One of the best things about being almost 40 is the liberating feeling of not giving a s**t. Many people, who may have witnessed me demolish a dance floor, perhaps in White’s Tavern or Auntie Annies, may find it hard to believe that I ever had any inhibitions when it came to throwing a few shapes. What I must point out however, was that this was ‘free-style’ dancing. These movements of mine came about from my primal response to the beat, and if I was feeling it, then I was beyond restraint. I could always shake a leg when I was out of an evening, and once I heard the strident chords of the Stone Roses’ ‘Resurection’, or the riff at the start of Guns n’ Roses ‘Sweet Child O’ Mine’ I was away.
However, any sort of dancing which necessitated following steps, was a different thing altogether. An inability to tell left from right, coupled with self-consciousness, meant that Irish Dancing as a child or salsa dancing as a student rendered me feeling like an uncoordinated moron. I’ve written before about the Irish Dancing lessons my mother sent me to when I was four, and the teacher who had a voice on her that could have skinned a rabbit, and under whose tutelage my tiny frame froze and my toes clenched in their pumps as I seized up in terror.
Then I endured the Glenlola Collegiate PE experience, which included some frightful instruction on a variety of ‘traditional dances.’ We had to fold our arms in ‘Dosey Doe’ to some North American barn dance nonsense, and hold hands side-stepping round in a circle to ghastly Russian folk music. I was always paired with one particular girl whose hands were cold and clammy, like recently defrosted prawns. Once, I recall a few of us laughing at the sheer bizarreness of the activity, at which our teacher went berserk, chastising us for our lack of manners. ‘I’ll have every last one of you in a detention!’ she yelled, her jaw muscle a-quiver. ‘And that’s not a threat, that’s a PROMISE!’ Flip, she took things to heart, that one.
The hall was huge and echoey and the wooden floor was cold under our bare feet. The cold was no doubt exacerbated because we were forced to wear only an air-tex shirt, coupled with navy ‘knickers’; a cross between athletic shorts and large pants. They could only have been described as undergarments, and in today’s forward thinking Ireland, should a girl choose to wear these ‘out and about’ she would surely be inviting sexual assault, (which of course would be her own fault entirely, due to the paucity of material.)
Anyway, for these reasons I never enjoyed any formal dance lessons, and when my friend asked me to come along to an Irish Dancing Class held by Orla Longeran in a Presbyterian Church on the Ormeau Road, I said ‘No thanks, that sounds horrific.’ Somehow though, she wore me down, and up I turned and the music and the sheer FUN of it drew me in. Three years later I’m still doing my ‘one-two-threes’ and my ‘sevens’ and my reel and I’m LOVING it. Yes, I am often to be seen dancing off in the opposite direction to everyone else, but I just laugh and think how lovely the Presbyterians are, to let this mad Anglican skip about their hall, dropping the odd expletive. Orla and I get on terrifically well because like me, she is a chronic over-sharer, and I revel in the fact I never know what she’s going to reveal next, be it her temperamental guts or her poor application of fake tan. She makes me feel right at home, despite her long gazelle like legs as she hop-two-threes about, full of gracefulness and elasticity.
And now I’ve discovered ‘K-Pop-X’ at Queen’s PEC. I never thought that aged 39 I’d have developed an appreciation for Gang-ham style Korean dance, but holey moley, it turns out it’s ALL THE CRAIC, and a terrific work-out to boot. I find myself smiling inanely as I hop forwards and kick back, making little gun actions with my middle and fore-fingers, then karate-chopping the air. ‘DJ’ calls Hannah and we make wide swoops with our arms and hold the palm of our hands to our ears. ‘Good job!’ she calls as we shimmy left and right, opening imaginary ‘tricky doors’. And maybe that’s all there is to it:, a good attitude and uplifting tunes. I bounce out that door of a Friday afternoon feeling upbeat and energised.
Doctors now recommend active pursuits as a means to boost both physical and mental health, and anyone who has been to either Orla or Hannah’s classes would understand why.
So, should it be your living room or your gym, disco or church hall, get dancing. I’m convinced it’s taken years off me, and at least for that hour or so, all other thoughts are dispelled. I did a ‘Thought for the Day’ on the subject back in October, which is here, should you wish to listen.
(You can have a read about how dance has helped people to recover from grief and exorcise demons in this article.)