One foot & then the other
NOTHING PREPARES YOU FOR DANCEBASE
01 Nothing Prepares You For Dancebase After last yearâ€™s workshop/writing project of writing reviews on the shows performed during the Fringe, Artlink decided to continue with the project and chose the theme of dance. Arrangements were made to hold meetings at Dance Base in the Grassmarket. The Grassmarket lies below Edinburgh Castle and the historical area is lined on each side by buildings of different architectural styles. Dance Base is located between the historic Beehive Inn and the Black Bull Inn. A somewhat nondescript pend gives access to the building above it and nothing prepares you for the very modern building behind. The first floor is reached by a lift or by a wide stair way at the end of the pend and leads to a bright landing built with modern materials and two glass doors leading into the reception area. The meeting room overlooked the Grassmarket. We were given a tour of the complex. It was really interesting to see how well the modern part had been incorporated onto the older building with its thick stone walls. There are four studios which were all being used for rehearsals or classes. Studio 1 was situated on the first floor at the back of the building. The walls were built to extend up beyond the second floor. The other studios were on the second floor. One door led to Studio 2 which overlooked the Grassmarket. The other door, a glass one, opened onto a timber walkway which surrounded the walls of Studio 1 (we could see the dancers below) and led to a new building on the hill to Studios 3 & 4 where another glass door gave entry to a lobby giving access to the studios and stairs/lift, back to the first floor where there were changing rooms, a sitting area with a corner for young children and back to the reception area and administration offices. I am looking forward to our next meeting and seeing and learning more about Dance Base.
WE POLKA’D FOR SCOTLAND
02 We Polka’d for Scotland So many dancing memories. Here’s one from 2007. Rural France, high summer. The pageantry of an Irish cousin’s wedding. The buzz of guests: men dazzlingly smart, women fragrant, multi coloured butterflies. Replete from the open air banquet, we settled in the welcome shade of the high ceilinged reception hall. The Irish folk combo, stick thin and serious, began to play and the chatter stilled. Such lilting, skilful music. The bride and her mother, perfect blossoms in ivory silk and champagne organdie, floated on to the dance floor, linked arms and began to birl – like the best bit of ‘Strip the Willow’. Merged into one centrifugal force, they covered the wide space. We watched, entranced, at this traditional celebration. Soon, surely, other guests would join in? We were raring to go – but what was the protocol here? Surreptitiously, we checked for clues on etiquette. The two glowing women dropped a graceful curtsey and subsided into their chairs. The wedding guests focused as though at a concert, whilst music flowed and eddied from fiddle, guitar and bodhran. Applause but no dancing. The rhythms called to us. Heads nodding, shoulders shrugging, stomachs tensing, fingers drumming, toes tapping – veterans of countless Scottish ceilidhs, our bodies yearned to dance! A fresh, lively tune, struck up. We exchanged glances, leaned close, muttered a conspiratorial, ‘Gay Gordons’ and with a complicit nod, were on our feet. Falling naturally into the familiar stance – we were off! One, two three, turn, back, two three, turn,
WE POLKA’D FOR SCOTLAND
one, two three, turn, back, two three and twirl and twirl and twirl and twirl and polka, two, three, four and…. All eyes were upon us as we held the floor, two Scots dancing to an Irish band in festive France. We would soon get the ball rolling. At any moment, every other guest would be released into joyful movement! We’d be back on home ground – a crowded dancefloor of exhilaration and near collisions, footwork unseen in the crush. We misjudged. We were smiled upon, hands beat time, but we danced on alone. Our Scottish reputation at stake, we held ourselves that bit taller. An extra hop crept into the turn; Rob’s arm arched higher as I spun beneath, matching my highheeled pas-de- bas to his; we polka’d for Scotland. When does a ‘Gay Gordons’ ever out last its pleasure? Only when it’s become an unwonted exhibition and you’re the only couple performing! Our smiles segued from warm to fixed, muscles tightened towards pain, as we struggled to disguise our ever more belaboured breathing, pride spurring us on. Why had I ever introduced that extra hop? At last the closing bars sounded and Rob guided me from the floor, amidst apparently heartfelt applause from the assembled company and cheers from... yes... from our dance-loving daughter, now standing at the edge of the floor with her partner. Just where had they been hiding when we went into our dance?! Really, the younger generation can be such wimps…
