We're fools whether we dance or not, so we may as well dance – Japanese proverb
Back to School – Again!
Once a year, a weekend school is organised by my Scottish Country Dancing group, and is traditionally held in my alma mater. It's always a strange feeling going back, remembering the good times and bad of my school days. But I do have the added bonus of being able to stay with my parents, who still live in the area.
Having grown up by the sea, there's nothing like that first glint of blue ocean as I crest the hill at the top of Portstewart, and nothing like the salty scent carried on the stiff breeze that rushes to greet me as I get out of the car. My Dad has just had a hip operation, so it was great to be able to see him looking so hale and hearty. Mum had found a jigsaw puzzle which she'd thought would give him something to do during his enforced inaction, but he found the pieces too fiddly. But I'm an avid puzzle fan, so I enjoyed finishing it off in short sessions in-between dancing.
Ah yes, the dancing! Friday night was a ceili, where you don't really need to now many Scottish steps or dances to be able to join in. My sister came with me, and gamely joined in with all the usual dances, but she had never done 'Strip The Willow' before. "If someone reaches their arm to you" I advised "just grab it and turn them!"
Saturday morning was taken up with classes focussing on technique, particularly the slow Strathspey step, as well as learning some new dances. I'd decided to challenge myself at the Advanced level class, and loved learning The Bejant Royal: this dance had been created to honour Prince William's first year at St Andrews University (where first years are known as bejants), and includes a step called 'Crown Triples'. I love the fact that this is a living, breathing tradition, and that new dances are continually coming into being.
I wandered down into Coleraine afterwards for some lunch and retail therapy. It's always been known as a good shopping town, and has some of my favourite independent boutiques who always have a good sale rail with big discounts. I soon found half a dozen of my fellow dancers and we spent a jolly half hour in the changing rooms giving each other advice and feedback on what we were trying on. They insisted (honest!) that I buy a dress that had been reduced from £210 to £69, and which was an eclectic mix of patterns and which fitted me beautifully.
Back out to my Mum's to give her a little masterclass in uploading photos from camera to computer: well into her seventies she's proud of her skills as a silver surfer, and can email and text with the best of them. But boy oh boy isn't dial-up so slow!
I tried on my purchases, but the dress was a bit too heavy to dance in, so went with a floaty black skirt and a simple halter neck top, set off with one of my favourite jackets, an eye-catching red and black ruffled affair. It had the desired effect as I made my entrance to the hall for the Saturday Supper Dance, and I joined the shopping sorority while we oohed and aahed over each others' outfits.
The dancing was very good indeed, and I only sat out one dance in the first half. After a supper in the old school canteen of beef cassoulet with rice, followed by lemon ice, I set out to find a partner for Polharrow Burn. This is a tricky 5 couple dance, which I'd practised diligently before the St Andrew's Ball last year, but then mucked it up on the night by dancing as a man instead of a woman. I reckoned the Helen's Bay class would all know this dance very well, so I sought out a willing victim to partner me. And we got through it with no mistakes!
At 22.45 the dancing was still going strong, but Dad had promised he'd be waiting with a large glass of malt whisky for me, and I didn't want to keep the invalid up too late. So I waved my goodbyes to friends old and new, and was soon resting my poor aching feet and ankles on my parents' sofa, large drink in hand.
I do recognise that my parents aren't getting any younger – replacement hips and knees will continue to feature, and my Mum wasn't as sharp as she used to be on the Sunday crossword. But I am so grateful still to have them in my life, and to be able to visit them easily and have them spoil me rotten!