Ficklish Blog

Monday, February 16, 2009

Dancing Queen

So, I’ve never been a dancer. Sure, I have been known to shake my not-inconsiderable arse in various adult establishments on occasion over the years, but ever in any kind of organised fashion. I was never an adorable three-year-old in a tutu, I never learned how to tap. I did do gymnastics in a fetching purple leotard, and my proudest achievement was winning the handstand competition on one memorable Saturday morning.

Given all this, I’m not entirely sure why it seemed like a good idea to sign up for a Bollywood dancing class.

I know when it happened. I was sitting in a restaurant in Brick Lane, having dinner with a jolly crew to farewell the wonderful MIA, who was on his way back to Merica. I was transfixed by the flatscreen TV in the corner, playing an endless loop of shiny happy Indian folks dancing about in an energetic and stylish manner. I thought to myself, ‘wow. That looks like fun.’

[It later became clear that I was coming down with a nasty bout of flu and was at that particular time suffering the effects of a highly elevated temperature].

Fever notwithstanding, the idea stuck and when I recovered I did a bit of googling. A suitable beginner’s workshop was found, and I rocked up to commence my experiment last Monday evening.

It was raining really hard. The venue took some finding, and I arrived bedraggled, clumsily juggling bag, scarf, iPod and glasses. This inability to coordinate my movements was to set the tone for the rest of the evening. I walked in the entrance and just past the desk was a scene just like every dance movie I’ve ever seen: a giant open room with wooden floors, mirrored walls and a large crowd of people moving in unison. Spooky, and intimidating as hell. It’s a cliché, but everyone there looked like they belonged: lithe, graceful and coordinated in a way that I know I am not. My gut went all clenchy with the nerves.

I sucked up all my courage and walked like I knew what I was doing up many flights of stairs to find the studio I was looking for, only to be told that the changing rooms were in the basement. Of course they were! I trudged all the way down again and enjoyed ten minutes of English Changing Room fun. Why, oh why, do they prance about in their underwear? I will never understand. One woman sat on a bench eating a muesli bar, watching the room, impassively surveying the nakedness as she waited for someone or something or I don’t know what. It was creepy. I scuttled out of there as fast as I could, wondering anew what the hell I was doing there.

As I stood outside the room waiting for the previous class to finish the nerves started to dissipate a little. The class was huge – a giant group of people bouncing about, having fun, making it look so very easy. I started to get a little bit excited. There was a tall, pasty white guy at the back grinning widely, flinging his windmill arms about madly, having the time of his life. I couldn’t take my eyes off him. When their class was finished and our group shuffled in, I was delighted to note that he was wearing thick dark braces with his acid wash black jeans. Spectacular!

As I took off my shoes I noticed that the room was, in fact, about half the size I had thought it was. Oh yes, that’s right. MIRRORS. If there’s one thing I loathe more than exercise it’s having to watch myself while I do it. This was not going to be pretty.

And so, the class began. It was a beginner’s lesson and there were only a handful of us and a perky instructor. She launched into some stretches, boppy ones done to blaring bhangra music. So far, so good. Then she showed us a few basic steps which formed the basis of the warmup routine. By the time the first song was over I was winded and sweating like a bastard.

The rest of the class consisted of learning chunks of choreography and then stringing them together to music. I found that I could kind of approximate the footwork, or the hand movements, but putting them together was chaos.

I had cleverly decided not to wear my glasses. As mentioned above, I tend to perspire somewhat profusely, and I figured that constantly pushing my spectacles up my face would make me look even more bumbling than I was. The advantage of this situation, though, was that I couldn’t make out the instructor’s face in the mirror very clearly. When she repeated instructions, ‘no, not like that! You’re not screwing in a lightbulb! Put your shoulder into it!’ I couldn’t tell if she was talking to me. She probably was. I’m really good at screwing in lightbulbs.

Some of the steps were tricky. She’d demonstrate, we’d follow along and repeat again and again until we mostly got the hang of it. There was one move that caused particular trouble. It was kind of a sliding step followed by sticking your butt out. “Shuffle, then hip”, she would call as we tried – and mostly failed - to copy her movements. “Shuffle, then hip.” This went on for some time until she stopped, a little exasperated, and said, "I’m obviously not explaining well. Let me see if I can make it clearer.'