I LOVE TO DANCE
03 I Love to Dance When I was young our Church were always having social events to raise money for something or other. We all went as a family, and as my Father was deaf and tone deaf, as he called it, he couldn’t dance. He could do the St Bernard’s Waltz as he could count it. My Mother was a beautiful dancer and very light on her feet, which is a requirement if you are a good dancer. I myself was chosen to be Mother’s dance partner, at all these social occasions. I just loved it, I loved the music, I loved moving round the floor, and when I actually learned it I was as pleased as punch. The ballroom was easy for me, I just floated round the room, it was just fabulous. Then came the old time dancing. The Pride of Erin Waltz, the Mississippi Dip, the Military Two Step and the Portobello Hop. Up I would get with my Mother, it would take a few times of Mother keeping me in step and talking me through it. I was a quick learner, I loved dancing, plus I loved the look of pride on my Mother’s face when I knew all the steps in such a short time. My Mother knew I loved to dance as much as she did. I honestly say thank you to my dear late Mother for teaching me. I am older myself now, but love dancing. If I go to a function with dancing it’s icing on the cake for me. These days I don’t have Mother as a partner, if they play a slosh which is for one person I’m up there. I just love the music, keeping the rhythm and showing off. Everyone gets impressed that I can do it. My favourite dance if you have a good male leader is a quickstep, oh my you can really whizz round the floor and show off as much as you want with everyone who’s sitting watching wishing it was them. Well I imagine that’s what they are doing. I just love to dance.
04 Beginners Please! The cloakroom was busy with groups of chattering girls who were hanging up their coats and getting ready to go into the large office where they worked. One group of teenage girls, who went to the dancing together were listening to Joan and Rita boasting about their visits to the beginners’ class at a local dance studio. “It’s really great,” said Joan, “and there’s lots of boys there learning to dance as well.” “But why go there,” asked Cathy, “when you can go to the Palais?” “Oh, but this is proper dancing,” said Joan. “With proper teachers,” said Rita, “and when you are good enough you can go in for your bronze medal, then silver and then when you’re really good, go for gold. We learn in a hall round the corner from the studio and after about an hour or so we go to the studio proper and see the more advanced dancers.” “And then they ask us to dance,” said Joan, “and help us.” “That sounds quite good,” said Avril, the prettiest girl in the group. “What about going, Cathy? It might be fun!” Cathy didn’t have a lot of confidence but was light on her feet and could usually follow her partner. “OK,” she agreed, and they arranged to go together to the next beginners’ class. After going home and getting ready for dancing, they met up and Joan and Rita led the way. It was a typical dingy, dusty hall, with forms round the sides and a piano in the corner. Girls stood in one group and boys in another. The instructors, Peter and Pamela, came in smiling, followed by Mrs Bloom, the pianist, who plonked herself down at the piano. “Good evening everyone,” said Peter. “ We are going to teach you the basic steps
for a waltz and then a quickstep. Pamela and I will demonstrate and then you will learn to do the steps.” Mrs Bloom thumped out the tune on the piano, which badly needed tuning, while they danced looking very elegant. “Now then, your turn,” said Peter. “I’ll show the boys at this end of the hall, and the girls go with Pamela to the other end. I see we have some new members tonight, so those of you who have done this before go first and the others watch.” With a smug look, Joan and Rita confidently went on the floor first. Pamela showed the girls their steps and then they all practised making sure that they were doing it properly. Mrs Bloom was asked to play the piano while they danced on their own. Peter would stop her when anyone made a mistake and everyone practised again. Then the boys were told