Like Leif Garrett, I too was made for dancing. It is for this reason that at social events I have often claimed to be a professional dancer. When asked ‘what kind?’ my response is always the same: I let the music tell me. Sadly, opportunities to get my ‘groove thing’ well and truly on have been limited. Sure, there have weddings and nights at the pub that have descended into disco hell, but these are really social events with dancing tacked on. If you don’t get to wear a costume with sequins sewn into the front, it’s not really dancing.
Our family has a proud tradition when it comes to burning up the dance-floor. My grandparents met at a dance. Both my sisters pursued jazz ballet with commitment, dedication and fervour; suffice to say that they had a near endless supply of leg warmers and their efforts culminated each year in a concert at the Frankston Tafe Chisholm Hall. Whilst this extravaganza was the result of an entire year’s graft for my sisters, my brothers and I saw it in a very different light.
As we walked through the car park and towards the venue, dozens of mothers fussed at open car boots, making last minute adjustments to hair, makeup and costumes. And, if time allowed, they would adjust the hair, makeup and costumes of their daughters also. There were sparkles and hair buns and lacquer as far as the eye could see. There was, it seems, an unwritten law in jazz ballet that required hair to be pulled back with all the ferocity of a discount facelift. Little girls with their eyebrows arched surrounded us.
As a kid, I found it near impossible to summon up the necessary generosity of spirit. For some reason attending these concerts felt like travelling deep, deep into enemy territory. Perhaps I was jealous. For in Tyabb, boys who liked jazz ballet were not referred to as ‘dancers’; but something altogether more pointed. And whilst someone of a more determined character would have cast aside such slings and arrows, I figured playing the piano was already a strike against my name as far as my peers were concerned and that dancing would be a bridge too far.
There it may have ended if not for my niece, Matilda. I guess it was inevitable that she, too, would one day feel the irresistible lure of the dance. She started lessons this year and yesterday was her end of year concert. We were keen to be supportive. Kate sewed a bunch of sequins into Matilda’s costume and has, apparently, sewn the leftovers onto some of my suits. I provided support of a different nature. Just as Mr Miyagi instructed a young Daniel LaRusso how to wear a bathrobe and not look like a total dipstick, so too did I try and pass to Matilda all that I knew about dancing. We stopped, however, after three or four minutes. I say it’s because Matilda refused to address me in the manner required by dance instructors down through the ages. I’m not saying she should call me ‘sensai’ all the time, but once or twice to know that she’s listening would have been nice. Matilda, however, would probably suggest that we stopped after three of four minutes because that’s all it took for me to pass on everything I have ever learned about dancing. She may have a point.
In spite of her decision to decline the offer of my tutelage, I attended her concert at the Warragul Arts Centre. When the lights went down and the audience fell into an expectant hush, I found myself keenly anticipating my first dance concert in nearly thirty years. There were pulsing lights and music and a tonne of hair lacquer – the concert was an assault on the senses. I loved every second of it.
They covered all the classics, including ‘Singin’ In the Rain’, ‘Carwash’ and ‘You Spin Me Right Round’ (performed by Alvin and the Chipmunks, mind, rather than the somewhat scarier Dead or Alive). They even danced to the song that I had taught myself to play on the piano to impress my classmates and was the anthem of my adolescence: ‘Theme From Ghostbusters’. As the last notes of Ray Parker Junior echoed around the auditorium, the audience descended into a frenzy of applause. And then I saw Matilda.
With her sequins sewn tight, Matilda had a look of concentration stitched across her four year old face. She was covered in so much glitter that, technically speaking, she may have been more glitter ball than little girl. As she started to bust a move, it was clear to me that she had learned more from her uncle than either of us had realised. For reasons I can’t fully explain, the experience was oddly emotional. As Alvin and the Chipmunks did their worst to the song ‘Shake Your Groove Thing’, I watched as Matilda threw herself wholly into her routine. It was more than merely impressive; it was inspiring.
It’s never too late. What I abandoned due to fear of embarrassment as a child I should now embrace. All I need is a costume and a bucket full of glitter. Luckily, I always keep a supply of costumes and glitter on hand. I’ll just sew in a few of the spare sequins and I’ll be set.
Cue the music. My time has finally come.