Monday, May 28, 2007

I'd rather be dancing...

That's the title of one of my songs. And I wrote it because of my neighbour, Debbie, who is a dancer. We've been friends for about 8 years now, and our daughters are only a year apart in age. The other day when she came round, she told me about their annual Lindy Hop dance and how she was doing a barbecue. Well, however the conversation went, I ended up volunteering to cook for the afternoon workshops. So, barbecue for 30.... why not!? Well, Debbie is a hairdresser and she was wielding a sharp instrument in my direction - it seemed a good idea to 'volunteer'.

The Saturday of the dance arrived and I arrived at the school hall at 3.30pm whilst they were doing dance workshops. When it comes to dancing, I can just about cope with a barn dance, but what they were doing was something else. They hopped, jumped, slid, almost threw each other around. I fired up the gas barbecue and was introduced to the meat - some skinny burgers, things on sticks, frankfurters (frankfurters for a barbecue?!), ribs, sausages, more things on sticks... The gas barbecue heated up quickly so I got my sausages cooked well and truly. One set of tongs for fresh meat, one set for cooked, a tea towel over my shoulder, baseball cap to keep my hair out the way and an apron. And a thick, thick cardigan - it was a bank holiday weekend and consequently bloody freezing! (Yeah, even in May.)

Sausages on, I was distracted by a noise from the trees behind me. I strolled over the grass and saw, to my delight, baby blue tits hopping about the branches. Back to the barbecue - wanted sausages, not charcoal. Steve, one of the dancers and a regular at the club that Debbie and her partner run, came over to chat to me. He and his wife Sue had arranged the food. Lots of salad, and (after a brief inspection by Debbie) not quite enough meat. Meanwhile, hall doors open, I could see the dancers learning some kind of 'jumping' dance move and it looked most odd (to my inexpert eyes, of course).

The things on sticks looked, especially once cooked, very much like a dog turd. "Dog turds on a stick!" I shouted out when the barbecue was ready. Plates of sausages and other meats (Debbie had rushed out and bought more) were being cooked and taken into the hall, but my stick-turds took a little longer to cook and I didn't want them left out. The problem with things on wooden sticks, on a barbecue, is the wood burns and the sticks fall off. "Watch out for the ones with a surprise in the middle!" - the non-burnt sticks in the middle of the "turds". Well, poor marketing you may have thought, but I was getting requests for "another dog turd please..." so my cooking can't have been too bad.

I was thoroughly smoked myself, warm now though - and enjoying feeding the hordes. The burgers were useless - thin floppy things that tried to escape through the bars of the barbecue and suffered a fate worse than eating, but mostly I managed to cook and serve reasonably edible fare.

After two hours, it was time for me to disappear whilst they prepared the hall for the evening dance. I would return, but not - indeed - to dance.

9pm and I went back to the dance - the hall now dark and decked, the band (five piece swing band, loud, lively, lovely) in full pelt. The floor was alive with dancers - and the most incredible dancing it is too. Lindy Hop is like jive and rock and roll and all sorts (oh I could get in trouble with the purists here I know) but such fun to watch. Hayley, Debbie's 14 year old daughter, was dancing with Paul (Debbie's husband). They moved fantastically - Hayley was easily as good as any of the adult dancers there and as she danced her face was alight: a bright smile that was genuine (not like those plastered on ones you see on ballroom dancers - you can hear the instructor loudly calling 'smile'! behind every one of those).

"Do you dance?" I was asked. "I can't dance." I answered - but the truth is, I don't know. I just never learned I suppose. I was tempted to learn, watching them, but I have a feeling the 'flinging about' might just do my dodgy shoulder no good at all.

The band were great, double bass, drums, sax, guitar and vocals and keyboards - all wearing white shirts and colourful ties. But at their break (and this was the reason I had returned to the dance, after all), there was another band doing a guest spot: the Jivettes.

Hayley and four of her school friends went on stage, Hayley clutching her double bass (Buster, bigger than she is!) and her friends on keys, trumpet, sax and drums. They played two songs and once again Hayley shone: she sang and played the double bass and - of course! - the crowd loved it. I loved it.

I chatted to her father, Graham, afterwards, he was very proud too (as was his wife, Stella). This wasn't his world - the dancing, the music, but he was (in a demure way I have to confess) exceedingly proud of his daughter, and rightly so. "Must go," he said, "say goodbye to Terry" (Hayley's brother and a bit of a rascal, to be honest). I was off too, having enjoyed watching the dancers and of course Hayley's performance. I heard later that he didn't even say goodbye to Hayley, which must have hurt her feelings.

So - a sneak look at another world - that of Lindy Hop. Dancers of all ages, all races, all abilities, and all - without exception - having fun.
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