to take a partner and everyone was shown the hold for dancing. “This is worse than school,” said Avril. Time dragged on, but eventually it was time to go to the dance studio. There was a decent dance floor, chairs around the walls and a gramophone played strict tempo dance records. The dance floor was busy with dancers at different levels of competence. The beginners watched while more advanced dancers practised. Then Peter eventually announced that it was time for the beginners to dance. The very advanced dancers and their partners left the floor. “This isn’t much fun,” Avril whispered to Cathy. “They certainly have a high opinion of themselves,” nodding towards the advanced dancers, who were now sitting out and chatting away by themselves and ignoring the beginners. The remaining dancers had to be encouraged to ask a beginner to dance. Joan and Rita were asked by two of the dancers from their previous visits. Avril had the choice of two offers. Cathy also got a partner. The music started, Cathy stepped back with her right foot, her partner moved forward with his right foot and kicked her left ankle. “S..sorry,” said Cathy and quickly changed her feet – so did her partner and immediately stamped onto her right foot. Embarrassed and blushing furiously Cathy changed step again, as did her partner. She was kicked again and – oh no – she felt a ladder running up her stocking. They stopped dancing while the other couples danced on. “You’re not doing it properly,” said her partner. “You’re not leading me,” said Cathy. “I don’t need to,” said her partner, “you should know the steps.” Cathy could feel her confidence oozing away as her partner proceeded to give her instructions. At last the dance finished. The next dance was announced. Cathy was asked to dance by one of the
beginners. He had certainly learnt the steps but unfortunately hadn’t listened to the music and was about two beats behind everyone else. By the time Cathy got home she was convinced she was a hopeless dancer. “I’m not going dancing again,” she told her parents, telling them about it. They sympathised with her and began to dance with her, leading with one foot, and then the other but not saying which foot they would start with. There was no problem. The girls went to the Palais the following Saturday, where there was a good dance floor, a live band, and a bright multi-coloured ball on the ceiling throwing out sparkling lights. There was a balcony where you could sit and watch the dancers below. Cathy was pleased to find that she could follow her partners without any bother. Avril, of course, was never without a partner. Joan and Rita complained that their partners couldn’t dance properly. Avril and Cathy didn’t go back to the beginners’ class. Joan and Rita stopped going to the Palais and went instead to learn proper dancing, with partners who knew the proper steps, at the ‘Proper Dance’ Studio.
05 Confidence Trick Cheekbone resting on bunched up left hand, pen poised over daily planner, the girl in the corner desk gave no outward sign of interest when the routine of morning registration was enlivened by the advent of the newcomer. ‘Ah!’ Miss Taylor had evidently expected the interruption. Pausing in her reading of the notices, she announced in her perfectly articulated tones, ‘Fifth Years – I’d like you to welcome Caroline Orantes. She will be joining your guidance group and taking the same subjects as the Classical set. Caroline has moved to this area only recently, so I look to you, as established students of Borders Academy for Girls, to extend the hand of friendship and help her settle in. Find yourself a seat, Caroline. Right girls, attention back to the notices, if you please.’ Caroline Orantes stood tall and relaxed, accepting the introduction, the hint of a smile – was it satirical? – warming her face. Long, dark lashes blinked just once over tawny eyes as her well-honed radar detected the powerful ones – the cool ones – the in-crowd. Why, then, did she choose the vacant seat in the front row, to the right of the non-descript teenager hunched over the end desk? Joan shifted uncomfortably, teeth and tongue latching automatically onto the nibbled fingernail of her pinkie, the treacherous blush, scourge of her adolescence, creeping up from her neck. Caroline caught her surreptitious sideways look, held it for an almost imperceptible moment of complicity, one arched eyebrow raised, then broke the contact and lounged back, arm flung nonchalantly over the back of the blue plastic chair, swishing the curtain of honey blonde hair expertly over her shoulder. From the back row, Tracey, Iona and Marie communed wordlessly, questioned, judged and agreed. The probation period would be short. By midweek, their elite
