The last time I stepped foot inside a dance studio it was to learn how to dance like John Travolta did in the movie Saturday Night Fever. I wouldn't say I've got two left feet, but let's put it this way - I wasn't expecting to turn into Ginger Rogers after one swing dance lesson with the Shirley Wall Dance Academy.
"Step back, step, one-two-three, one-two-three, and repeat" sounds easy enough but I've always had a problem translating verbal instructions into fluid movements when it comes to dancing and I didn't expect that to have changed since I'd last tried.
Wall said she'd organise a partner for me so all I had to do was turn up on the day ready to learn. She didn't tell me that my dance partner, Michael Onland, was a whopping 1.98m - if she had, I may have worn heels!
The style of dance I was being taught is called East Coast Swing, a form of social partner dance. It is danced to fast swing music, including rock'n'roll and boogie-woogie. The dance evolved from the Lindy Hop and can be referred to by many different names in different regions of the United States and the rest of the world.
As a regular attendee of the Beach Hop retro festival at Whangamata, I already had a few 50s full-circle dresses and vintage petticoats in the wardrobe, so instead of just wearing my work clothes I decided to dress the part in the hope it would disguise the fact I couldn't dance.
Wall and Onland gave me a little demo of the swing dance moves I would be learning, making it look effortless and elegant.
"Right, now it's your turn," said Wall.
Thankfully for Onland, she got me to try the steps by myself first so he was spared (well, for a while at least) me landing on his toes or kicking his shins. It's a shame that didn't last, because after I reached up to place my hand on his upper arm (when you're 1.54m reaching as far as his shoulder would have been - well, a bit of a stretch) and he counted the beat as we kicked off the dance, I'm pretty sure I took that a bit literally and kicked him in the shins. Lucky for him I was wearing sneakers and not pointy-toed shoes.
My first attempt was abysmal. I was supposed to step back with my right foot, step up with my left, then step sideways for two steps with my right foot (followed by my left, of course - I wasn't there to learn how to do the splits). Maths was never my strong point so instead of counting the beat one-two-three, I thought that was how many steps I was meant to take, meaning I left my partner behind as I carried on. My steps were also far too big - I know my partner was tall, but even his steps weren't as big as mine!
OK, second try - step back, step, one-count-two-in-your-head-but-don't-step-three. Made it! Whoops, my partner is heading off in the other direction without me. Oh, I'm expected to do the reverse to the left as well, then without a break carry on right then left until I'm told to stop? This is obviously a bit trickier than it looks...
When the photographer arrives it's plain to see that my shuffling back and forth isn't necessarily going to make for a great photo, so Wall tells Onland to throw a twirl or two into the mix. I soon feel like one of those ballerinas you get in jewellery boxes that spin drunkenly around to music. But you know what? It's a lot of fun and I can't get the grin off my face. I twirl and twirl and my skirt and petticoat carry on long after I stop. I'm thinking that even if I don't get to grips with the swing dancing, I can fake it by getting my husband to just twirl me around and around instead!
It looks simple and effortless but I was surprised the next day when my body ached a bit. I'm not a gym junkie by any stretch of the imagination and I've been looking for a way to keep fit that is fun as well. I think swing dancing may be perfect for me - you get to wear dresses AND have fun - what more could a girl ask for?
- © Fairfax NZ News
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