It strikes me as a bit sad then that as we get older our opportunities to have a good dance get fewer and fewer. I mean, who doesn’t like to bust a few moves in the privacy of their own living room but dancing is so much more liberating when you become part of something bigger than just you and the music. It’s one of the few times we come together with others, letting go of our own identity to form some sort of separate human organism. Dancing must surely be in our DNA when you think we can even get a small baby dancing, almost from the get go, bobbing and jiggling along before they can take to their feet.
My first experience with formal dancing came in primary school with a timetabled lesson of country dancing every week. We were each allocated a partner age six and kept the same one until we were eleven and on our way to secondary school. I got a boy called Richard Fiddler, who was blighted by allergies and constantly snotty and sneezy but apart from that he made a very nice dance partner. I have no idea what became of him because we went to different secondary schools but, I still remember him with fondness when I recollect the pair of us galloping and cantering, the teacher’s voice ringing in our ears, bellowing that we had the grace of baby elephants.
Around the same time, I vividly remember the joy of dancing with my aunties as they played their favourite songs over and over again. The youngest of the aunties is only five years my senior and they go up pretty much in yearly intervals after that. As I was starting secondary school, they were already enjoying proper, grown up social lives, which I observed with an aching envy. My grandmother had what we used to call the ‘outhouse’, which was basically a room off the kitchen which housed the washing machine and the fridge. It was also where the aunties would get ready to go out as it had a mirror on the wall large enough to accommodate all of them. Best of all though it had lino on the floor which made it perfect for dancing. Especially as the youngest two aunties were ardent northern soul fans and so we could spin and spin to our heart’s content. In actual fact, we must have been a dancing family because sometimes everyone, even my granddad, would be crammed into that outhouse dancing, especially on a Sunday afternoon when the booze had been flowing.
As I moved into my teens, the youth club became the place to be and, on the shiny floor of St Marie’s church, we would spin like tops trying to pretend we were somewhere good like Wigan Casino. When I say ‘we’, I mean the girls, as the boys would just stand about all gangly and awkward, waiting for the lone table tennis table to become free. There was just one boy who liked to dance and he also had the best record collection I’d ever seen. He was completely ostracised by the other boys though and had to become an honorary girl.
Luckily by the time the 80s arrived and I was finally old enough to hit the clubs, boys liked dancing just as much as girls. As the Pogues and the Clash became floor fillers, dancing became less about spinning and more about throwing yourself into the fray and doing whatever the hell you liked – possibly making dancing more accessible to those awkward, gangly boys. And so we danced our way through the 80s and hedonistic 90s until suddenly we were too old to go clubbing any more. In fact, I genuinely can’t remember the last time I went to a club.
My dancing days, it seems then, have dried up. There’s the odd wedding or birthday party where, as the drink flows the dance floor beckons but other than that – nothing. I suppose in a way dancing has been replaced by my thrice weekly fitness classes where, in much the same way as dancing, I subjugate my own identity for something bigger. It’s all a bit of an irony that I like the feeling that comes with being part of a large group because, in the main, I’m a fully paid up misanthrope and people have a tendency to get right on my nerves.
I feel fairly hopeful that I’m merely in a dancing hiatus as my mother and her fellow widow friends all attend weekly tea dances. They mainly dance with each other as I think there’s only a handful of men, bobbing about in a sea of women who are all in their 70s and beyond. For now though, it seems I’m going to have to content myself with practising my moves in the house. What I lack in technique, I make up for in enthusiasm and, as luck would have it, my kitchen floor has lino.