Tuesday 18 September 2012


When I was filing my Monday blog post I came across one I published just over two years ago. So here it is again, slightly rejigged – an appropriate verb to use for a piece about dancing.

Dancing was part of the physical education programme at the all-girls’ grammar school I attended from the age of eleven. We learnt country dancing (Strip the Willow and Sir Roger de Coverley), Old-Tyme dancing (the Veleta and the Military Two-Step), and ballroom dancing (the Cha Cha Cha and the Foxtrot). We galloped sweatily round the gymnasium, enjoying the exercise and trying, not very hard, to remember the moves. Although it was enjoyable most of us would rather have been climbing ropes or vaulting.

One of our PE teachers was a talented ballroom dancer but we callow lasses didn’t appreciate that as we watched her spinning skilfully round the hall with her female partner. Our comments were uncharitable at best. We had little understanding of, or interest in, anything other than ourselves. All the staff members were women - the advent of two male teachers a few years later caused a great buzz of unnecessary enthusiasm.

On wet lunchtimes we couldn’t go outside and so dancing was organised in the assembly hall. The music was provided by records and we always wanted the polka. I remember still the heady excitement of swinging giddily round the room with my friend.

When we were about fourteen or fifteen the staff organised a ‘formal’ dance and we all dressed up in our finest. My mother made me a very pretty dark pink Empire line dress and one of the highlights of the evening was commenting on what everyone else was wearing. We were used to seeing each other only in our hideous green uniform in school. We danced together decorously, the bolder girls inviting teachers to partner them. I wonder what those women made of the event. Many of them, though they seemed ancient to us, were probably in their late thirties or early forties and had probably lost fiancés in the war. It must have been bittersweet for them as they twirled around the parquet flooring in the embrace of adolescents, some of whom, in the time-honoured manner of girls’ schools, had crushes on them. Looking back I applaud the magnanimity of those adults in volunteering to supervise us and even accept invitations to dance – or maybe they had been coerced into it by our less than amiable headmistress.

When I was eleven I was one of the smallest girls in the school. By the time I left I was among the tallest. This meant I had to take the man’s role in ballroom dancing. This played havoc when I went out into the wider world and actually had to dance the woman’s part but by the time I started going to village hops and town dances most of the dancing was solo; that is, a boy might ask a girl to dance but there was little physical contact –that is, physical contact wasn’t compulsory.  

I was always among the anxious wallflowers until the final, desperate, traditional ‘Last Waltz’ began when every lout youth in the room homed in on the unloved to claim a dance. Being clammily clasped by an inebriated boy who was keen to boast that he had a girl-friend, however tenuous the relationship might be, was not a dream ending to a night out. Nevertheless, it was better to dance the Last Waltz with anyone at all rather than remain on the touch line like an abandoned shipwreck. I liked dancing, though, particularly on my own. I loved the Charleston but there wasn’t much opportunity to dance that. I really enjoyed the Twist and hearing Chubby Checker’s ‘Let’s Twist Again’ always makes me want to dance. I had a ‘twist dress’ that I wore every Saturday night – it was brown and swirled most pleasingly as I twisted the night away. 

When we reached the dizzy heights of the fifth form and were almost adults – or so we thought ourselves – our school arranged a joint dance with the boys’ grammar school. Oh, the delirious excitement of it all! Some of my contemporaries already had boyfriends at the school so they were paired with them. The rest of us losers we young ladies were allocated partners, sight unseen.

It was nerve-wracking waiting to discover one’s escort for the evening and, in the event, mutually disappointing, I’m sure. We gazed enviously at our superior and rather smug peers who had come with partners they’d chosen for themselves, tried to be polite and longed for the evening to end. I was relieved that my escort was taller than me for I was quite tall (did the teachers take height into account or were we put together alphabetically?) but the dancing was deplorable, on both our parts. He managed to keep his feet off mine, for which I was thankful, and while he wasn’t actually counting the beats out loud his movements were somewhat staccato. I don’t think the boys had received much dancing instruction but at least they knew they were supposed to be ‘leading’. I knew I was supposed to be following but I was so accustomed to taking the lead that I was fighting him for the privilege. 

At some point there were refreshments but time has mercifully over-ridden all other memories of that evening. Certainly, it was not the stepping-off point to a beautiful friendship. I wonder if he ever thinks of that night. I wonder, too, if the experiment – the enforced socialising - was ever repeated.

When the mood takes me these days I dance in the kitchen, on my own, or with a dog or rather surprised cat. Barry doesn’t dance if he can avoid it, making an exception only for jiving, which he really enjoys. One of these days he will spin me out and fail to catch me as I return and I’ll crash unceremoniously into the wall. No doubt he’ll have a camera automatically recording to film the incident.


  1. JUst saying,if Barry happens to record such an 'event' as you anticipate, I hope you would graciously share it with your blog friends!!
    I really wonder what Winston thinks when you suddenly start dancing with him! The dogs must be resigned to the fact. Mine are, though they do cock their heads and look surprised to start with!

    That was a very endearing account of your school days...:O)

  2. What a fun post to read. It took me back to Swing Your Partner square dancing that we had to endure in PE.

  3. I enjoyed this immensely. Beginning in 4th grade we had square dancing. I liked it until 5th grade when I apparently made too many mistakes and my evil 5th grade woman teacher grabbed me and twirled me until I thought my arm would leave it's socket. The first boy-girl dance I went to was in 6th grade. I mostly stood and was glad to go home. Grades 7 -10 I was at a Lutheran school and dancing was a sin, as of course dancing meant lust. Back to public school in grade 10 but by then I was so behind everyone who danced without worry of sin for 4 years. I began to dance freely. In college in beer bars after a beer and somehow I found it was fun. But I don't think I ever caught up with others because of those four years I missed. I do like to dance today but need a good leader. This is more than you want toknow, I am sure.

  4. I love watching dance - especially ballet - but when it comes to myself or me I am the world's most non-dancer. I once had to take a country dance lesson in school, twice a week for a whole term. I thought that any talent the pupils might have had would be ruined for life, but it was not that bad: we did it from a radio broadcast.

  5. @Geeta: you may be sure that it would be Barry who posted such a video;-)
    @Linda: thank you. It's interesting to note that you had to 'endure' dancing, too:-)
    @Mary: on the contrary, I was fascinated by your account:-) Like you, I need a good leader, but can't put it down to a lack of dancing, lustful or otherwise;-)
    @Dave: given the opportunity, I'd watch ballet for hours on end. We rent ballet videos from LoveFilm - just wonderful.

  6. Dancing is something my husband really does not feel comfortable doing. However, I've enjoyed line dancing and zumba although I'm never sure what I'm doing.

  7. What nice memories ! We didn't have dancing classes at school but the use was that every girl and boy went to dancing school when we were 14/15, then for the first time we were mixed ! Unfortunately I was moved to Brussels just at that time and was so angry with my parents it was such a shock for me to miss such an event !
    The German school in Brussels was mixed anyway there were not enough pupils to separate sexes ! So we organized school parties and dancing Rock and Roll we learned all very quickly. Then we had a teacher for classical dances like walse, foxtrott, etc. What a time I was always amongst the tallest, with 13 I had already the size of today, lol !

  8. Hi Janice .. I was hopeless at dancing - no sense of rhythm .. though loved learning the dance in West Side Story, and I won a little china brooch for ballroom dancing at one stage - must have been an encouragement brooch!!

    Loved your story though .. I hope Barry carries on catching you?! Cheers Hilary


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