I’ve been dancing all my life. In fact, the first scar I ever had, still visible beside my left eyebrow, was as a result of my love of dancing!
I was on top of our outside coal bunker ( yes, this was in those days! ) aged 5 and I was constructing a dance routine which consisted of me pirouetting and then pretending to fly over the coal hole.
Except I overdid my exuberance, as usual, and fell in, cutting my head open on the way down.
My mother , who had probably been to Casualty with one of my brothers already that week, was not impressed when I told her I was being Liesl from The Sound Of Music.
That was the first film I was ever taken to see at the cinema.
My Irish grandfather, the same one who taught me to swim, for those of you who may have read my blog ‘Just Keep Swimming’, took me one afternoon as a treat.
On the bus we went, a treat in itself, from Enfield, stopping off in the town beforehand, where I was taken into a little shop and told I could choose my very first handbag as a special gift from Grandad.
Navy blue suede with gilt handles it was, I can still see it now- and I proudly put my hanky and purse in there, along with the packet of sweets I had chosen to take in with me. I haven t changed much!
As I sat next to my beloved grandfather in the dark, and the music started, I was spellbound- and captivated by both Captain Von Trapp and Liesl.
That was where I fell in love with dance as a means to express joy in human emotion.
Many of you will know the scene I mean: in the summer pavilion at night,in a thunderstorm, Rolfe and Liesl leaping from bench to bench as the rain pours down in the garden outside. Ending in their first kiss. I’m a hopeless romantic!
This was the very scene I was re-enacting as I leapt over the coal hole.
In my mind, I WAS Liesl!
And so it went on, through ballet classes and learning to be en pointe, my first pale pink ballet slippers and my extremely wild and unruly hair brushed and coaxed by my mother into a bun, while I sat protesting , my eyes watery with painful tears.
And then being taken to see Mary Poppins, my mum and I sitting side by side tapping our feet to ‘ Step in Time’ as Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke danced across starry London rooftops with sooty faces and a cast of impish chimney sweeps.
My greatest treat as a young girl was being allowed to stay up on a Thursday night to watch Top Of The Pops , waiting impatiently for Pan’s People to come on and perform their routine.
As cheesy as it inevitably was, their smiling faces seemed to me to sum up the sheer joy that I always felt as I danced. Oh how I dreamed of being one of them!
Eventually I grew up and went to work in London.
There, the wonders of The Pineapple Dance Studios opened their portals to me.
Legwarmers and and leotards and very many ways with my hair, the bane of my life, which I was now wearing in a Punky rough cut in what I rather hoped was a tribute to my heroine, Debbie Harry of Blondie.
Signing up to classes in Jazz and Latin American Dance ( still my favourite ) and loving the fact that every week I had the opportunity to leap, fly and jump in a big space with mirrors whilst wearing Day Glo colours.
In fact, I still love this, as evidenced by the class I went to just last week on Hallowe’en, where my dance teacher, Nancy, thrillingly supplied masks and Glow Bands!
And that’s the point.
Dance is a fantastic way to let loose and celebrate the sheer joy of being alive, human and a physical being, while also expressing the way that the music makes you feel.
Because of course, there is always music! That’s the wonderful thing.
One of the best dancers of Salsa I know is my friend Ana.
Now Ana was born with an unfair advantage in the rhythm stakes, as she is Cuban.
She told me that in her home country, as soon as babies can move, their mothers place their hands on their tiny hips and start to gently rotate and sway them to the Salsa beat.
No wonder they are so good at it!
I’m very lucky, because Ana taught me how to Salsa in the Latin style and it is all in the hip action, as they say on Strictly.
And we only have to look at babies and very young children to see that dancing is intrinsic to human nature.
Across all cultures, in every corner of the globe, people have developed their own way of moving to music or a beat.
Dancing is used to celebrate a ceremonial occasion, to demonstrate fertility and abundance and to just show yourself and other people that you are alive!
I’ve danced everywhere and at any occasion my whole life.
From sunset beaches with friends, to impromptu dances in sailing huts, and from pool parties in exotic climes, to a rather wild Irish jig in a pub on Dublin’s Grafton Street.
Even in a country field at midnight with some old school friends ( ‘ Play That Funky Music White Boy’, Lesley and Mark?)
When I say how much I love to dance, and how happy it makes me feel, some people tell me they can’t do it.
‘ Oh, I’ve got two left feet’, they say. Or : ‘ I’m much too shy, I can only dance after I’ve had a few drinks’.
But I don’t believe this is true.
As all the very young can naturally dance, I believe it is only inhibition and ego that stand in the way of people wanting to let loose.
And certainly, in England, there seems to be a notion that men don’t dance!
All that wiggling of the hips and bottom- isn’t it a bit much??
But I hope that programmes such as the marvellous ‘ Strictly Come Dancing’ are beginning to change all that. We’ve seen rugby players and cricket captains alike embrace their inner dancer!
For I’m currently on a mission to encourage more men into the dance class I go to three times each week.
Not only do I believe they would love it, but I strongly think that dancing together improves the relationship between the sexes.
We are not designed to dance alone, it takes two to Tango after all and the most iconic and celebrated dance partnership is still Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers.
Dancing is the quickest route I know to happiness.
Any dull day can be transformed, if we just put on some music and start to move to the rhythm as the mood and tune takes us.
There is no wrong or right way really, unless you are in a classical class or giving a performance.
When it is just you, you can freely move around, expressing yourself just as you like and it is so uplifting and transformative.
I think it is impossible to stay feeling even a little bit blue whilst sashaying across the sitting room floor to Ricky Martin, but that’s just me!
Everybody has their favourite dance track for the mood they are in…I bet you can think of one now!
So don’t hesitate…because one of the best things about a dance piece is, it is usually only about 3 minutes long. And in that 3 minutes, you can change your mood for the better, sing at the top of your voice and pretend to be anybody you want to be, including the best version of yourself.
On any given day, I can be Darcey Bussell, a Spanish Flamenco dancer or even just me, dancing and loving it, as I always have.
Of course, on a rainy day like today, I am still always Liesl, in her white dress, jumping from bench to bench, supported by Rolfe’s manly hand, forever sixteen…
All it takes is the courage to lose your inhibitions for a while.
As Mary J Blige wisely sings in ‘ Family Affair ‘ :
‘ Let loose and set your body free.
Leave your situations at the door
So when you step inside jump on the floor’ .