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Tuesday, 1 December 2015

Yet again I need help

I wish I could dance. I've taken lessons but my instincts just couldn't get the hang of it. Beyond that there was the terror (I feel it now, surging up from the soles of my feet) of approaching an unknown woman and begging for the favour of holding her close to me.

Perhaps I read literal meaning into Ol' Frank singing:

And while the rhythm swings
What lovely things I'll be sayin'
Cause what is dancing but
Making love set to music, playin'


So I have characters in my novels do my dancing for me, like buying a ventriloquist’s doll for its conversation. Bringing further problems – where do people dance these days? Other than at weddings or (for all I know) funerals. Correct me if I’m wrong but didn’t couples in movies go to bars where, as a change from getting bladdered, they stood up, took to a smallish dance floor and linked bodies? Do such places still exist? And if so what does the woman do with her handbag?

More than that I need to know what dancing’s like from a woman’s point of view. Forget George Clooney. What’s it like to face a man who could easily (horrifyingly) be an accountant asking to do something that would get him jailed if he did it in Tesco. A British supermarket.

Isn’t there a shocking sense of intrusion? An immediate source of embarrassment or worse? Suppose the guy was the Yorkshire Ripper’s brother? Or someone intending to stand for Parliament in the Conservative interest? Are women simply fearless in these circumstances? Shrugging it off like childbirth or bringing in the washing when it rains?

Please tell. I’ll be eternally grateful.

18 comments:

mikeM said...

I was a complete failure at lessons but later found that I could dance easily with a compatible partner. No box stepping, no images of footprints on the floor....more a wrestling match designed to hold one another up instead of taking one's other down to the floor. Adaptability is key - if the man "leads" as is traditional, the woman must conform to whatever lurches he provides, attempting to shape them into something graceful, protecting herself from harm while remaining sufficiently proximate to entertain his next idea. The man should be sensitive to his partner's balance and ever ready to rescue her from precarious postures. He should never use all of his speed, brute force or imagination in the creation of such predicaments, but keep a generous reserve for rescue situations. The trying is daring from both sides, but there is great satisfaction in finding a match.

Blonde Two said...

I think women nowadays Robbie spend time wishing that dancing as you describe it was still de-rigueur. Mr B2 and I had ballroom lessons for a while; it did wonders for our relationship and I wish we had kept it up. He was, of course, much better at it than I but is not an accountant.

Roderick Robinson said...

MikeM: This sounds likes the ideal I've heard about; no presumption of skill, only a willingness to co-operate in an attempt to be graceful and to create a mutual relationship with the music. If you've been able to carry this out on various occasions I can well appreciate the "great satisfaction" you refer to. And envy you, although I can see you and your partner(s) deserve the pleasures even outsiders like me can recognise.

I can see too I should have been more specific. You are talking about the ex post facto situation when agreement between the couple has been established. My no doubt prurient interest is based on an invitation to dance issued by a male who doesn't know, nor is known by, the potential female partner. I suspect this occasion has always been a lot rarer than I supposed.

Blonde Two: Again you are talking about an agreement (to dance) that has prior agreement. I must say I'm delighted, even moved, that this is something you and Mr B2 enjoy and by your willingness to admit he's better at it than you; the latter speaks well of a functioning marriage.

But has an unknown male approached you and asked you to dance? It's that split-second reaction (on the part of the woman) I'm interested in - for literary reasons. After all it is, to a slightly lesser extent, a crystallised version of the moment that causes the world to go round.

I never thought that Mr B2 was an accountant. Not because I knew anything about him, rather that I knew a tiny bit about you.

Sir Hugh said...

Sorry brother. Can't help here. My own experience boils down to Braybrook's Dancing School which Mother made me attend at the age of fifteen. That establishment catered for Bradford Grammar School boys, and Bradford Girls' Grammar School girls. The terror, or perhaps tortured excitement of getting so close to some females that I found attractive impeded my ability to learn much. We had to select our own partners, and I was so slow at coming forward I would end up with the ugly duckling. I did learn the steps for the quick-step and the waltz, and later in life did actually go to a few dances in St. Barnabus Hall and the like where I would ask unknown females for the favour, but it was always a gut wrenching ordeal and never lead to much. I would say that fifty percent of my invitations were turned down - not good for the ego.

