300 Years of Dance





Oh my aching ankles, too much tapping.  No, I haven’t started typing with my toes, it’s the result of my first dance lesson since I learned a bit of tap in my twenties.  I have been to a few ceilidhs and barn dances over the years and I absolutely love them.  It means you can dance with a whole group of people, drop in and out of the dancing when you need a rest or are ready to jig about again and you’re not dependent on your own partner wanting to dance. Win: win, as far as I’m concerned.



You may have heard last week on Angela Rippon’s TV programme, that dancing is apparently the best form of exercise to keep you young.  That coincided nicely with my friend J’s new project, to start a local dance class.  The qualities which attracted me to dance are all the things which apparently keep you young; meeting people, taking a variety of exercise and learning a new skill.  So far, it’s all looking good, nothing but advantages to this new venture.


The first 15 minutes looked very promising, my husband and I joined a group of eight others, pretty similar in age and appearance.  The unassuming tutor taught us a few steps and we paced them out; join hands, four steps in, four steps back, ladies in and clap, then the men and so on.  I was feeling confident, I could remember the sequence, pace out the steps and was ready for more.  I was possibly even over confident…  Next we added the waltz.  Now, I have always wanted to know how to waltz.  It seems to be one of those dances that some people were ‘taught at school?’ although it certainly wasn’t part of the curriculum at my senior school.  Anyway, it turns out that the waltz is all about triangles and I understand that concept.  Moving backwards across the dance floor with my female ‘male’ partner, I felt the rhythm of the waltz and could picture my feet drawing the little triangle on the floor as we progressed from one side of the room to the other.  I was so pleased with myself and still had plenty of energy.  The trouble started, dear reader, when we had to do a turning waltz as part of the dance sequence which had by now increased to more steps than you could imagine.  The tutor called out the steps and we all followed, some of us a step or two behind and then once in a while the instruction came for a turning waltz step, which meant a little jog on the spot for me until everyone else had turned around!  I started to warm up with all this activity and by break time was overheated and gasping like a fish for some barley squash, which made me feel I must be ill, as that’s the only time anyone ever drinks lemon barley squash isn’t it?


In the second half we were treated to a dance from the 1650s which was slower and more elegant.  The tutor kept referring to the men’s cloaks and swords and the ladies’ bustling gowns. I was transported to my very own Jane Austen novel (a later era I know, but apparently they used similar dances for many years).  I swept my imaginary gown as I turned around  and imagined myself with those long white gloves to complete the look.  There was no time to picture my hair with the curls and the embedded jewels, as the tutor kept us busy with a smouldering shoulder to shoulder touch, first left, then right and a zig zag walk into the middle of the circle.


The next stop was the 1920s and we were taught the basics of the Charleston.  Was it front back, back front or vice versa?  Tricky and fast, this dance also included a little tap tap, behind, across in front, tap tap and a quarter turn each time.  This meant that even when we made sure we were at the back of the group, after two quarter turns we quickly ended up at the front of the group and they were following us! My secret weapon in this dance was that little tap tap behind etc .  I remembered it from my tap dancing days and I felt so proficient that I even helped a couple of others to get their feet in the right place.


The last dance was a ceilidh dance and had several familiar elements, skipping down the middle of two rows of dancers, making an arch for others to go through and so on.  By now, I was ready for a rest and glad it would soon be home time.  This morning was another matter, muscles aching in my shins and ankles, hobbling round until I had reassured my legs that today is not a dancing day.  But there’s another class in a week or so and we’ll be there for some more fun.


Fact:  Next time you’re at a barn dance or ceilidh, when everyone holds hands to start with, look for a man who holds his hands out at about waist height, palms up, he probably knows what he’s doing, as that is apparently the right way to do it!


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