|Winter Gardens Cliftonville 1952|
In the beginning.
The chairs were wicker and left an intertwined pattern on the back of my legs because the cushion that was part of the seat didn’t cover it all, my legs didn’t even touch the floor until I hitched forward. I suppose I had been perspiring a little with the last dance, which didn’t help matters. Anyway, I felt uncomfortable and not very happy because we were told to sit quietly and wait for the results instead of going outside and getting a bit of sea air to cool us down. Both of us I’m sure were convinced we wouldn’t be called for the next round, we had been warned not to expect too much there being too many that were far better dressed than us, all with posh dresses and evening suits, from Dover, Canterbury, Deal and as far away as London some of the couples had come to enter the competition, we were outclassed from the backwaters of the dancing world at that time, two small children in their Sunday best that our teacher was trying to show us another world seemingly far beyond our reach, where I suppose everyone else was used to brushing shoulders with the rich and famous.
I can’t remember the number that was pinned to the back of my new white shirt that Mum had bought me that last weekend. The little plaid bow tie was strangling me I remember, and I was trying to release the pressure of the elastic round my neck when everyone round the table we were sitting at started going crazy; evidently our number had been called but neither of us heard it . . . . . . .
We were in the next round!
Remembering all these years later, for a brief moment I felt disappointment, (I think that is what it was) the chair I was sitting in was a kind of protection, although extremely uncomfortable and this announcement meant it seemed, I had to vacate the security it gave me, once again venturing out into the unknown amongst the refinery that surrounded us. Everyone expected us to be excited I think, but neither us was, we were out of our depth, two small children with no experience of the big occasion that it obviously was with everyone around us fussing over what we normally loved doing; just to dance, we lived for it, every waking hour we were together all we wanted to do was dance at every opportunity. The music and the thrill that our feet had a way of interpreting how we felt.
Slowly at first, both of us tentatively made our way to a corner of the ballroom floor that wasn’t occupied, away from the other couples that had been recalled, I remember thinking, had they really called our number, were we supposed to be back on the dance floor with all these finely dressed couples, there were only half of what there were in the first place and I felt a bit conspicuous, so small and unprepared and not looking half as glamorous as the couples now occupying the floor. There was an adjudicator quite close to us, a kind looking well-dressed lady. Just before the music started she looked straight at me and smiled the most compassionate and reassuring smile you could ever wish to see from another face, ever so slightly she nodded, and I remember that smile and slight nod of her head seemed to repeat the words to me of Mum that afternoon, “enjoy it son, just go and enjoy it”.
The music started and our bubble enveloped us from the rest of the world, nothing else mattered, we had, even at that early age, the dance . . . . . . . . . . . that tiny hand found mine and the movement of our two young bodies that were born to dance sent us into an oblivious universe where the pleasure of the music vibrated every nerve end. Nothing around us disturbed or bothered us, the nerves dissipated into where ever they go on such an occasion.
We had tuition, lots of it, but in the end we did what came so naturally to us both, to float away on a sea of pleasure that to others watching, obviously was unexplainable. There was a vague interpretation of the steps we had been taught, but if the music didn’t fit one of the set sequence moves we broke it up and used the steps in another way . . . . . we floated across the floor, (not my words), but this is how it was reported time and again. I remember one quote in the local newspaper quite distinctly, and we both laughed hilariously about it: “They floated with effortless ease across space, I’m sure their four little feet weren’t touching the floor.”
Neither of our parents forced or insisted in any way that we practice, they left us alone, didn’t push us to do better, never criticizing if we didn’t do what they had tried to teach us, even our teacher would stand by and just watch not saying a word, neither encouraging or correcting, content it seemed to let us just do our thing, as Mum would say on many an occasion “The joy that emitted from what you both were doing not only showed on your faces but on everyone who were lucky enough to be watching you.” Then as an afterthought, she would often add “Don’t ever change son what you do, it would break the spell for those watching.”
And so we carried on that afternoon for the second time, living the dream my little partner had created over the years waiting for me to enter her life, returning to our seats with the fussing it all seemed to create around us. There was an interval and to our relief we were able to disappear out onto the balcony at the back of the Winter Gardens in Cliftonville, we thought our ordeal was over, how wrong we were, in fact that afternoon was all just the start of a dream for me that even the most vivid imagination imaginable could invoke, but what a start in life, Mum looking on in wonder at what she had started in a fit of desperation all those weeks ago, sending me with my elder sister to dance class that was held in the sumptuous surroundings of the Granville Ballroom as a punishment for getting under her feet one Saturday morning.
I think the photograph shows how out of place we were, both of us 9yrs old competing against couples that were well prepared for a world that was far beyond my working class upbringing. I know at the time, the competitions I felt were a penalty I had to pay for the love I had of the dance, the medal’s and certificates we won meant nothing to me, it was the thrill of the dance with her I lived for, and I think I would have agreed to anything so long as she was with me on the maple boards of that beautiful ballroom.
Thanks for stopping by, please call again.