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Friday, July 17, 2015

The Making of a Child Psychiatrist (8)

I have never really been interested in male fashion. Growing up in the 1940s and 50s, the options were limited, as were the funds for much more than housing, and basic needs. We were not poor in the sense that I understand my maternal grandmother struggled after her guardsman husband died shortly after the First World War. Neither were we anywhere close to wealthy. So in 1957, I had a basic set of clothes with some options. It may have even been a bit of a struggle for my parents to buy my school uniform. I was never included in such discussions, but always had the sense of expectation that I had to look after what I did own. So I was always careful, and I have never had expectations of a vast and trendy wardrobe.
When Alan and I were expected to go to Saturday morning dancing lessons, there were no demands for special clothes. My memory says that even though it was a Saturday, I might well have worn my grey trousers, black everyday shoes, and my green blazer from school. It would have been the nearest I could get to ‘smart’.
Mr. Moore’s Dancing Academy had a novel set of smells, dampness and dust amongst them. It was a large hall, with windows at either end. There were no mirrors like you might find in a modern studio, nor a trophy cabinet, though I understand the Moore’s had won awards. There was a shining wooden floor, perhaps sanded by the many feet that had brushed its old surface, but there may have had some talcum or other substance used to stop the surface from being sticky.
We were the first to arrive on this particular day, and I know I was nervous even if not shy. Mr. Moore was a tall slim man dressed in a suit, and his wife was equally lithe, with a dress and cardigan. I thought they were imposing, even scary, but equally to the eye of a 13 year old, they were ‘old’. In retrospect, they may have been in their late 40s. I cannot remember a trophy cabinet as might be commonplace for today’s ballroom teachers, and I have no sense of the couple’s history. It was just a hall on Ethelred Road. They were just there. They were going to teach us, and we were nervous.
And then the world turned, with the arrival of two sisters, Wendy and Janet Hughes. They seemed to have been before, were greeted, and found a seat. As they came through the door, I was smitten. I turned to Alan and said: “I’ll take the one on the left, you can have the one on the right.” ‘Take’ may seem a strange word for a 13 year old, and it was. I had had a couple of brief and superficial relationships with girls since Marlene Wright, but ‘take’ had never been part of the equation. I had little idea how to dance; so the idea of ‘taking’ a partner, and beginning to dance to some music was alien. It would have sounded quite cool in a movie where the hero was experienced enough to know what he was doing. Now, in my head, it sounds idiotic, a piece of bravado. But that what was I said and, not to wreck the rest of the story, Janet was to become my life partner and my best friend. She may not have known anything at the time, but she was to become in many ways my healer.
I got little more than glimpses for the rest of the session. Mr. Moore took me over, and I was shown the position in which a male danced with a woman. I found being close to a strange adult male disconcerting, holding hands bizarre, and was aware of his sinuous arms under the jacket, but totally unaware at the time that he was adopting the female role for demonstration purposes. He showed me the first steps in the pattern of a waltz; first of all forwards and to the side one two three, one two three, and then later backwards. “Don’t be so stiff” became a refrain. How do you relax when you are dancing with a bloke? I guess I was so focused on not tripping, or treading on his toes, that I did not have time to watch what the girls were doing with Mrs. Moore. But there were some breaks, and my eyes searched for the petite blond who seemed to be having fun, and was not the least confused by the lessons. I suspect at some stage that Mrs. Moore would have taken over the instruction, but I don’t remember. I am ashamed to say I cannot even remember an introduction on that day, although there must have been one.
I don’t remember the feedback discussion with my parents. I do remember the discussions prior to going, and my not wanting to have anything to do with dancing. What would my classmates at school have said? I remember the passive resistance I put up over the weeks before that first lesson. But our respective parents had taken a decision, and we were expected to follow through. They must have been confused by the sudden change in demeanour. I could not wait for the following Saturday morning. I suspect I took special care with my appearance.
At some stage Mrs Moore would have done some of the teaching and after a couple of weeks, I actually got to hold a hand with Janet, and have the other one round her waist. Bliss. We progressed, and over the next few months I began to learn the quickstep, and a variety of formal somewhat elderly dances like the Viennese Waltz. At some stage, we were taught the beginnings of jive, and although this was appropriate to the emerging era, I always felt that the Moore’s disapproved. I suspect our respective parents also were slightly troubled by such gay abandon. In all of this, it became clear that I could dance, and learned to love it. In addition, I did have a sense of rhythm, once I was confident of the basic steps. Over the next 2 years, Jan and I took every opportunity to learn new steps, and even developed some flair – which has held us in good stead at parties and balls for 50 years.

Jan and Wendy had an aunt and uncle who were part of the Birchington on Sea Guild of Players, and Jan ‘s mother had also been involved in dram with the Women’s Guild. I am not sure how, but Jan had been introduced to David and Lorna Burley who ran the Birchington Junior Drama Club. She and Wendy had joined some months prior. I guess we may have discussed a mutual interest in drama during the break at dance classes. Anyway, I asked my parents’ permission, and very soon found myself as a member of BJDC in the autumn of 1957, a joyous link that continued for the next four years. Alan Haydon also joined. Rehearsals at the Burleys’ house were only a small part of the fun. But that is another story.

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