coterie could be one member bigger. In the following few days, before Caroline allowed herself to be adopted by the Triumvirate, Joan struggled to feel at ease with her new classmate – but then, Joan struggled to feel at ease in any situation which didn’t involve laboratories, experiments, essays and exams. Covert observation became ever more rapt, as the gauche 15 year old tried to work out what made Caroline Orantes so – so – well, perfect. In short, Caroline was intriguing, effortlessly confident and undeniably sexy. Joan … was not. Even telling someone her name ‘Um… J-Joan… Joan Higgins…’ was a hurdle. But what could she do – five foot 7 inches of skinniness obscured by maroon school sweatshirt, frizzy mop of hair more mouse than auburn, grey eyes, downcast, fringed by stubby, sandy lashes, long legs hidden by the wrong length of skirt, feet encased in clumpy black shoes. Ungainly. Like her name. Oh, but there was another Joan in there somewhere – the Joan who, behind the closed bedroom door, homework complete, settled the buds in her ears, tuned the ipod, closed her eyes and melted into the music. The Joan who danced. She ached to be able to let that dancer out – become part of the crowd at the local Saturday night disco, uniform cast aside, emerging, butterfly like – laughing, spinning, jumping, swaying to the thrumming beat. The image flashed unbidden through her mind – and she was standing again, on ankle-hating platforms, resting sweaty palms on the cold sink rim, taunted by her reflection in the heartless, fluorescent-bright mirror, which told her she’d tried too hard: the specially purchased, overpriced, shiny red shirt clashed horribly with her face; the mask of make-up failed dismally to disguise her awkward shyness. With a belt of sound, the muffling door of the Ladies Room swung open. A pair of glowing, giggling girls burst through, overbrimming with stories of their conquests on the dance floor. Did their cursory glance at Joan really hold pity and derision? Their instant summing up: No competition from that quarter, then! Our boys wouldn’t go near that with a barge pole! No wonder she’s skulked off here rather than hang about like a spare part in the hall! With twin clangs, the girls disappeared into cubicles, their gossip tossing to and fro without surcease. Joan didn’t wait to make sense of it – the evening, which had begun with such high hopes, had ended in humiliation. It was time to retreat. Yet there was some kernel which would not be vanquished. As the weeks and her 16th birthday passed, Joan brooded on some new tactic – some key which would release her to become more like – well, Caroline Orantes, of course. Or maybe… She shouldn’t try to be like Caroline – she should actually BE her. Play the part. Take on the role. Yes! That was it! Like solving the equation, a thrill
of recognition pulsed through her. She would discover the essence of Caroline, take the knowledge and apply it to herself. All it would need was a rigorous scientific approach – and that, she knew, was her forte. Before the end of the winter term, she had gathered her data, analysed and made her conclusion: Caroline was not, in fact, gorgeous. Sure, she had great hair, but taken feature by feature, she didn’t meet the criteria for beauty. There was nothing pushy about her – clothes and manner understated, languorous, graceful. She always got what she wanted – the comfiest chair in the senior common room (well, the only comfy chair, actually); the last available place on the French exchange; Iona Shaw’s boyfriend… Caroline acted as though all this was rightfully hers, and somehow made you feel only too pleased that she should have it. Was Caroline Orantes really as comfortable in her own skin as the evidence showed? Joan concluded that it didn’t matter – Caroline gave the appearance of confidence and the world took her at face value, drawn in by her charm. A plan of action was formulated. Get the image right, then brave the throng at the disco. Act the part, feel the character right down deep inside her like the best actors did. The proof would be if she could stay in character well enough to let herself go – and that meant dancing. First up – the costume. Would the birthday money stretch far enough? Time to explore TK Maxx. She discovered the tunic jammed in amongst the active wear on the clearance rail. Tugged free, it unfurled with a whisper, ‘Take me – I’m yours.’ The shoes were just waiting for her too: supple, grungy green, ballerina flats, made for moving. Home again, showered and in her underwear, she raked through her bedside drawer to unearth the tin of texturizing hair gel – ‘for that just-out-of-bed look’ – free gift with some long discarded mag. It felt good rubbing two clear, viscous blobs of the stuff through her hair, scrunching up her curls into a what-do-I-care froth. Concentrating hard, she turned to her make-up. ‘… keep it natural – you’re not hiding this time – just being. Stick to the formula…’ A slick of eyeliner, sweep of mascara, lick of lip gloss and it was done. Then carefully, mindfully, like an initiate into a new order, she reached the tunic over her head. From wide shoulder straps and square neckline, shading from moonstone grey,
through charcoal to deepest dairy milk purple, the cool, silky material skimmed her slender form, settling mid-thigh, handkerchief hem billowing softly - a gentle, friendly thundercloud, over her opaque black lycra leggings. Slipping into her magical dancing shoes, she turned, with a tense inhalation, somewhere between hope and fear, to face the judgment of the full length mirror. And looked. And looked. Exhaled. Then inhaled into a wide, lit up smile which spread to every part of her as she lifted her arms, stretched out her hands and shimmied! ‘OK – we’ve nailed the costume – part one of the campaign successful,’ she told her image, ‘Right – hold that feeling, play the part. We can do this thing. Next stop the disco. ’From the vantage point of the stairway, she surveyed the vast, shadowy, noise filled converted basement of the old Town Hall – beating heart of the sub20 community every weekend. Her strategy was to attach herself – loosely – to the outskirts of a group of school acquaintances, then focus on the music and let her self-assured, assumed character carry her. The lightshow swooped blue, orange and searing white, over the crowded floor, picked out individuals for the blink of an eye, then swept on. Amid his eyrie of scaffolding and pulsing machines, the DJ orchestrated the night. It was simple to follow the boppy, poppy number. Starting small, she tuned in, feet a little apart, shoulders relaxing into the beat, a picture of slightly selfdeprecating calm beside the ‘look at me!’ gyrations of the girls nearby. The next track appeared to be more worthy of her attention. Eyes half closed, she connected with the rich, complex rhythms, let them flow through her, made them her own, stretched out and danced, arms raising naturally, now sideways, now above her head, circling wrists snaking, fingers clenching and extending, knees flexing to transmit shoulder, torso, hipsway through to feet – repeating, building, then subsiding, with a final slow spin, as the music died. That set the standard. She had come through. No-man’s land no longer her domain. Eyes glowing with inner knowledge of her conquest, she ran unconcerned fingers through her tousled hair, ready for whatever was to come. Which appeared to be that – just as her ‘Caroline Study’ had shown her -when you exude self-containment and independence, people will seek you out. For four or five tracks, she was aware of pairs and groups of dancers moving into her sphere, orbiting, wanting to be seen around her. She let it happen, occasionally acknowledging them with a low-key grin, matching her moves to theirs,
keeping it light and offhand. The next time a group drifted away, one guy lingered, half-questioningly. She answered by swinging round enough to continue her dance facing him. Attractive? Oh yes – the sweeping spotlight confirmed it. More importantly – he knew how to dance. Almost half an hour later, hot and laughing after the irrepressible nonsense of singing along to a rock anthem, he used the brief moment of relative quiet, as the DJ segued into the next playlist, to say, ‘So – how come I’ve never seen you before? Is this your first time here? I’m James, by the way, James Alexander.’ It was out without conscious thought. ‘Caroline Orantes,’ she responded, ‘and yes, this is my first time.’ ‘Well then, Caroline,… want to dance some more?’ The tempo slowed, as James’s arms came to rest on her shoulders, hands clasped lightly behind her neck. They swayed together, feeling the music, living the moment, their world full of possibilities. As the final, velvety notes faded away, she was aware of someone else beside her – and turned. Tawny eyes smiled lazily beneath the honey blonde fringe. ‘Hey there, Joan! How’re you doing? Going to introduce me to your friend?’
