So, as my personal life once again crumbles around me, my dear friend N decides that we’re going to do one new thing a week, in an attempt to stave off the crippling isolation that freelancing can bring. By coincidence, housemate J announces she wants to go to a swing dance class nearby. I’m happy to give anything a try once, but N understandably has reservations, as last time I dragged him along to a dance class he spent an uncomfortable hour gyrating his hips at a roomful of women shaking their asses in his face. But he was convinced to come along.
As we sat around a large ballroom above a pub, it became clear that the other participants were taking the impending class quite a bit more seriously than us. People were stretching. Removing layers of clothing. Drinking water. We were wearing whatever we found on the floor and imbibing troughs of wine. ‘It’ll help us loosen up’, we said, hiding our glasses under the table.
Happily for N, there was an ample amount of men in the room. Happily for J, there was an ample amount of good-looking men in the room. And happily for me and my fears that I’d look like Bambi on ice, hardly any of them could dance.
But Hell, they thought they could.
The fundamental moves of swing see the dancer slightly bent over at the waist, kicking/bouncing with alternate feet in time – in time – with the rhythm of the music. Then there are a few staples, like the rock step, or the under-army-move (not sure that’s the official term, though). The crucial factor is that every move in swing dance is guided by the lead, which is traditionally the bloke. If the bloke can’t lead, the ‘follow’ (the woman – hello fifties terminology) doesn’t know what the Hell is going on and ends up lumbering around trying to catch up, or pre-empt the next move. And it all looks ridiculous.
Partners are rotated throughout the class, and there were a couple of guys there that could really dance and really knew how to lead. Dancing with them was great fun. I’m certainly no pro, but they were patient with me while I got the gist of the basics. Good stuff.
And then there were the others, which broadly fell into two categories: 1) Lumbering oafs that ‘have been coming to this class for several months. Don’t worry, I’ll show you how it’s done’, and 2) Lumbering oafs that were new to the class and had gone mad with the power of leading, chuckling arrogantly when their limp-wristed attempts at leading went unnoticed and I missed the steps. All of them were extremely sweaty, and all of them seem to have confused swing kicks with the choreography from Mary Poppins’ Step in Time.
One man – a very stern version of Neil’s dad from The Inbetweeners – insisted on squeezing my hips and shouting ‘Look at me. ALWAYS LOOK AT ME’ before closing his eyes, inhaling deeply and barking ‘Ah-one, two, three, four, ah-one, two, three, four’ repeatedly until he could ‘find the rhythm’. As we rotated around, he licked his lips and told me ‘Not to worry, not everyone can dance’. Another guy confided in me that ‘The instructor doesn’t normally do this. It’s all a bit backwards so you’ll probably struggle a bit’, as he kicked me in the ankles and span me off into the middle of the room without the obligatory rock step to indicate his intention.
To be fair, there was one lad who was as new and humble as we were, and he was drinking a pint, but he had to suffer the fury of his girlfriend who couldn’t understand why, after being in the presence of an instructor for 20 minutes, he wasn’t suddenly a swing dance professional.
At the end of the class, there’s a big dance free-for-all, which sees couples dancing in the middle of the ballroom, and stragglers and Bambis sat around the edges, like in terrible American prom movies. Alas, no handsome strangers asked us to dance, nor did any of the lumbering oafs, who were leaning against the walls panting for breath and wringing their shirts out, which was fine by us. Back to our troughs of wine we went, with a faint sense of accomplishment for trying something new.
*Note: Following some disgruntlement about this post, N would like me to point out that he is completely heterosexual.