Ellena said...

My mind being somewhere else at the moment and knowing that older people tend to become overly explicit in describing certain situations, I will not say anything. Must avoid hallucination.

Natalie d'Arbeloff said...

Dancing is wonderful and I'm deeply nostalgic for the days when people actually did it at parties or in bars such as you mention, where records were played on a turntable or jukebox. Now, when it happens at all, everyone does it alone in a crowd, jigging along to whatever is blasting from ear-shattering loudspeakers. Nevertheless, if I hear a rhythm that I'm in tune with, I will get up and dance anywhere with anyone, or alone. Far from feeling awkward or threatened by being held in a stranger's embrace, if he happens to have a sense of rhythm and can move to the music, I will be delighted to dance with him, and the more show-offish the better. I've never been interested in formal ballroom dancing but put me in a room where the beat is beating, whether it's samba, tango, pop, rock, swing, blues etc. and I cannot be restrained from hitting the floor, with or without a partner.

Natalie d'Arbeloff said...

Got so carried away that I forgot to answer your actual question:

"But has an unknown male approached you and asked you to dance? It's that split-second reaction (on the part of the woman) I'm interested in - for literary reasons."

It would depend on what music was playing - ie: whether the rhythm was exciting to me - and also on whether the guy looked interesting (not necessarily handsome or young or fit). If he did look interesting but obviously hadn't a clue on how to move to te music, I'd dance with him simply to get to know him. But the only interesting thing about him was that he could obviously move well to the music, then I'd dance with him only for that momentary pleasure and make my excuses to leave right after the dance.

Roderick Robinson said...

Elena: Good gracious. I feel as though I've impinged.

Natalie: The question goes unanswered, though I realise there's a good reason why. What I'm asking is a good deal more profound than what happens on dance floors. Almost immediately you're into the ex post facto moment, dancing with him provided "he could obviously move well to the music" but this wouldn't be apparent before you accepted.

So acceptance would depend on "if he did look interesting". But suppose he didn't. Is refusal simply one of those simple social mechanisms that give you no pause for thought? Glance at my brother's comment, his agonising and uncertainties (stemming from being the initiator of the proposal) more or less reflecting my own minor terrors. In the end these questions - to do with states of mind - have much wider application and lie at the heart of relationships between the sexes. Briefly a woman may or may not agree to exist close to (literally in the hands of) a man she does not know; this is quite a serious matter though I accept that if it can be done, by the woman, without any introspection, my questions would mean nothing to such a woman.

You may have answered my question anyway. That my interests in this moment - being male - have no application to women. Or that some women may worry but not you. Fair enough. In broad terms you imply that (I'm guessing here) dancing pays dividends to those who are most confident about dancing. This I suspected. But women who lack that confidence also go to dances and their feelings may duplicate those of equally unconfident men. That's the material I can use in my novels; moments when the innermost and certainly unexpressed thoughts of men and woman may coincide - without either of them realising the fact. The irony of it! That's my meat and drink.

Note: This is not an argument, I meant what I said in the post. I was - and still am - looking for enlightenment.

Lucy said...

I fear my only experience of situations have been limited to teenage discos in parish halls or tennis clubs smelling of athlete's foot, where the invitation, while strictly traditional in the sense that males approached females only, carried the subtext that the dancing was likely a preamble to protracted snogging, usually on those kind of chairs consisting of dun-coloured canvas over a tubular metal frame. I was asked little and said yes even less.