FORTY SHADES OF GREEN
06 Forty Shades of Green The little girl waltzed around the room, holding her bear by its paws. Her grandfather had a bunny, also by the paws, and he danced alongside her. They were elegant, the pair of them, looping around one another in the routine they had perfected. Grace loved watching them. She was smiling, and she still held onto her empty coffee cup, and tapped her fingers against its rim, along with the music. The song was ‘Forty Shades of Green’, and her brother sang along, he had a beautiful voice, thought Grace, though she didn’t really know what the song meant. When the record finished Grace applauded the dancers, and the little girl took a curtsey. Grace’s brother sat down, puffed. “I’m puggled,” he said. “So, I got a phone call from Sister last night,” said Grace, continuing the conversation they had been having before the performance. “They’ve got a place for me to go to Knock! One of the ladies broke her ankle, I can have her place and I don’t even have to pay!” “Didn’t you pay to go last year?” said her brother. “You paid to go last year, on the pilgrimage, and then when you couldn’t go they wouldn’t give you your money back! That church! You and that church!” “Aye, but now I’m going, and I’m not paying. I must be meant to go. It’s worked out beautifully.” “Not for Mrs Wumman with the broken ankle,” Grace smiled. “I’m not going to go all the way on the coach. I’ll just take my wee case, and I’ll get the train through to Stranraer the night before. I’m going to meet another woman, Mary, who’s on the pilgrimage, and we’ll stay in a Bed and Breakfast, then we can meet them in the morning, at the ferry terminal. We’ll get the
FORTY SHADES OF GREEN
coach across to Ireland, and all the way to Knock. Sister’s been so helpful with the organising.” “A coach full of nuns and wifies!” “Well, I’ll send you a postcard!” “A postcard!” Her brother harrumphed, but as Grace was leaving, the little girl came back into the room with a book, and she watched the two of them settle down to read together, her brother softened by the presence of the child, and by his similarity to her. The night before she left to go on pilgrimage, Grace packed her small suitcase. She didn’t want to carry too much, she couldn’t be doing with people who took the kind of enormous suitcases that looked like they could fold out into a spare bedroom if you needed one. She packed her good suit for the Sunday, and a dress for the Saturday night, when there was a meal for all the pilgrims at the hotel. She laid out her travelling clothes on the chair in her bedroom, her Jimmy Choos on the floor underneath. At the hairdresser earlier on, the girl had asked her where she was going. “Ireland,” she had said. “I’m going to Ireland.” It sounded beautiful, to say the word. Ireland. Knock. Jimmy Choos. She fell asleep smiling. It took her three trains to get to Stranraer. It was hot in Glasgow – one of those unexpected days you get in early summer, and town was busy. She left Queen Street Station, and walked down towards Glasgow Central, where she would get the Ayr train, and then change in Ayr for Stranraer. She had her little case in one hand, and her handbag over her shoulder. She didn’t want to take off her jacket, even though she was warm, because she’d just have one more thing to carry. Princes Square shopping centre was a relief, because it was cool inside, though it was still teeming with folk. She looked in the windows of the shops, but she wasn’t needing to buy anything. There was a Chinese restaurant on the top floor, and you could have two courses priced quite reasonably. It was nice to sit at a table, and have a waitress take her order. She drank two large glasses of water with her food, and while she ate she watched the people around her. A couple came in laden down with bags, as though they were being punished for shopping, they flopped into their seats, and puffed and moaned, and stuffed the carriers underneath the table between their two pairs of feet. Grace felt sensible and light, with her little case on the ground beside her like an obedient dog, and her handbag on the empty chair opposite. Back on Argyll Street, she decided she would just go straightaway to Ayr. It was too hot, too busy. She had plenty of time.
