach it securely. I really must get a nice Celtic brooch to go on the sash. Maybe even a sash of my own.... hmm, should I go for the pale blue RSCDS tartan that about half of our group had, or the tan Ulster tartan, or the black and green of my family name?

It felt good to be 'backstage' again after a long absence, even though it was a cramped side room shared with a pipe band. Boy but they're noisy at close quarters! I love the buzz of adrenalin immediately prior to going onstage, and I gave a genuine smile as we lined up and walked to our places when announced.

The first group of three dances went smoothly enough, and I wasn't in the next two. But just before we started the final section, our teacher looked at the wrong piece of paper, and announced that we would dance the 'City of Belfast', which we had previously agreed would be in reserve during the second half of our show. All 10 of us dancers exchanged some subtle raised eyebrows, and tried not to reveal the panic we were feeling inside. But it had knocked us off stride somewhat, and we all began making little mistakes: I reeled up instead of down during Miss Johnston of Ardrossan, another dancer kept going to the bottom of the set instead of performing a figure of eight loop back up, and even A, the most experienced of our troupe, went to go into a final circle too soon. But the audience probably didn't notice: if you go wrong, as long as you can get to where you are supposed to be and keep smiling, then the set won't collapse and the dance will still look OK to the untrained eye.

We were even successful in dragging some volunteers onto the floor to do 'The Dashing White Sergeant', before doing our finale of three times through 'Marie's Wedding', and dance off. I was leading the dancers off, and all was going well until I got to the door into our little side room. The door had an odd opening mechanism, and I had to fumble to get it open, with the other nine ladies cannoning into the back of me. Not quite the dignified exit we would have liked, but I think the audience enjoyed our performance nonetheless.

Back home, my feet were aching as I took my make-up off and collapsed on the sofa. 'Tired but happy' is an old cliché that my school English mistress used to abhor, so instead I'll be exhausted yet elated, just to show her that I can do alliteration and all. Bring on the next show!

Murder on the Dance Floor Archive


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