Since being here any events involving dancing tend to be group oriented, sometimes involving moving in a circular or spiral motion with the excruciating linking of the smallest digit to that of the person next in line, to even more excruciating Breton folk music. Postprandial flatulence during circle dancing sometimes adds extra interest to the proceedings. The learning of these dances for eager-to-please expats seems to be a frequent rite of passage. There were also some twosome dances, waltzes and scottisches and such like (I think) to be learned, and I did like these, though I'm utterly hopeless at proper dancing, lacking any kind of rhythm, fluidity or musicality. This was learned to his disappointment by an elderly Breton farmer who once whisked me off at a wedding. I had only ever encountered him previously in his farmyard wearing real, entirely wooden clogs; happily he wasn't wearing these at the time, the only wooden thing was me, a perception reinforced by my being at least a couple of inches taller than him. Yes, he was that short.

Otherwise I've danced with Tom of course, who is a natural, which is sad, in part because even he can't coax anything resembling good dancing out of me, but also because he was never given the chance earlier in life, his father having firmly decreed that you could dance your way into hell but you couldn't dance your way out of it. The kind of old-time religion that Pat Boone (heard him speaking as an older man, surprisingly dry and funny) described when he said, growing up, that his church was so strict that you weren't allowed to have sex standing up in case someone thought you were dancing.

Sorry I can't be of more help.

Natalie d'Arbeloff said...

Robbie, I did understand the deeper implications of your question but they were swept aside by the subject of dancing cheek to cheek per se, nostalgia for those days,and my own unchanged pleasure in dancing with a partner.

As for those deeper implications, I can only go by my own experience. As a teenager in America, being a foreigner, much smaller and immature-looking than all my American classmates, I suffered at those long-awaited occasions where we girls were lined up on one side of the hall waiting for boys lined up on the other side to ask us to dance. I knew exactly which boy I wanted to be asked by but also knew that he'd go for the cute curvy blonde 15 year-old and not for the little runt who looked about 11. However if any boy did come over and invite me, I happily accepted, partly because I really loved moving to music and partly because of the thrill of being in the arms of a boy.
Of course the sexual element is involved - how could it not be? It's not only the male who feels those stirrings: women do too, at any age. But whether such physical proximity between the sexes gives rise to feelings of anxiety etc. depends on the character,life-history, self-image etc. of both protagonists. There is a male perception (maybe not so much in our more feminist times) that the female is a less sexual being than the male and that she must feel shocked, threatened or embarassed by close physical contact, as in dancing with a stranger. You'd have to do a survey of a lot of women with different backgrounds to get total enlightenment on this subject but I'd say that since you're writing a novel and not a documentary, you're free to create characters who behave and think and feel in any way you can imagine for them.

Roderick Robinson said...

Lucy: On the contrary.

You reminded me in vivid language (A preamble to protracted snogging) how many teenagers regarded dancing and how male behaviour at dances could therefore be predicted.

You set a couple of doors ajar: "I was asked little (Yet you still attended.) and said yes even less." (Despite your presumed state of desperation.)

You took me into a world - group-oriented, sometimes moving in a circular or spiral motion - I wot not of. Said you liked this but left me to guess why this was preferable to the mano-e-mano stuff - conceivably because the sexual overtones were much less immediate.

And, for the second time in the course of this post (Blonde Two was first) you mention quite movingly the sadness associated with being a less than satisfactory dancer married to a good dancer. As well as some hilarious asides on Tom's upbringing.

In fact dancing plays an intense part over half a chapter in Blest Redeemer. I not only managed to make it relevant to the story but also had a shot at describing the delights of dancing the tango, seen from within. Born out of the fact that I enjoy watching skilled couples engaged in this highly suggestive active. But with rhythm.

Natalie: Far more useful to me second time around. Let me try and summarise what you say in a form that is even more useful for me; that the nature (ie, appearance, behaviour, intentions, etc) of the youth you danced with came a distant second to the fact you were dancing with him.

But would I be allowed to extrapolate: would you be able to extract equal terpsichorean pleasure from a youth who danced well yet was suspected of various reprehensible practices, especially those against women? Is the pleasure in dancing that strong?

I'm alarmed you feel it necessary to tell me that women are just as much sexual animals as men. Was that from the top of your head or did you detect a need? After four novels all of which take women as central characters, one of which you've read. The short answer is: yes, I did know that.

PS: In the interim, my first published verse arrived. Undamaged, despite Beth's fears. Will be publicising.

