SOMETIMES, when wandering,
lonely in a crowd that drifts around a supermarket’s shelves, fleeting
phantasms of former days flicker before my mind’s eye. Once more, around
the cooked meat counter and the Gouda, Edam and Camembert display, I see
couples in sprightly dance, moving clockwise and time-careless, with
myself, a small, cannonball cheese, trundling around with a petite,
puff-pastry of a partner.
In my mind’s ear I hear, oh thin and clear, like the horns of elfland
faintly blowing, the peerless, pulsating, musical classics of the 60s,
that included I Want To Be Bobbie’s Girl, which stirred pulses, plucked
heart strings and made bosoms rise and fall like seaweed in an ebb tide.
That supermarket is Edinburgh’s Morningside Road Safeway. It stands on
what many regard as hallowed ground, the site of the old Plaza Ballroom,
where, with other pagodas of dancing pleasure such as the Palais and the
New Cavendish, females awaiting partners stood like yearlings at
Tattersall’s and males, often showing the confidence of rabbits caught
in cars’ headlights, asked them to indulge in grapplings such as the
foxtrot, its sequences including the half-Nelson, neck-scissors and body
Oh my dear, departed dancing days when I lived my heel-and-toe life to
the strict tempo of that austere guru, Victor Sylvester, whose influence
guided my steps to various Edinburgh dance schools, where, with other
young men, many slouching like sagging cement sacks and others with
erect acne carriages, I moved in massed, shoe-crashing formations that
sounded like Grenadier Guards marching on gravel while the girls, by and
large and as broad as they were long, disported themselves like
thistledown blown in the wind.
Then there were cryptic instruction manuals, illustrated with tiny
footprints to indicate the spoors of dancers doing movements like the
double-spin chasse reverse turn that needed a body as supple and spare
as a conger eel’s to execute it successfully.
After the passing-out parade of one dance school, the Sandhurst of its
kind, which included a massed deployment, with Pythagorean precision, of
the quickstep’s natural hairpin bend and hesitation chasse - the chief
tutor and partner taking the salute - I was considered adept in the
social foxtrot, though mine had toes-stepping-on, anti-social
deviations, the waltz’s checked natural turn with reverse pivot and
built-in apologies for standing on a partner’s long dress and the
quick-start open-and-shut reverse pivot turn which, if done badly,
suggested a hyena clinging to a fleeing wildebeest.
Thus equipped, I faced the powder in a dance hall and went,
effortlessly, like a wind-up toy, into my mid-reverse-forward interlock
side-swivel with non-reversible smirk, demonstrated in Come Dancing by
men in faultless evening wear and women in many-layered, Milky-Way
skirts, star-glittering with 60,000 sequins.
But what was this? My partner, a good mover, although built on the lines
of a Queen Victoria statue that I had uprooted from behind a potted
plant, stopped me in mid-gyration and asked, biting as barbed wire: "Whitkinnastepizzat?"
Around, the masses moved like spiral nebulae, in the centre of which I
stood in a doubting black hole where the validity of my dancing life
began to slip down the drain. I revealed that I followed the true orbits
of the sun-god Victor with Euclidian movements based on equality of
angles and sound circular and tangential principles..
She emitted a disbelieving cackle, indicating, in crisp Edinburgh
demotic, that most dance punters moved with basic survival instincts.
Many merely walked in time to the music or did a sort of spastic
shuffle, males often using arm movements as if pumping water from a deep
well with females firmly attached to their partners like belladonna
I followed her lead and that of other helpful partners and spent
enjoyable years adapting to the crowd press but displaying occasional
Sylvester outbursts so that while I was whispering sweet nothings, like
the second law of thermodynamics, into partners’ shell-pink ears they
would be staring, baffled, at my feet as I moved with the purposeful
grace of Groucho Marx stalking a waitress. Oh jigging joys; gone alas,
like my reverse-forward sidestep - too soon.
So I salute old Plaza memories in that Safeway branch, soon, as it were,
to change partners in the Paul Jones of competitive commerce. I wish the
staff good luck and hope that their steps will be in the right