You can blame Hugh Roberts. He mentioned in a comment made several days ago, an old post, written in a moment of sheer elation. And he mentioned the video that had accompanied it. I had to go back and look. Ever since I did, the music has been following me and my body has felt the yearning to move.
I have always been a dancer at heart. When broken bones meant the pointe shoes were no longer an option, I turned to ballroom dancing, taking lessons at Porritt’s Ballroom in Farsley… housed in the converted Wesleyan chapel… where I had watched my mother dance too.
Mr and Mrs Porritt had opened their ballroom in the fifties, I believe. They were passionate about dance and opened the doors to its magic for many people, my mother amongst them. Mum was a good dancer, a champion, and she danced at a time when strict tempo and glamorous tulle dresses were de rigeur. I remember watching her when I was just a little girl, waltzing around the floor as light as a feather. But when the army moved us to Kent while my father was serving overseas, her dancing days were over. Almost.
One Saturday night, years later, we had gone to a disco together that we found, on arrival, had been cancelled. Mum suggested we went to Farsley to see if the ballroom was still there as we were not far away. The lights were on when we got there and opened the door. After so many years, it had barely changed. Couples were still waltzing around the floor, and the familiar music was still being played.
As we stood in the doorway, the music ended and two elderly ladies looked up. There was a shout of “Carole!” and Beatrice Porritt and Vera Whitehead flew over to wrap my mother in hugs, recognising her instantly, even after so many years.
They drew us in, firing questions, marvelling at how I’d grown since they had last seen me… Mrs Porritt was one of my godmothers. She insisted we take off our coats and join the dance. My mother clung stubbornly to hers, knowing that beneath it was the transparent lace ‘belly blouse’ she had borrowed from her teenage daughter for the evening. But Mrs Porritt was not to be denied… unbuttoning the coat, she began to remove it, took one horrified look beneath and plucking Mrs Whitehead’s cardigan from the chair, bundled my mother into the cloakroom until she was acceptably covered.
It was a far cry from a ball gown, but the magic remained as I watched Mum dance as beautifully as if she had practised every day and with unmistakable joy in every line of her body.
Ballet had been my dream since I was tiny, but a year of accidents, plaster and bandages had put paid to my own dancing, leaving behind a physical ache. After that night, I wondered if ballroom dancing might not fill the void and, once a week, went to Farsley for lessons.
That very first lesson was one I will not forget. I was nervous. I had only ‘learned’ to waltz by standing on my mother’s feet when I was small, usually as we waited for a bus. Mrs Whitehead took me onto the floor as showed me the steps of the waltz. She had been one of my mother’s teachers and at the end of the lesson, she partnered me as we put what I had learned into practice. As the music ended, she said, “You dance just like your mother.” And that was, to me, the highest compliment she could have given.
As well as lessons, I went every week to the Saturday evening dance. It was on the floor that I really learned to dance, partnered by whoever asked and learning how to move to the subtle guiding of their hands and the music.
But I got engaged… my fiancé did not dance… and it would be over forty years before I would waltz again, apart from the odd impromptu whirl on the streets of Paris. The ache never left. Then, seven years ago, for a few short weeks, I found myself able to take lessons again. My friend Karolyne was staying with me at the time and chose to video that first dance in decades. Although I hate being on that end of a camera, I am so grateful she captured that moment of magic and memory.
As the teacher held out his arms, he said, “Let’s see what you remember.” After over forty years I didn’t expect to remember a great deal. One turn of the floor later, with me grinning from ear to ear and a bubble of sheer, unadulterated joy wanting to burst inside, he smiled and said, “You haven’t forgotten hardly anything.” And it seemed he was right and, after so many years, it wasn’t all that bad. The body remembers what the mind forgets. I knew it wasn’t great… knew I’d made mistakes… and I simply didn’t care. Not at all. I was dancing!
Over the next few weeks, we went through the whole repertoire of ballroom and Latin. I laughed, smiled and loved every minute. “You’re not here to learn,” said the teacher a couple of weeks later, “you just need someone to dance with.” He was right. I did. But apart from the episode with dancing the Seven Veils, I haven’t had the opportunity to dance since then.
It is seven years since those lessons. I may never get the chance to dance like that again, though all things are possible. But, after Hugh had made me look once again at the video, the music followed me for days. Dance electrifies every nerve and with each note, I could feel the movement… and the yearning.
On my son’s newly paved driveway… far bigger than any of my little rooms… I finally gave in. Beneath a cold, grey sky, I closed my eyes, held out my arms for my ‘partner’ and let the silent music play. And even so, there was joy.