Ellena said...

Yes you impinged - in a positive way.
You awakened a body and heart which had been fevered by sin way back then.
(When I was in my teenage years I often had a cold with high fever which made me hallucinate.)

Natalie d'Arbeloff said...

At the risk of overstaying my welcome by talking too much, I'll reply again:

"But would I be allowed to extrapolate: would you be able to extract equal terpsichorean pleasure from a youth who danced well yet was suspected of various reprehensible practices, especially those against women? Is the pleasure in dancing that strong?"

This brings up another conundrum: that women (okay, not all women)are often attracted to the 'bad boys' who happen to be gifted with a je ne sais quoi kind of charisma. It's a very old story and we've discussed it by email when I sent you a copy of my book (satire) 'The Joy of Letting Women Down'. The short answer to your question is: yes, I probably would (and did) enjoy dancing with such characters just because he/they had that sexy allure.

But wouldn't the same apply to a man? Couldn't a man enjoy dancing with a woman known to be predatory/neurotic/manipulative/dangerous etc. if she happens to be very attractive/sexy?

Why is it assumed that women are naturally more virtuous or less susceptible to 'mere' physical attraction than men? Or that they are less willing to take risks?

The Crow said...

I have two right feet, never learned to dance properly, and stopped going to dances after my second attempt.

I can tell you that the times I tried were fraught with anticipation, longing, anxiety that I'd trounce all over his feet, and fear of rejection or being invisible. Over the years, in other may-I-have-this-dance situations, I frequently said straight away that I didn't know how, but thanked him for asking. Infrequently, alternately, I would answer you'll have to teach me. Only once was I taken up on that. I ended up marrying him, but not because we danced well together. Probably in spite of it.

I did have other skills, though, that made up for not being able to dance. Still do, I think.

Rouchswalwe said...

My mother was a very tall redhead with green eyes who belonged to the dance club as a young woman. Let's just say that every young man yearned to dance with her. But there was a concern on her part. Her legs were very long, most of her tallness in fact, was due to her legs. So when sitting, short young men had no idea she would be as tall as she was when she stood. (Bear with me, this tale is going somewhere.) My dear Mama was blessed with a soft hear, and so she did not turn away those young men brave enough to ask her for a dance. Even the short ones got their wish. Now when I was living in Japan, I had the same problem ... germanically-built woman in the land of Lilliput. I was quite the hit because the noses of the Japanese men reached right about ... well, you can guess.

Have I strayed from the point. Did I answer the question?

Rouchswalwe said...

I suppose I rather like dancing with the shorter dudes. They're so grateful and I feel like I leading them around by the nose.

I'll stop now.

Prost!

Roderick Robinson said...

Crow/RW(zS): Great stuff. Will respond later. In a rush: must shave, dress, then off to French.

Roderick Robinson said...

Crow/RW(zS): Here I am, cleanly shaved, my Roman nose still intact, a good French lesson under my belt, uplifted by Sophie van Otter singing Handel's full-of-life aria Dopo notte (After night)

Crow: Fear of the imminent blunder, I know it well. Dunno about other skills but at the only dancing class I can remember I talked, oh how I talked. Probably drove the poor little West Riding girl (half my height, less than half my weight) into one of those mute nunneries. Had I trod on her foot it would have been straight to the amputation clinic. I think yours was a good ploy (you'll have to teach me) and I'm surprised it only worked that once. I still wish I could do it, nevertheless. Not for the erotic bit but for a chance of grace.

RW(zS): Good for your kind-hearted Ma. Such balm for the shorties. In Blest Redeemer there is a scene where an unknown man picks up Judith at the bar of a very swanky hotel and she compliments him: says the courage required to engineer a pick-up is always under-rated. Of course I load the dice a bit in his favour but I feel there's an echo with what you say. Courage to rescue someone from a burning house is one thing, to risk humiliation is another.

I wonder if any Japanese man has ever gone to court for nose-assault. ("Not the act of a civilised man," said the judge, sending Mr Wu down for three consecutive life sentences.)