We make a motley crew as we traipse into the village hall on a Wednesday evening, coats buttoned up against the cold. I suspect I’m not the only one who firmly believes, every time I put on my shoes, that I’ll be transformed into Ginger Rogers. We’ve all danced before; a spot of ballet as a child, some modern or jazz, even some ballroom, thanks to Strictly. But tap is new to most of us, or at least it was a couple of terms ago. Now we consider ourselves dancers, and practice our tap springs self-consciously as we push a trolley full of toddler down the aisle at Tesco.
The hall is clean but tatty and unloved, despite the weekly schedule of dog training, toddler groups and WI meetings that keeps the caretaker busy. We freeze until five minutes before the end, when the heating finally kicks in and the wall-mounted bars beat down on us fiercely. But it keeps us on the move.
The teacher is young and optimistic. She allows banter for which her eight year olds would be severely reprimanded, and indulges our requests to do “the one with the finger clicks” at the end. The average age of the class is around 45; our tentative taps almost drowned out by the clicks of arthritic knees and artificial hips. Elderly Audrey started tapping after her husband died; for company and to “postpone the inevitable”, she always says. Rachel, a braying spinster with hair too long for someone who won’t see 30 again, is technically faultless, but has the grace of a rhino on ice. I’m intrigued by Julia, who I guessed was in her early fifties, then was astonished to hear tales of her 9 month old baby. She has worry lines permanently etched on her face, and doesn’t seem to enjoy the class very much. Maybe she doesn’t enjoy life very much. Camilla (“we want to start trying for a second baby, but I do need to fit in another ski season first”) is frightfully enthusiastic and a jolly good sport. Her biggest problem is keeping her Alice band on during an energetic set of springs. Sam is one of those odd sorts who refer to themselves in the third person; “Sammy’s going to crack this ball change tonight”, which I find rather disorientating. She laughs maniacally when she gets a step wrong, which tends to hold up the class somewhat.
And there’s me. At the back, doing a Corporal Jones. My leg-warmers serve a dual purpose; not only are they essential in the fight against the village hall’s damp chill, but they hide the fact that I was blessed with cankles the size of oak trees. And anyway, they make me feel like an extra in Fame!, so I continue to wear them (but steer well clear of the day-glo lycra leggings, you’ll be relieved to know. I once tried on a pair of orange leggings in a dance shop. With the sheen magnifying every dimple, my backside looked like a genetically modified tangerine).
We watch the teacher intently and follow her every move. So much so, that when she accidentally slipped, six women diligently lurched forwards to the floor with arms outstretched. She turned round to find us there, prone, expectantly looking up at her for feedback on our finale. It was at that point, I’m sure, that she realised the enormity of her task. The spirit may be willing, but the body is not only weak; it’s over-weight, under-exercised and completely lacking in rhythm.
Photo credit: athena1970