15 February, 2013

100 partners, and we’re only in week 5 …beat that you young blokes

I think it was Kazantzakis’s Zorba the Greek with its emphasis on dance, song, [and other things, not always politically correct in our age] that informed me of the centrality of the dance in many cultures. I’m no expert on dancing [but I understand that Jess might be.] I was brought up in a culture where it was deemed inappropriate to get too close to your dance partner unless you had been married to them for 20 years. Even then, there was a risk of getting carried away and burning in hell if your hands strayed either above or below the 49th parallel [hence Irish dancing where the hands are tightly bound to the side,  a bit like footballers trying to avoid the infringement of a ‘hand ball’ at a free kick near the penalty area.]

Working for the ICLC changed all that. I owe a huge debt of gratitude to Ms Elsie. Back in the 90s, when most of you were still in nappies, I was often drafted in by the then director, Mike, to be the faculty expert on things Scottish on the Edinburgh trip.  Coincidentally, an ex-boss of mine, Gilpin, who had shifted employ from teaching [v welsh] to food, [v Scottish] suggested that our students might like attending the ‘ceilidh’ at the Caledonian brewery one Friday night. It was a bit of a hard sell, but ceilidhs and Elsie are now firmly bound together in a partnership that has produced 100s of devotees of this cultural event. Gilpin also served up Edinburgh’s best haggis [guaranteed to be free of horse meat.]

Ceilidhs are good dances.  I know because I have attended many a bad dance. Bad dances began in high school and continued through university and early adulthood. What’s a bad dance? Loud music, overpriced entry, no partner, reluctance of anyone from the opposite sex to dance with you [if you were skinny and had teenage acne as someone not too far from this keyboard did], bad music, suspicious characters, unfriendly bouncers, etc. What’s a good dance?  Easy answer - a ceilidh.  There is always a live band – anywhere from 2 to 6 musicians – and a ‘caller’. Starter dances are either the Gay Gordon [forward, backward, forward, twirl your partner 4 times, polka and repeat] or the Scottish mixer [groups of 4; circle left count of 8, ditto right; polka around floor till you meet new couple; circle left, then right, polka around floor with new partner…then a third, fourth,… twentieth time, often with the music becoming faster and faster.]  So it’s 10 minutes into the ceilidh and you've already danced with 20 people! A drizzle of sweat appears on your brow; you take off your jumper and wish you had brought different shoes; you see your flatmate chatting to a be-kilted bloke…she’s won the fiver!

 Once you start five to ten things happen:  first, you become addicted; second, you meet lots of people; third, you have an opportunity to win a fiver if you are the first to dance with a man in a kilt; fourth,  you start to sweat; fifth, by the second or third dance, you lose any inhibition you might have had about dancing  [and coping with the strong, macho, men in kilts who swing you all over the floor.] And, sixth, if kilt-man is pleased with your dancing, he might ask for your number! Seventh, if you give him your number… Eighth,… ninth,… tenth, you invite me to the wedding.

So far this term, I've taken 8 students – a group of three and a group of five – all women, to two ceilidhs in north London.   Eight women represent a mere 10% of the female group this term [yes, I know, Amsterdam’s Heineken brewery tour and Dublin’s Guinness experience summon most weekends]!  At these two events, where entrance is a mere £10 and there are no rip-off other costs, I danced with all the students [minus Lexi who had cast on her foot] and at least 100 women. And yes my wife knows.  I swung to the left, to the right, set, ‘do-si-do’d, while dancing to the ‘Virginia reel’, the ‘dashing white sergeant’ [a great dance]. the ‘flying Scotsman’ [choo choo], ‘strip the willow’ [fantastic dance], the exhausting ‘Cumberland reel’, the ‘gay Gordon’ and more.  Over the years, I've had a favourite dance partner – who could that absentee be? -  and witnessed some superior swinging. I've also paid out about £50 in ‘kilt money’. And I’ve won a good share of raffle prizes.

Probably the best ceilidh was the one we attended as a charity’ event in Leith [port of Edinburgh, setting for Trainspotting] last spring. The ceilidh was an opportunity to raise money for a gap year experience for a young woman. Our exceptionally talented theatre students – not shy when it comes to self-expression- took the lead with some exuberant dancing that even ‘kilt-man’ might envy. So my hot tip for the semester is to not waste money on the dubious club scene, but to check out a ceilidh, always value for money, a good work out, lots of friendly, happy people and a wonderful opportunity to meet host country nationals i.e., British people.

As for me, there are only 76 female students to go. If I danced with all of them, I would have created a new iclc record. Wish me luck.  Most ceilidhs are held at Cecil Sharp house in Camden town. Here is a list of ceilidhs for the rest of the term; February 16th [Sat] and 22nd; March 8th, 16th [Sat] and 22nd; April 5th, 12th and 26th. Best way to get a ‘concession ticket’ – queue from 7pm with your student ID. You can pre-buy, but there are no concessions this way.

Last word. The above reads as very heterosexist. It might have read differently last term. And I must confess that my first high school dance partner,  Isidore, a Ukrainian, was a linebacker on the  football team. He wasn't bothered by acne.

1 comment:

  1. Great stuff, Bill though I still maintain that Scottish ceildh dancing should be classified as a contact sport.