FORTY SHADES OF GREEN
On the train to Ayr a couple with a little boy got on. They were getting the train all the way out to Prestwick, to the airport, and then off away on their holidays. Grace hadn’t known that you could get the train all the way to the airport, it really made sense, though, when you thought about it. They were a nice little family. The parents were contentedly harassed, and the woman kept checking for the passports, and the man kept counting the luggage, but the little boy seemed happy with his comic and his one wee car. When the train arrived in Ayr, Grace had plenty of time before the Stranraer train was due to leave. She got talking to a woman with an enormous suitcase, who was just back from the Maldives. She was a widow, and this had been her first time on holiday since her husband died. They decided to go to a cafe together, before their train. Grace was still full from her Chinese meal, but she thought she could do with a coffee. The two of them went to an Italian restaurant, and Grace enjoyed her cup of coffee while the woman ate lunch, and then they caught the train together. There was so much you could talk about, with someone you had just met. Once you had told them the bare bones of your life, it could feel like you had known each other for years, and yet you didn’t really have to say anything secret, or anything that would make you nervous. In Stranraer, the train station, and the bus station, and the ferry terminal, were all in the same place. Grace said goodbye to the woman, and went to the bus station to see if the Edinburgh coach was in yet. She was to meet Mary, who was travelling by coach from Edinburgh, and they were sharing a room in a Bed and Breakfast. The coach wasn’t in yet, so Grace went to wait for a taxi outside the station. There was a young woman waiting outside the station, and she asked Grace where she was off to. When Grace told her the name of the street that the B&B was on, the woman said that that was her street, and that she should get a lift with her, as her father was collecting her. The Bed and Breakfast was very comfortable. Grace had a cup of tea while she waited for Mary to arrive, and she sat in the lounge looking out of the window onto the neat little garden at the front of the house. The room was very quiet, there were some books and some pamphlets on the sideboard, which you could look at if you were staying longer, but Grace and Mary were off to get the ferry first thing in the morning, so Grace just sat quietly. When Mary arrived off the Edinburgh coach, she was famished, she said. The two of them went out into the town, and found a nice pub, with a very nice, inexpensive menu, and they had dinner. Afterwards, Mary insisted that they should go one way when they came out of the pub, while Grace insisted that they should
FORTY SHADES OF GREEN
go the other. Grace had always had a good sense of direction. She always knew which way to go, even if she had only been somewhere once, and even if that had been a long time ago, and so at last she and Mary ended up back at the B&B. It was lovely, sitting up late and blethering. They made sure that they had set the alarm, and they dropped off to sleep, feeling very contented that things had gone so smoothly so far. In the morning it was bucketing. The B&B owners gave them a lift to the ferry terminal, where they were to meet the coach. The coach was nearly full, but there were seats up the back, and Grace and Mary got themselves settled, before the coach drove onto the ferry for the short crossing to Ireland. In Belfast, they got off to stretch their legs, and when Grace got back on the bus, she sat up at the front, as she didn’t travel well. It was quite an experience, Sister was walking up and down the bus with Ribena, and crisps, it was like being waited on, thought Grace. She looked out of the window at the rain, and she took a little nap as well. They arrived in Knock, and Grace was very pleased with the hotel. It was really beautiful. They met other pilgrims, over for the Feast of Our Lady of Knock, and by the evening Grace was exhausted. On the Saturday, there was a trip to Galway on the coach organised, but Grace had had enough of sitting on the coach. She went to church in the morning, and then spent the day in her room, which was so pleasant. It was lovely to get back to your room and find that the bed had been made, and the towels in the bathroom were clean and fresh. Grace’s house was very tidy, but that was all her own work. It was nice to have somebody looking after these things for a change. Grace had dinner with the other pilgrims, and after dinner they went off to say Rosary, but Grace didn’t want to go, as she had been to church that morning, and also there was a Big Band playing in the bar. Grace didn’t take a drink, but she loved music, and she sat there, listening, holding onto her lemonade, and tapping her feet, swinging her knees from side to side. She couldn’t very well get up and dance on her own. The band kept playing, and the dancefloor was empty, even when everyone came back from rosary and the tables at the edge began to fill up. The Priest came over to Grace. “I can see you like to dance!” he said to Grace. “Oh, I love to dance, father,” Grace could feel herself leaning forward, towards the dance floor, as though the music was pulling at her. “Well, so maybe you’ll dance with me, later?” said the Priest. “I like a Circle Waltz myself.”
