Please excuse the gratuitous Flashdance reference, but I have just come back from a wonderful holiday. Mr SowandSew and I, along with the Little Girl and the Little Boy, have been camping in Pembrokeshire, West Wales. Barely an hour and a half from home, but for 12 days it was another world. We went to Dance Camp Wales – my first time at such an event – and in our various ways, we all had a ball – pun intended. There was a creche for the kids and music and space to run about. There were people for Mr SowandSew to talk to and social things to do. There were dozens of talented musicians about and wonderful performances in the cafe at night. There were classes in crafts and things. There were lovely spaces to hang out in. There were several hundred interesting, amusing and lovely people. And we were camping in a really beautiful spot.
And for me the main attraction was pretty straightforward. I love dancing and these days I get few opportunities to do it outside my own kitchen. I do miss the days when I would be dancing three or four nights of the week, at a mixture of dance classes, ceilidhs and club nights. And here there would be dancing. Lots of dancing. There was a ceilidh early on and I dived right in, feeling right at home. I did some ‘free expression’ type sessions. I had a go at African dance, which was a great energy raiser and enormous fun. I did some belly dance, which I’d tried years before and had a brilliant time – this was ‘Tribal’ bellydance, with much more ‘attitude’ and really deliberate movements. And I also had a go at Bollywood, which was an absolute blast – not least because it was taught by one of the loveliest, warmest, funniest women on the face of the earth. I have a repertoire of cheesy Bollywood expressions that I can fall back on now, plus some very cool new dance moves. There was also circle dancing, which I didn’t do much of, but which took place near our tent so I tended to watch it while making dinner, making occasional forays out to reclaim the Little Boy who would toddle off to watch the musicians.
And then I went to salsa. Salsa has always intrigued me because it looks so wonderful, and because the music is, frankly, addictive. I would hear the music and want to move, and see the dancers and want to move like that. But – and here’s the difficult bit for someone as given to control freakery as me – you don’t just ‘learn’ partner dances like that if you’re in the traditional ladies’ role. You can’t plan. You don’t know what’s coming next. There’s no ‘next step’ to hold in your head. Nobody helpfully pointing or telling you what’s coming. Nobody you can covertly watch to pick up where you’re meant to be going next. There’s no sequence to learn, no nice safe progression to take you to second place to start again – there’s just music, and a partner. And I was terrified. I found myself freezing up, counting frantically, looking at my feet. But then I got the basic step and felt the first inkling of what it was like to move like that. And then after what felt like several hundred attempts I managed a turn which had me facing the right way and on the correct foot at the right time – and that was it. I was going to do this thing. Five days later I danced Cuban Wheel Salsa (or La Rueda – if you ever get a chance to do this, grab it with both hands because it is fantastic) actually in front of real live people. And I made mistakes and instead of worrying, I laughed, picked up the step and carried on. I was dancing like that.
All this demonstrates two things – that not doing something because you’re scared of not being in control is illogical. Fear is the ultimate lack of control. And second, that a good teacher, who is sharing something they genuinely love, can teach far more than what they’re ostensibly there to teach. In my case, a brilliant dance teacher gently but persistently taught me that making mistakes is OK. That not being responsible for what happens can actually be really good fun. And that this doesn’t just apply to dancing. So now I am wondering whether the other things that I’m avoiding doing are actually opportunities like this one.
If you have Spotify, by the way, here is the track that I will always see as the background music to one of the most glorious and liberating weeks of my life.
So I met wonderful people, learned a huge amount (and not just about dancing), laughed until I cried, danced African-style around a bonfire with flames painted on my chest and arms, enjoyed wonderful music and came away having swapped fear and inhibition for a CD of salsa music, new friends, happy memories, a touch of sunburn, some new muscles in my legs and about ten loads of washing. And all without leaving Wales.