Friday, 22 July 2016

The Mysteries of Dance

Of all the supposed arts, I've never had much of a relationship with dance. I quite enjoyed all that stuff with the maypole when I was a kid, and I can appreciate the folklore of village ceremonies, or dance as defining the ritual space in which offerings might be made to Huitzilopochtli; but otherwise it generally doesn't engage me, and I don't regard it as either interesting or important. Many years ago I used to buy The Observer every Sunday, more or less for the sake of habit and because it was marginally funnier than the Radio Times, but I gave up when they printed some crappy Millennial list of the hundred people they saw as having most influenced the twentieth century. There were three choreographers in the list, because apparently choreography is important. It was probably the wankiest, most excrutiatingly middle-class thing I had ever seen in a left-leaning newspaper, so I stopped buying, at last understanding that such things weren't for the likes of me, mister.

I never danced as a kid, but I danced as an art student when I realised that the act was part of a process which, if performed correctly, might provide access to the contents of women's knickers; although it never did in my case. This was probably because I attempted to develop my own style - a kind of spastic bodypopping relative of David Byrne in the Once in a Lifetime video. I observed my peers dancing, mostly doing that thing with forearms moving up and down from a stationary elbow whilst looking bored, sort of like a mime of climbing a ladder performed by someone who is tired and doesn't really understand why you would want to know in the first place. I saw this and felt compelled to move rhythmically in a way which at least suggested that I was alive and maybe even enjoying the music. My style was knackering, but had the additional benefit of providing much needed exercise which tended to lessen the subsequent unpleasant effects of being full of beer, but it never led to sexual activity, or at least no sexual activity involving persons other than myself, and was therefore mostly a waste of time.

Nevertheless, here I am thirty years later going to a dance recital. We're going along to watch Jamie, who is seventeen or maybe eighteen and who is my friend's daughter. She's been attending a local dance class for at least a decade, and this is the big show at the end of the educational year.

We take seats and we watch.

There are four or five groups according to age ranging from five or six to Jamie's bunch, and each group performs three or four times to some song or piece of music; and as soon as it starts I realise just how much I'm out of my depth. I don't understand why I'm watching this thing, and these people have no reason to be on the stage moving around in set patterns whilst grinning or else looking confused. There is no reason for this thing to be happening, and yet here it is.

The youngest group aren't really dancing so much as going through a set sequence of vaguely illustrative gestures, more or less at the same time, and all staring intently at an off-stage teacher, aside from the one dancer who spends each performance facing the opposite direction to all the rest. It's puzzling, and yet sort of charming because it's little kids, which at least keeps my wife happy for a couple of minutes. They dance, or at least engage in roughly synchronised gestures to what sound like Shirley Temple numbers; but they really come to life during Blue Suede Shoes. Yes, they're all girls, but there's no reason why they shouldn't look
at least a bit like Elvis, and their shoes are certainly blue. Then as one, they point out at the audience, furrow brows into angry-little-girl faces and yell don't step on my blue suede shoes - a startling burst of atonal noise but you can tell they're enjoying themselves.

The older groups are probably better in so much as what they do looks more like dancing, or at least more like those routines which clogged up the British television schedule for most of the seventies - top hats, teeth and high kicks all swirling around the stage to a dubstep version of some Amy Winehouse song. I still can't quite see the point of any of it, and now I have the additional conundrum of why anyone really thought Back to Black worked better as some shitty crunk ringtone with the bass replaced by that wub-wub-wub sound. Is it not enough that the poor woman is pushing up the daisies?

I say the older groups are probably better, but it's all relative. I remain aware of lumps of meat hurling themselves awkwardly across the stage to land with a thump whilst trying to smile, but it's never a convincing smile. It looks like they're mostly on the verge of shitting themselves, and the ones who aren't smiling have a face suggestive of trying to remember what the hell comes next. It's awkward and a long way from anything you could describe as graceful, but it feels somehow like we're all in this together. We all have to get through this thing so we can go home.

The styles are tap, jazz, freestyle, and a few others I've never heard of. I can see there are differences. I know what tap dancing is, and mostly they've all got that one pretty much nailed. Jazz involves sparkly top hats and a whole shitload of grinning.

Inevitably there are a few disquieting anomalies even without the missed beats and screw-ups. One group includes a girl roughly three times the size of everyone else. She's probably just regularly proportioned, but everyone else being so tiny makes her seem enormous, ungainly, and very difficult to miss; but this is some dance class not Broadway, so she's stuck with midgets of equivalent ability and that's just how it is, and now I have to feel bad for even noticing. Also there are two males in the group, and they dance well, which isn't a problem; but from my circumstantially blinkered point of view it jars. It feels forced and awkward. It's all weird and pointless, and I'm aware that my opinions don't really count for shit in this context, which doesn't make it any less weird or pointless.

Jamie herself is on a few times, and whilst I may well be biased, I can't help notice that she dances well compared to her peers. Her moves seem graceful with less huffing and puffing involved, and she looks as though she's enjoying herself rather than grinning like she's at a job interview or communicating something to people with whom she shares no common language. This is great because at least it means I won't have to lie to her mother. She dances with the others to Nights in White Satin, and thankfully it's not the dubstep version. It's not even the Dickies version, although that might have been interesting.

We end with ceremony and applause, speeches and awards, even for just showing up in a few cases. Those who have been in the class for longer than ten years take a bow, and it's most of them. I guess that dancing must be a lot harder than I imagined if some of this bunch have been at this since 2006. I don't know how many of these kids are likely to end up on Broadway, if that's an ambition. I still don't know what any of us were supposed to get out of this.

Afterwards we visit the south side and eat at some place on Military Drive, which is fine during the day but can get a bit shooty in the evenings. Once we've eaten, we drop in on Flipside Records because it's almost next door to the restaurant and I've always wanted to take a look at the place. The incense is so thick I can barely see the bongs and related paraphernalia on sale at the rear of the store, but I browse the racks of used records and find a Stranglers album I've been after, which is nice. Three Mexican girls come in and begin looking for some Moody Blues album. I can't work out quite which record they're looking for, but wonder if it might be the one containing Nights in White Satin.

If there's a pattern to any of this, I don't think I will ever understand it.

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