A perpendicular expression of a horizontal desire
04 September 2021 | or Out of my league
I blame Chubby Checker. If it hadn't been for The Twist, I'd have learned to dance properly (i,e, with someone rather than at someone) in my formative years, when I had the hormone levels to motivate me, the agility to make it physically attainable and the coordination to make the resulting spectacle less overtly embarrassing than is the case now. "She looked me over
Prior to The Twist, in the days of the Local Palais, you needed to learn to dance with a partner if you wanted any degree of success in the human mate-selection ritual as carried out in sweaty dance halls and tacky-carpeted, eardrum-shattering discotheques. Pre-twist, (1960) you needed to be able to jive. Post-twist but pre Saturday Night Fever (1977) all you needed to do was stand in one spot and wiggle various bits of your anatomy.
Once SNF hit the screens, things got a little more difficult. You had to do all the twisty wiggling stuff, but it had to be co-ordinated, and you had to strike dramatic poses at intervals. Just to make things even more difficult, you were expected to do all this in time to the music. If this was all a bit too taxing for you, you were best off getting into the emerging punk rock genre, where all you needed to do was shout, spray copious amounts of spittle about, and lay on your back twitching your arms and legs in the air. Post punk & SNF all you needed was to get off your face on MDMA. Everyone was so luvved-up that you'd be in with a chance of pulling even if you looked like Johnny Vegas, sounded like Janet Street-Porter, smelt like a bad case of giardia, and had the dentition of Shane MacGowan
I had quite happily come to terms with my singular lack of expertise in the terpsichorean ambit - it was yet another of those things that I had resigned myself to as being one of the many unavoidable gaps in my life experience.
Not so Liz. She is made of sterner stuff and has, for some considerable time, been hassling me to learn to jive. I had countered these overtures with passive resistance, regretfully bemoaning the absence of classes teaching Jive, and assuring of her my deep and heartfelt anguish at the unavailability of certificated training courses for such a valuable pair bonding activity. Samba, salsa, tango mambo, even capoeira and the like all seemed to be well catered for. Foxtrot, pasa doble, jitterbug and military two-step? Ten a penny. American line dancing? Couldn't move for the buggers. Morris dancing? Couldn't hear yourself think over the jangling bells and fluttering handkerchiefs, but jive? Nary a peep. "If only we could find a jive class, dear heart" I would declaim, shamelessly, "I would be down there hammering on the door before you could say 'American Spin.' " Liz, however, circumvented my cynical machinations. She found a jive club in Javea that had a beginners' class and called my bluff. Cornered, I feigned enthusiasm and we went along.
It took us a while to find the place, and when we did, first impressions were not encouraging. It was on the outskirts of the less salubrious part of town, down a rutted, unlit track, hemmed in on both sides by tall chain-link fencing. The place itself originally served the mothballed go-kart track that sat alongside it. We found the door and tentatively walked inside.
The interior was even more dismal than the approach road. We peered through the Stygian gloom, trying to get our bearings. Ignoring the two pinch-faced alcoholics sitting at the bar mumbling bitter, disjointed, incoherent profanities to no-one in particular, we scanned further into the interior, where we struck lucky. The jive club was gathered in all its motley ex-patriate glory, on the dance floor.
We walked over, an action that proved an assault on all the senses. Everywhere reeked of old tobacco smoke and stale beer, a combination that had, over the years, laid a fine dark patina over all the ceiling, walls, furnishings, bar staff and clientele, accentuating the general air of seedy decrepitude. Every lifted foot from the carpet sounded like Velcro being ripped open as we struggled to overcome the adhesive power of decades of spilt beer and Cuba Libres. I felt like a rat struggling out of a glue-trap. The wooden dance floor continued the theme with patches of high adhesion, but these were now interspersed with lethal, freshly christened areas with coefficients of friction on a par with that of wet fingers holding a bar of soap liberally doused in baby oil. (1) We introduced ourselves and surreptitiously took stock.
There are about one million British ex-pats living in Spain. From our experience they are generally drawn from a fairly limited demographic. The majority are retired or of independent means. Servicing this majority is a stratum of ex-pat entrepreneurs running businesses such as bars, restaurants, British food shops, estate agents, swimming pool installers and development companies. Servicing both strata are a rag-bag of assorted chancers scraping a living from their (usually imaginary) abilities as electricians, plumbers, hairdressers, satellite dish installers, fitness instructors or Feng Shui advisors. In general, the only ones that manage to show any real talent for their professed occupations are the time share touts, most of whom would make Arthur Daley look like Forest Gump.
Javea has a substantial ex-pat community, the majority of which are British (2). The rest is made up of Dutch, French, German, Scandinavian, East European and Russian. Despite its multinational membership base, the ex-pat throng has a recognisable demographic profile.
