Born to dance
When I finally mastered some of the steps at my Zumba class the other week, I felt I could risk not looking at my feet for once and looking in the studio mirror instead. Big mistake. I wasn’t expressing a vibrant fusion of Latin rhythms with Bhangra beats; I was channelling Wilson, Keppel and Betty.
I don’t think my mother knew what she was about to unleash when she sent me, at the age of five, to Miss Ballantine’s dancing class, to learn ballroom dancing and ballet. Her main aim was that I should master the social skill of ballroom dancing, for she was not to know that by the time I was of an age for social dancing, the prevailing style would simply be a free-for-all of hip-shaking, with more or less artistic arms thrown in at one’s discretion.
Instead, of course, I fell in love with ballet. For several years I did nothing but draw pictures of girls in tutus or long ballet skirts and feet en pointe. I practised the dying swan pose (see Uliana Lopatkina on YouTube for how to do it properly). I even wanted to change my first name to ‘Ballerina’. It didn’t matter that that my parents told me that I would be too tall to be a ballet dancer and would never be able to find a partner (Sylvie Guillem had not been invented yet). On reflection, I think they could see that I wasn’t very good, but couldn’t bring themselves to say so to my face.
Nevertheless, I persisted and went on going to dance classes as an adult. Things didn’t improve. I remember one dance teacher, who had a comb-over and an uncanny resemblance to Ted Heath, cruelly demonstrating to the class all the things I was doing wrong: head sticking forward, arms up round my ears, and stomach sticking out – not a pretty sight.
But if I couldn’t achieve the soaring, heaven-bound grace of the ballet dancer, perhaps I could do better at something earthier, more spontaneous, and less rooted in perfection: salsa! Off I went to classes. Sadly, years of one-size-fits-all bopping had done me no favours. ‘STOP JUMPING!’ was the teacher’s constant refrain, and I just couldn’t reproduce the shimmies-within-shimmies that characterise the truly accomplished salsa dancer.
So I must accept it. I wasn’t born to dance. I was in fact born to read. Sitting down. Still. On a sofa. But that doesn’t stop me, in the words of Noel Coward, ‘wriggling my guts’ whenever the opportunity presents itself.