FORTY SHADES OF GREEN
Grace nodded, distracted. Just then, the band started a new song. It was the Slosh, which was Grace’s favourite dance. She couldn’t help herself. Up she got, onto the empty dance floor, and started dancing, right there, right in the middle of all those women, in front of the priest, the night before the Feast of Our Lady of Knock, she took to the floor. Oh, she was showing off, she knew, kicking up her heels, spinning and shuffling, clapping her hands with a wee flick, as though she had castanets. Before the band was halfway through the song, the dancefloor was full of Irish women, up dancing with Grace, inspired by her. When Grace sat back down she was beaming, and flushed. “So, you got all those ladies up dancing!” said the priest, who looked impressed. “Well, now you’ll have to have the one dance with me.” Grace was shy, she wouldn’t have dreamed of accepting, but then the Priest asked the band to play a Circle Waltz, and there he was, standing there waiting for her, and she couldn’t very well leave him, so up she got. All the time she was dancing all she could think of was: Don’t stand on my Jimmy Choos, Father. It was fine, though, because he was a good dancer, and as they waltzed together her Jimmy Choos were quite safe, and she began to enjoy herself. They circled the room, and she saw the faces of the other women around the dance floor, and she thought, well, now I know the meaning of the song, Forty Shades of Green. And she kept time, and she smiled a little smile, that everything had worked out so beautifully.
SENSES OF SIGHT & SOUND
07 Senses of Sight and Sound It stands out of place on the side of the room, not part of the furnishings, this selfassembly embroidery frame made of light wood and plastic fittings. It will stay there until the project is finished. Really looking at it, I am aware that although functional it is also quite elegantly shaped. The upright supports are curved. The arms are threaded at one end and look like barley sugar chimneys when they are vertical. The material is sewn onto the webbing on the cross pieces. The frame is so light that I can lift it with one hand and put it into position to start work. The material is stretched to a suitable tension. The threads have been separated into the different shades. I select the colour and pull out the number of strands needed, pulling them through my finger tips to straighten any kinks out. The needle is firm and strong as I thread the yarn through the large eye. The blunt end of the needle pierces through the material from underneath, the thread runs through my fingers as I pull the needle through to the front. I make a diagonal stitch pushing the needle through, underneath and my fingers catch it and pull it and the thread through. The cross stitch is made by making another diagonal stitch across the first stitch. I am careful that the thread does not get tangled or knotted underneath. The self coloured material slowly comes to life with colour as the sewing continues. It is a slow process, very time consuming but also satisfying.
SENSES OF SIGHT & SOUND
08 ‘Guaranteed to Last Five Days’ In my kitchen, the stage of charcoal surface and backdrop is bare now; memories of tulips remain. Painted butterflies scattered over the clear glass of a tall, wide mouthed vase; a fountain of tulips held aloft – some blooms still upright, tight- lipped – others with slender necks bowing, bell of petals open, tongue of black stamens revealed. A vast, glorious burst of jewel bright, velvety colours - so graceful; at their most beautiful, just before the end. These flowers were gifts – three generous bunches – an armful of sympathy and loving kindness. Throat tightens and tears well. I time travel - no great distance - to another room, hushed, twilight dim, the familiar old bookcase holding a different vase of tulips – red, purple, white – a dull gleam of leaves. They stand vigil: ‘guaranteed to last five days’.
T hank you The contributors to this collection attended a series of monthly writing workshops for people with hearing loss, which were held at Dancebase in the first half of 2012. Dancebase was a perfect venue for the workshops, and the group was welcomed at public sharings of works in progress, classes, and performances. Some of the companies and individuals who use Dancebase visited the group to share their experience and expertise, and the observations and discoveries made were incorporated into writing exercises. Memories of social dancing triggered descriptive and evocative writing, and the story telling gifts of the group are evident in the fiction they produced. The final descriptive passages bring to life very recent memories, thus completing the arc of the collection from memory, through fiction, and placing the reader finally in the present. Thank you to Dancebase for hosting this project and opportunity. Thank you to everyone who has contributed; artists, companies and participants.
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