Monday, May 31, 2021

The Juggling Bookie: Dancing

Courtesy Daily Mail

For almost as long as we’ve been married, my wife and I have said, We must learn to dance.  For years we’d watched dancers sail round the floor with the easy grace of Rogers and Astaire while we trailed behind holding each other tightly in case we fell over.

Last year we began dancing classes. Coming in a bit late, at week three, we found the other learners still trying to get their feet to do as they were told. Without looking at them. While smiling.   

We thought it would be really difficult, but soon discovered it doesn’t take a lot of talent to dance. Most people can move in time and get the steps right. It just takes practice.

We assumed at first we’d learn enough to get us into the Rogers/Astaire mode, but no: we were learning Round dancing. (That’s right, as opposed to Square.) Round dancing uses common steps like the Cha Cha, the Rumba, and the Two-Step - but only as a basis for an infinite number of variations.  And in order not to have to remember the sequence of all these variations, a caller tells you what’s coming up next, and you get on and do it. 

Thus, allied to the art of keeping your feet from tripping over themselves - or your partner’s - is the art of remembering what these variations require you to do. Many of the names bear little relation to the movement you perform. Though in the Fence Line you stretch your arms out before and behind, in the New Yorker you fling your outside arm back and your inside foot forward. It’s easy once you know it, but the reason for the title is lost in the mists of choreographic history. 

The movements for The Sliding Door, The Scissors and The Hitch (not hitching your trousers up, gents) relate to their titles, but the Fan moving into the Hockey Stick is a bit of a conundrum. 

In the early weeks, connecting the intended movement to their arcane names wasn’t too difficult. But when we got to the Two-Step, we found variations piled on variations. There’s the basic box-step, and the reverse box, then ‘progressive’ boxes (which is a misnomer), left boxes (which go full circle) and a broken box - which isn’t. It’s both frustrating and enlivening, and shows that old brains are as good as new ones at learning. If you practice!

However, the problem with practicing at home is finding enough room. The earlier dances we learnt didn’t move too far from their starting place, but the Two-Step grazes all over the field. By the time we’ve done an eight-step Crab Walk, we’ve squeezed through the door of our lounge and out into the hall. The following steps take us to the front door; in the wintertime that’s where we stop, and go into reverse. 

Maybe in the summer we’ll open the door, trip lightly down the path and out onto the street where there’s not only plenty of room, but possibly a ready-made audience.

This piece first appeared in The Juggling Bookie column in the New Zealand Anglican magazine,TaongaIt was written in 2004


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