I sit at the edge of the dance floor. I have arrived after the beginners' lesson and observe the inter-lesson freestyle that always happens for four or five songs. The ballroom in the Bath Pavillion is a lovely venue and now it is in a relative darkness that could in no way be described as gloom.
Points of laser light cheerfully play across the ceiling, making it apparent that light only exists at its point of destination. The room is full of couples dancing with a greater or lesser degree of expertise but all are in time with the music.
Some faces are frowning in concentration, but all are the faces of those in a happy place.
The song is not particularly compelling: A regular beat with some nasal female singing, much in evidence in these days of re-invented RnB (I always understood RnB to be an old black toothless geezer in shades and a shabby suit growling to 12 bar blues in a smoky dive. Now it is something altogether more commercial and characterless)
I used to be able to dance to anything that had a beat of the about the right tempo. Now it seems some music leaves me cold and, having nothing to interpret, I cannot motivate myself to move to it. This is one such song. Other songs have soul. Their emotion comes directly through the airwaves to my jive glands (wherever they are) and my limbs, torso and occasionally face, must by necessity interpret it into rhythmic movement. It compels.
But for now, come in out of the cold, having slipped out of my big coat and exchanged my outdoor shoes for my trusty dance brogues, I just sit and look.
Oddly, though I know all the moves, watching other people doing them makes them unfamiliar to the point I actualy don't recognise some. I am impressed and think "Oh, that is so beautifully intricate!" and then I realise with surprise that it's one I do all the time. An external perspective can seemingly modify our view of the familiar.
So, I sit and watch the dancing, the men leading, having to decide on what move to do and having the next several lined up barely consciously, the ladies subtly interpreting the signals of intention inferred from balance, direction and posture. It is a miracle of planning and coordination, all done pretty much without thought somewhere in the brainstem.
Only, I suddenly feel a familiar panic: "I can't do this!"
Looking at the actions performed and the fluidity and familiarity which which they are accomplished, my intellect shies away from the possibillity that I could do this, despite the knowledge that hundreds of nights before this one, I have got up and done so. The intellect is not to be convinced by this mere pile of evidence and continues to doubt.
The song ends. The next one is Santana, "Smooth". Not a song I particularly liked before I started dancing, but now one of my firm favourites. I could not explain what about it causes such joy of movement, but the song lifts me up and makes me the happiest person in the room, with movements and facial expressions that unequivocally illustrate this.
A lady approaches, her head tilted to one side in silent inquiry: "Would you dance with me?"
"Of course!" my outstretched hand replies. Our wordless exchange understood, she takes my hand, I stand and on to the dance floor we go. The way of walking to an unoccupied space feels light, confident, joyously well-balanced; Almost a dance in itself. We turn to face each other and then without a thought, that which I had observed begins happening. The music rises and falls in a beat of halves of seconds perhaps, and my body responds with a lead. The lady in turn reacts to my lead with her own sway and turn and the dance begins.
And somehow, all this now has happened in spite of te protestations of my own mind telling me that it looks far too complicated and must surely be cause for me to stumble and stall.
But no: Inside my head, a mass of neural machinery lights up and kicks into action, and the result is the true synergy of two bodies moving gleefully in time.
I don't know how this happens. I ciould not articulate from where the dubious attitude of my inner narrator comes. But that in itself is a lesson for a greater principle perhaps. Perhaps sometimes we should just trust ourselves a little more. Our intellectual voice seems destined to undermine and sabotage us and perhaps we should just do stuff anyway and have faithin our abilities.
And so, years of classes and dancing have impinted themselves somewhere in my brain and have left this wonderful programming that will unfurl flawlessly given suitable conditions: The right music, the touch of a lady's hand, soft lighting and an amenable atmosphere. Bits of salsa, tango, cha cha and other styles of my own devising throw themselves into the mix and mystified, I find we are dancing.
We move away, a spin, a grasp of a hand, a coming-together of faces. The space in between almost shimmers with intensity as two faces regard each other, holding of the transition to the next move right until the last allowable minute. we both savour the closeness of another human being for as long as possible before one beat becomes the next. Then quickly, from the languid approach, a contrasting rapid change of direction away again.
And the moves keep appearing, unannounced and yet flowing smoothly, followed and enjoyed. Leans, dips, drops, spins and laughs. For four minutes or so, there are only two people in the room and there is the music.
The song ends, we stand, smile our thank-yous and turn, other hands are offered and a new song begins, another dialogue of movement, cheerful, sultry, mischevous or dramatic. Its up to you. You choose the music and I will lead.