THE DANCERS

In my teens I lived near Sydney for six months, doing a shorthand and typing course in Parramatta and while doing that, took the opportunity to learn ballroom dancing at the Parramatta Trocodero.  I loved the dancing and for that six months didn’t miss a session of either it or (believe it or not) the secretarial course. 

Upon graduating, and armed with a good typing speed and passable shorthand I ventured out to where my sister, Kay, was living near an outback town in western New South Wales.  As luck would have it a local firm of solicitors needed someone, even inexperienced, and they put me on for six weeks.  Wow, I had an income for the first time.  As it turned out I had that job for eighteen months. 

I made friends with school teachers, a couple of young non-local electricians , three local girls whose mother owned a dress shop,  (what more could you want?), bank johnnies and Lyn, a beautiful girl from Cobar who helped in her grandmother’s dry cleaning business.    We were all young, new to the outback, the bank boys and teachers doing their stint there to ensure a better location in their next move.  Even so, we wanted to have a good time and most found it not such a bad place.  There were dances and balls aplenty and no shortage of parties.

One of our number was a red-haired bank johnny named Gerry Kennedy who, coincidentally, had learnt ballroom dancing at the Trocodero at Parramatta.   We would have been there at roughly the same time and had the same teachers but had never met before both arriving in the outback.  Strangely enough, my daughter married a young man from Tipperary named Gerry Kennedy a generation later.    

Gerry and I danced together often because we’d had the same teachers and knew the same movements, but mostly we were just part of a large happy group out to have fun.  When a Jazz Waltz was called hoewever, we immediately sought each other out, knowing we were the only young ones who could do justice to this dance.  The Jazz Waltz was our specialty.  I have not danced a Jazz Waltz since leaving that town. 

With endless balls anywhere within a radius of a hundred miles and my friend, Lyn, having the use of her grandmother’s volkswagen, we girls would pile in to go and dance the night away.  We took our glad rags and dressed in the dark beside the car, freezing in the cold night air and welcoming the warmth inside the hall.  In the wee small hours of the morning we would trundle back to town slowly, dodging the roos. Lyn was a good driver but we drew straws for who would sit in the front keeping her awake with an eye out for the wildlife while the rest slept in the back.  It was very different to the B & S balls they have today.  There was hardly any drinking, at least amongst the girls and we didn’t know what a swag was!!

Things, move on, the bank boys and teachers were posted to different places, Lyn and Bobby, one of the electricians, married and moved away and I moved to a town further out west where I worked for another firm of solicitors, married a man who didn’t dance and had two beautiful children.  Luckily I had a radiogram and a great set of albums and I sang and danced round the house most weekends.  Then things looked up, TV arrived in the outback. We had Countdown.  We all became The Dancing Queen. 

Near the end of a recent visit to my daughter, Jo, in Adelaide, we were sitting around talking and discussing the great week we had had.  We had enjoyed several of The Fringe gigs and had wandered through the big Fringe area in the park, soaking up the atmosphere.  The Adelaide Writers’ Festival was also on and we had spent Tuesday at that together.  Jo had to work on Wednesday so I went back on my own, lolling about on the grass and listening to the fantastic writers discussing their recent books and answering questions about the books and their lives, their motivations.  I loved it so much I decided to make an effort to get to the Sydney Writers’ Festival in May. 

Also, and this was just amazing, WomAdelaide was on.  I had always said I would be in Adelaide for it but my visits seemed to happen later in the year.  This year, however, I was there and Jo and Hannah, my 22 year old granddaughter, took me along.  What a feast.  It blew me away.  Six stages were scattered around the grounds with artists from all around the world performing on various sets at any given time.  For a while we stood and watched a group of dancers performing intricate movements but eventually they moved off, dancing through the crowds.  Most were dressed in white and as they danced away they threw colored powder over themselves, each other and anyone else who dared to get close, the dancing becoming more frenzied as they went.  Children adored it and so did the gorgeous, long legged Hannah who followed them as they wended their way through the spectators and came back to us multicolored from her hair to her boots, along with a few children who looked the same.

We stood in a queue (I hate queues but it wasn’t for long) to make our way into an amazing structure made of plastic which was held up with just air. Here, you took off your shoes and moved into beautiful colored spaces.  It was call EXXOPOLIS by Architects of Air.  This is how they describe it:  “Exxopolis is a sculpture people enter to be immersed in radiant light and colour.  Since 1992 Architects of Air’s luminaria have enchanted over 2 million visitors in 41 countries around the world.