[Thoughtful pause]

"It’s really kind of a shuffle, followed by a hip.”

I cracked up. Well, when you say it like that…!

Restraining the chuckles was a challenge throughout the class. I decided early on that I didn’t want to be playing the equivalent of hit-and-giggle pool – no-one likes that girl – and that I should try to demonstrate that I was taking it seriously. I really didn’t want to be ruining it for all the serious dancey-types around me.

I tried really hard. The more I stumbled, the harder it got to keep a straight face. When we strung the steps together, I’d keep up initially, then miss something (usually the shuffle/hip) and scramble to catch up, feeling more than a little ridiculous.

I had fun. I really, really sucked. Everyone else seemed to manage fine, obviously dance class veterans of long standing. Catching glimpses of my awkward, lumbering self in the mirror was unpleasant, so I kept my eyes on the instructor’s arse. The music was infectious. There were a couple of (very) brief moments where I got my hands and feet coordinated enough to actually enjoy the movement – actually dancing rather than concentrating on the pattern. I got sweaty, I jumped about. Then, when it was over, I emerged into the rain smiling and exhausted.

Thursday, February 05, 2009


As you may have read there was some snow in London this week. Lots of snow! Okay, not that much snow by the standards of the rest of the wintry world, but the biggest snowfall here in two decades and a pretty big deal. It was spectacular.

It brought the city to its knees on Monday. There was no public transport, the business district was a ghost town. Most of my colleagues who depend on trains or buses to get to work were stranded, but I live so close to the office that I figured I had no excuse, so no snow day for me. Besides, I was keen to get out and see what it all looked like. It has only snowed a little bit on a couple of occasions since I’ve lived here and the novelty hasn't come close to wearing off. This was very exciting indeed.

The first thing I learned is that I really don’t have the right footwear for these conditions. I wrapped up as warm as I could, but shoes were a definite problem. I am, as you will be aware, really not an outdoor type and I don’t own hiking boots, or snow boots, or anything even remotely similar. I surveyed the options available in my cupboard and settled on knee socks with my trainers, rolling the cuffs of my trousers up so they wouldn’t get wet and securing them with clothespegs. I looked a treat, as you can imagine.

What is normally a half-hour walk took me over an hour – slipping and skidding my way across the icy paths with tiny little steps. I only fell on my arse once. It was tough going, but I couldn’t care – it was so beautiful! Grey, dirty London all sparkling and clean and draped with thick white blankets. Everyone out walking was in a festive mood – chatting and laughing with each other along the way. That never happens here, it was amazing. I saw a guy walking along with ski poles, everyone cheered as he went past.

Soft flakes fell constantly all day. The handful of my colleagues and I who made it into the office had a very good time – snowball fights at lunchtime, stomping about in snowdrifts like Godzilla, excellent fun.

We left the office early to try to get home before dark. I skidded my way towards home, and to my amazement happened upon a lone bus going in my direction. I waved at the driver, who stopped and let me on. I gushed my thanks effusively, it felt strange to be so grateful for something that happens on every other regular day. I smiled to myself as I then sat on the bus and heard every subsequent passenger do exactly the same thing, ‘Oh, THANK YOU! Thank you so much! This is brilliant!’, exclaiming their gratitude to the driver for saving them the long walk home. Best bus ride ever.

I know it was pathetic. We were the object of scorn from places like Moscow and Canada and I guess rightly so. But it was freaking brilliant, and I’m so glad I was here for it. As I got home to the Pickle, the guy at the wine shop downstairs was hanging outside his doorway, sprinkling table salt on the icy footpath so that customers wouldn’t slip coming into his shop. I have no idea what – if any – effect it would have had, but it was very charming and it made me smile.

I’ve been so inspired by the snow and my new-found love for stomping in it that I have invested in some genuine outdoor footwear: my first wellies! They are most excellent:

I ordered them online on Monday night and they arrived today. This photo is of me modelling them in the office. I wore them outside for a smoke break and stomped about gleefully in the last patches of melting slush. Now I'm checking the weather report obsessively, waiting for more snow to come along. I'm ready!