And the good news for you, blog fans, is D is also for Deluxe edition! Why? Because this week I tried out not one… not two … but THREE types of dance class and you’ll get to hear about them all right here. Delighted? You should be!
My initiation into the world of partner dancing came in the form of a Balboa swing dance class in Hamble, Southampton and, as luck would have it, I also managed to arrive partnered – ably supported by my friend Rob (first time alphabetterer, long time pun fan).
Balboa is a type of swing dance that originated in California in the 1920s and 30s. The dance evolved as a result of overcrowding in ballrooms – people were simply unable to push apart from one another as would happen in Lindy Hop. As such, the dance itself involves small steps and shuffles and is characterized by a close embrace between partners.
When we arrived the men were on one side of the room and the women on the other – as if they were about to play a battle-of-the-sexes version of Red Rover. We quickly took up our places and were introduced to Balboa basic – an 8 count pattern of forward and backward steps. Rob looked at me over the head of our tutor Paul (Rob’s a tall man) and I realised he was feeling exactly what I was – concern about keeping up with the steps and jealousy that he didn’t own a pair of swing shoes….
Belly dance is a Middle Eastern dance in which performers Shimmy, Hit (shifting hips out from the body) and Undulate their hips and pelvic area in time to music. This, combined with arm movements, finger cymbals and veil work builds into a routine traditionally designed to celebrate special occasions but, latterly, seen as something closer to Burlesque or Striptease.
Drawing strength from my previous positive alphabetterings I strode confidently towards the venue certain that tonight I, like the great Shakira before me, would show that my hips were truthful.
I was quite early so when I arrived it was just me and the woman teaching the class. Soon ladies started arriving – stomping into the room in winter boots, coats and hats and then stripping these off to reveal bejewelled bras, patchwork silk skirts and glittery musical belts (bedlah) made of hundreds of silver coins. I, in my hoodie and leggings, felt somewhat under-dressed.
My earlier confidence dissipated and, just as I was trying to work out whether I could sneak back to my shoes and out of the door, something even more alarming happened! Something which, despite my recent weight loss and improved self-image, I could simply never imagine doing…. especially in a room with a mirrored wall… they started rolling up their tops to reveal their stomachs…..
I had had a brief introduction to Salsa last year at my friends Andrew and Amelia’s wedding and so felt slightly more prepared as I walked towards Tracie’s Latin Club in Shirley, Southampton. For those who weren’t at the wedding, Salsa is a Latin dance with 3 movements in any 4 beat measure. The beat on which you don’t step contains either a tap, kick or weight change – setting you up for the next set of 4 beats.
Our ‘Absolute Beginners’ class consisted of 5 newbies led by our instructor Isobel. She put on some music and we danced around the room to warm up our frozen toes. Then the actual business of learning the steps began. We moved forwards, sideways and on the spot in time with the music and I rarely found myself offbeat or with the wrong foot forward. In fact, Isobel’s only complaint was that I kept putting my hands in my pockets because they were cold. Progress was quick for most of the class and we managed to dance as partners, in time with the music, for an entire song. ‘This is brilliant!’ I thought, ‘I’ve learned an entire dance form in 10 minutes!!’ and then we started doing turns and spins…..
So… it turned out both Rob and I have some sense of rhythm and the ability to move our feet, which was a relief! And we soon got over our shoe envy (or I did at least).
We practised the basic steps (step, together, down – step, together down..) and then a variation on those steps (step, together, up down…) and then we moved into partners. Every 30 seconds or so Paul would shout for us to change partners and around we would go. And so it was that I spent an evening being held tightly by a series of men I barely knew (and Rob – who I know a bit) while listening to 30′s swing music. Fortunately, the amount of concentration it was taking to move my feet, pushed the thought of any social awkwardness to the back of my mind.
Swing dancing was fun but technical. We stayed after our class to watch some of the ‘intermediate’ dancers and it was a world away from the steps we had been doing. It was enjoyable though – and in the hour we were there I felt as if I learned something and was smiling while I did it – and not just at Rob’s panicked face.
Seeing the terror on my face, the belly dancing ladies soon rushed to reassure me that should I wish to remain clothed that was no problem and so it was, with the relief rolling off me in waves, we started the lesson.
It was not long before I realised that a dance which involves moving your stomach and hips in a very particular way would be much easier to learn if I could see my middle. I found that I was staring at the tutor’s midriff completely unable to work out if I was doing the same thing she was.
So… (and the music gets hopeful)…. I rolled my top up. I did. In front of a room full of strangers. And then I did a dance that involved wobbling. So far removed is this from the person I know myself to be that I find myself not believing it even as I write it here but I also know it happened because thinking about it gives me a warm fuzzy feeling.
We did some veil work, some shimmying and the ‘egyptian walk’. I wouldn’t say I’m a natural belly dancer but, by the end of the lesson, I had definitely made some progress. The tutor said to me afterwards that I was fine when I was relaxed but that I was thinking too much – belly dancing is much less alluring when you have a furrowed brow and your tongue stuck out of the side of your mouth. I enjoyed it though – much more than I expected to.
Adding spins and turns unfortunately caused me to forget everything I had learned beforehand and I began stepping on people’s toes, turning the wrong way and (at one point) almost falling over. One guy I was dancing with kept saying things like ‘nearly there’ and ‘don’t worry, you’ll get it eventually’ and I found myself getting crosser and crosser with both myself and him. My lovely dainty steps became the stamping feet of a petulant child – not graceful in the least.
And then, dancing with Bow (a Ghanaian student) I found my rhythm and there was no stopping me. I was dancing while Isobel was explaining the steps, while the men were learning their spins and would’ve kept dancing all evening had it not been a school night. Fun was had.
Conclusions? All 3 dance classes felt very different. Where Balboa was technical, Belly dancing was very relaxed. Where Salsa involved quick progress, Balboa and Belly dancing felt like they would involve a lot of practise. Whether this was the style of tuition or the dances themselves I’m unsure. I find it hard to pick a favourite (so I won’t!) but I can say with certainty that I enjoy to dance. It is more relaxing and joyful than any other exercise or activity I have done before and has consistently left me feeling relaxed and happy – even when I’ve struggled to pick up the steps. Hopefully, I can get my dancing shoes on again soon!