 “Exxopolis takes its inspiration from natural geometry and Islamic architecture.  The principal dome - the CUPOLA - was inspired by the circular space of the Chapter House of Southwall Minster.  Its windows are designed to create a ‘stained-glass’ effect using he Penrose tiling discovered by mathematician and physicist, Roger Penrose

“The luminosity of light and colour inside Exxopolis is created purely by the light shining through the colored plastic.  All the individual pieces have been cut and glued together by hand in our workshop in Nottingham, England.

“Once inside please take your time and walk slowly.  Keep to the paths that are in contact with the ground as the plastic is delicate.  There are pods where you can sit down or lie back to absorb the ambience.

“The music is created by David Bickley.” 

The ceilings had intricate patterns both of material and light.  Colour was everywhere.  We came out rested, refreshed, rejuvenated and overawed. 

The air cooled quickly, unexpectedly, with the night closing in and suddenly we realised we were hungry.  It wasn’t hard to follow the magnificent smells. Stalls were everywhere with food from every imaginable country.  Jo and Hannah are vegetarian and headed towards the vegetarian stalls while I headed off to get a kebab with tabouleh and lashings of garlic sauce.

Anyway, as I said earlier, after this week of magic we were kicking back at home with a cup of tea, reminiscing and enjoying each other’s company and the specialness mothers and daughters can have when they have time together on their own.  Gerry, my son-in-law, had been tired and gone to bed early (if the truth be known, ten days of the mother-in-law is probably enough to make you tired or at least feign it and seek the solitude of your own room) and Hannah was out with friends.

We were talking about the dancing and Jo mentioned a group in Adelaide, The Rock Doctors, which she and Gerry always went to hear whenever they were playing.  She went on to say how they and their friends danced till they dropped.  She confided that by the end of the night her dancing was uninhibited and wild and she would completely lose herself in it. Then she lamented the fact that she had no music at home at the moment, nothing to play her music on.  They had been renovating and things had been moved. 

I tell her we have an eclectic array of music playing all the time at home but that every now and then we really have a session.   It just happens out of the blue.  There seems to be no apparent reason.  We might have a couple of glasses of wine, my partner will put on his headphones and becomes the best DJ in the country.   The music just keeps flowing - and I dance.  I dance and I dance and I dance, branching out into wild and uninhibited movements.  I tell her that I amaze myself sometimes with my choreography.  She starts to laugh.  I tell her about our two small dogs watching impassively.  “She’s at it again.  It’s going to be long night.”  

The really funny part is that my partner is completely unaware of my dancing.  I don’t think he even knows I’m there, so engrossed is he in the music that everything else fades from his consciousness.  (Well, so I think.  That is the impression he gives and whether it is by accident or design I have not yet fathomed.) Perhaps it is a survival thing.   Perhaps the thought of the harsh reality of my performance would mean he probably wouldn’t be able to cope with the spectacle being performed in front of his eyes if he dared to turn around. 

By the time I finish telling her, in graphic detail, about the swanning through the kitchen, the loop around the lounge chairs, the twirling through the TV area, with a quick, twinkle toe spin back into the kitchen, I realise it is too much for her as well.  While I was carried away with the story I was  vaguely aware that she was laughing but suddenly discover she is nearly choking.  Tears stream down her face.   I laugh a bit as well, more at her laughter than the vision I must have conjured up in my tale.  We do often laugh uncontrollably together at things that tickle our fancy but I thought this wasn’t that funny.  Is it because I’m her mother she can’t visualize me being a wild, uninhibited dancer?  Is it because I’m 74, vertically challenged and slightly rotund?   When I think of it, it probably is that funny.  I suddenly saw myself as she was seeing me!!!  OMG am I not the 28 year old tall, sylph-like creature who lives inside my head?

Finally catching her breath, she picks herself up from the floor where she had rolled off the chair and I say “Come on, let’s do this.  Let’s see how well you dance.”   We managed to find a phone with some music on it .  She remembered she had a little boom box she had bought a while back so, with not too much ado we had music blaring through the house and settled down to some serious dancing.  

They have a big swanning area in the kitchen, then through the dining room, up through the TV part and back to the other end of the kitchen.  We were slightly tentative at first, a bit shy at having the other as audience, but we gradually forgot the other, got some movements going and did a few nice turns.  In no time at all we were rocking.  The music was good and it was loud.   I, at least had a glass of wine just in case I needed it.  Sometimes you need it to get in the mood.  Sometimes you need it just to watch.

We danced till we were exhausted and satisfied.  Gerry slept through it all, even the singing.  Obviously the sleep of the just.

Having breakfast the next morning Hannah casually asked “What did you two get up to last night?”

Jo, just as casually,  “We were dancing.”

“Dancing?”  “Where?”

“Here”.  Smug smiles on our faces as we munched our toast.

“Dancing?”  “Here?”  Disbelief starting to show “Dancing?”