Our new-found friends fitted this profile of being over 60, retired, of independent means and primarily British, with the exception of a sizeable contingent on the distaff side, who were in their forties/fifties or so, glammed up to the eyebrows, and Russian. The male detachment stood in stark contrast to the bunch of self-assured women standing opposite them. Looking at the confident, detached, open looks of appraisal on the women's faces, a Paul Simon song popped into my head:
And I guess she thought
I was all right.
All right in a sort of a limited way
For an off-night."
It would have certainly had to have been an off night. In poignant contrast to the carefully clad & coiffed, meticulously made-up and artfully accessorised women, a good 50% of the men looked as if they'd just been rudely roused from the depths of their afternoon nap. Nattily attired in rumpled cardies left unbuttoned over baggy trousers and vests, some of them had even come in their slippers. I was half expecting to find one or two still in their dressing gowns. They stood, unshaven, unwashed and unkempt, exuding a dejected air of utter defeat and learned helplessness, hunched forward with their hands clasped protectively over their genitalia as they shuffled across the slippy-sticky floor. My gait and posture are better than that, and I've got Parkinson's.
"The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation, and go to the grave with their song still in them." (3)
The non-Russian women were obviously those wives who had managed, like Liz, to bully, blackmail or bribe their reluctant husbands into taking part in this exercise in public self-humiliation. They looked at the Slavic interlopers with undisguised hostility. I don't see why; their assembled menfolk weren't exactly a cornucopia of testosterone-fuelled masculinity and were hardly trophy spouse material. Nah! I reckoned they were safe.
As was I. Glancing across the dance floor, I glimpsed a new figure through the gloom. "Another one" I thought to myself "Sad, slouched wrinkly loser." Shame it turned out to be a mirror.
The fiasco started off OK(ish). We began with the aptly named First Move. Martin (4) & his lovely wife Jackie talked us through it and then walked us through it. First Move - sounds benign, simple and forgiving huh?
It has 16 or so steps apiece, 4 changes in direction, and two under-arm turns, one clockwise and one anticlockwise. As if that wasn't bad enough, we had to learn some sort of arcane hand-to-hand braille whereby I was supposed to relay instructions to Liz as to what we were doing next. There was a significant problem with this, namely that 'next' would inevitably be 'same again' as this was the only move we knew. In addition, what's with all this soft tissue morse code business anyway? Our heads were only centimetres apart. All I had to do was whisper the moves in her ear: "American Spin in three - two, three and turn, two, three and back." Lot easier.
Nevertheless, we persevered and vaguely got the hang of it. "Great", we thought. "Half an hour's practice and we'll have this one cracked."
I neglected to mention that we were arranged in two concentric circles, women on the inside facing out and the men vice versa. Just as Liz and I were starting to get the hang of things, Martin called out 'Rotate!' and the rest of the women all moved one space clockwise, leaving Liz scrabbling to catch up.
Liz got the club Lothario, who was notable (and noticeable) for a number of reasons:
He was under 60. (Just)
He was clean shaven, well-scrubbed, appropriately well-dressed and generally kempt.
He could dance.
It turned out he was a past jive champion (East of England) (and bits of the Midlands).
I got Anoushka. Well, I think it's more accurate to say that she got me. I, too, had been thrown by the 'Rotate' instruction, and was gormlessly turning in circles, wondering where Liz had got to, when one of the glammed up Russian squad glided into my field of view. She stopped about half a metre in front of me and struck a pose, right arm in the air, left hand on angled hip, with her flexed, bestockinged, left knee protruding through the slit in her dress and pointing straight at my groin. She reinforced this entrance by holding eye-contact for about two seconds longer than was really comfortable and extending her left hand to me.
I froze in panic like a rabbit in the headlights, so she decided to save the situation by taking my hand and jerking me sharply towards her. My head snapped back, and my neck made a noise like someone screwing up bubble-wrap. Just as the pins and needles in my limbs were on the point of triggering quadriplegia, she changed tactics and started throwing me around the dance floor like an overgrown rag doll. I recovered my composure and held out my right arm, which she took in her left and deftly pirouetted in, winding first her arm, then mine, around her. She ended up with her nose almost touching mine, made prolonged eye contact and raised one eyebrow. I trod on her foot.
Recovering valiantly, I teetered for a second before taking up the start position for the next move, only to feel her hands clamp on my shoulders from behind before snapping me round through 180o so that I was facing the right way.
The torturous indignity continued unabated. We were supposed to be executing a move called 'octopus', but I reckoned that Anoushka was going for two falls, two submissions or a knockout. Her technique is difficult to explain, but if you've seen those street entertainers who have a weighted dummy sewn into their outfit, which they then throw about and dance with,/flirt with/fight with/indecently assault then you'll have a pretty good idea. I'm just grateful that we weren't doing a tango.
By the end of the evening, I still only knew the one move, and that barely to the level of 'Just about recognisable'. To cap it all, I felt like I'd just gone the full six rounds with Giant Haystacks. I resolved to give up on this Jive lark and go for something gentler, like alligator wrestling.