This is the story of a little boy from Oklahoma who had a dream. A dream to dance. And he lived his dream. Briefly. But with it being so far removed from his smalltown Oklahoma reality (not to mention the fact his dream came true over 4000 miles away from home, on a continent he’d never yet visited), the memory of those halcyon days have since been filed in his brain under ‘In Case Of Emergency Look Here For Long Forgotten Stimuli That May Bring Me Out Of A Coma If The Unfortunate Need Should Ever Arise’. I assume the giddiness of such a dream coming true has messed with the ‘it absolutely did really happen/it’s too fabulous to have really happened’ divide, and the grown man has sadly no recollection of this part of his childhood.
But I was there. I remember. I REMEMBER IT ALL!
The first rule about Dance Class is you don’t talk about Dance Class; you express it through the medium of DANCE! And dance we did. Our little four-year old legs throwing themselves out in all directions as our arms tried to keep up. Sticking our tummies out because, well, because we were only four and had not yet learnt the word ‘posture’.
And this is how I first met Brian. Brian with the very short shorts and the tap shoes with the very big bows. Brian tapped his way into every class and tapped his way out again. His Shuffle Hop Step Tap Ball Change was the envy of us all.
Don’t you remember any of this, Brian? The classes covered Ballet, Tap and Modern dance. ‘Modern’ being anything that wasn’t Ballet or Tap. And Ballet and Tap were merely defined by the shoe. Those early years presented little distinction between the forms, given that as human beings we were still learning basic coordination. Ballet was just very quiet tap-dancing. Don’t you remember doing Ballet, Brian? By the time we were eight or nine, we’d learnt how to wrap those satin ribbons round our legs like proper ballet dancers. You spent hours practising with your satin ribbons. And we discovered the secret to balancing on our toe tips, without it hurting, was to cut off our circulation by tying the ribbons really tight, rendering our feet numb. The reality was we never progressed to going ‘En Pointe’, so the opportunities to wear the classic satin ballet shoes were rare. Much to your disappointment.
There was only one other lad in the class, so as we grew up and advanced into more complicated routines and to PUTTING ON SHOWS, because I was tall, I was often cast in a boy’s role. This was the Seventies, so boy/girl divides were the order of the day. The upside being we were able to rehearse our routines together. And we rehearsed during every spare minute didn’t we, Brian? Do you still not recall any of this? We would run through our steps, helping each other keep time, although you often found yourself gravitating towards the ‘girl’ part. I often felt you weren’t entirely comfortable learning the boy routines.
And do you still know all the words to ‘Oliver’? I do. One of my favourite musicals and any of those show tunes can take me right back to dance class. I’m surprised you don’t remember us being cast in ‘Oliver’. Don’t you have even the vaguest recollection of the Dockyard Pantomimes? Each Christmas, the little theatre in our local Naval Base, hosted a pantomime and we’d feature in several numbers. All those sailors. Surely you recall the sailors, Brian? Those British Naval uniforms were chorus-line ready. I know all the nice girls love a sailor, but I was too young for such. Besides, I’d already given my heart to David Bowie, at the totally inappropriate age of seven.
Perhaps you remember the costumes we wore? Pixies? Military? Swans? Don’t you remember being a swan, Brian?
Well, I don’t know what else I can recount to help jog that memory of yours. I mean, you LIVED it. You were THE DANCE. You marched your band out. You beat your drum. It was YOUR DREAM! It happened, Brian. It really happened.
This little piece was inspired by the rather marvellous Mr Lageose (no, I’m not entirely sure how to pronounce it either, never had to, never asked), resident raconteur at Bonnywood Manor. This was the dream of a boy from Oklahoma. I’ve made that dream a reality here, because it was indeed my reality. The details are true. I only attended dance classes until around the age of twelve, but it was a huge creative escape during my early years. I wasn’t any good, but the legacy of those days lives on, not least in the fact I have really stretchy hamstrings.
This post is dedicated to the memory of Iris Barnes. A French-looking, chain-smoking theatrical luvvie who clapped out Triple Time Steps in her sleep. My introduction to winged eye-liner, uncomfortable tights and David Bowie.
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