Well, that's the question, isn't it. Bugger that gloomy Scandinavian - although, to the best of my recollection, there are no dance scenes in "Hamlet", so perhaps he would have worded his famous speech the way I've headlined this piece.
Dancing. I've maintained for years - decades - that if you can, you should. If you can't, then you'll just make an arse of yourself.
Jenny and I were out on Friday night. It was her birthday, so we splashed out and went to the local RSA with some friends. Not quite haute cuisine, but the food was OK, and the company was excellent. The prices were very, very good, as well. What more can a man ask for?
Well, to be left on the sidelines, being grumpy.
It seems that the Birkenhead RSA has a dance-floor. We trooped up the stairs, and saw that the glitter-ball was glittering, and there was an aged - not aging -couple performing all three of the hits of the 50s. Actually, they were quite good. He had borrowed Art Garfunkel's hair for the night, and wore a blue spangly jacket, and plain blue pants.She was past being ofl an age, and was wearing a little black number with spaghjetti straps, and black pants. She was the crowd pleaser: she strode out into the crowd of 12, swinging her hips, sashaying about, approaching men at tables, and breathily singing "Fever" to them.
Anyway. The muse Terpsichore struck a couple of couples on the head, and they went to the dance-floor. They danced the foxtrot and the two-step (both of which are completely identical to the other, except for that little hop-skip really good fox-trotters do..) and generally swam their ways about the floor.
I was horrified. I knew that Jenny would start pestering me to go and dance, and my knees quaked at the thought. I fortified myself with alcohol, and watched the dancing. Technically, these people were competent. Well, they were OK. Swanning about, twirling and hopping, skipping and gliding. The problem was this: they all looked immensely miserable. This could have been because they really didn't like been seen in public with their spouses. This was quite possible, as all of the men and two of the women were ugly. They should have stayed at home, or made more use of the soft paper bags available at the foyer. But I reflected on it, and recalled a time some twenty-odd years ago. There was some strange Brazilian or Argentinian dance craze going about. One that involved the women wearing as little as was possible while still being legal, and the men wearing flouncy shirts and pants so tight they would have ruined their potential as fathers. The dance involved, I think, superglue: they stuck their groins together, and squirmed about the dance floor while ensuring their partner's genitalia remained within a millimetre of theirs. Once again, despite the thrilling proximity of naughty bits, these people all looked far too serious. Beautiful people, practically bonking, and with faces as expressive as a plain brown cardboard box. Such pain.
I don't dance. Fortunately, Jenny knows this, and respected my desire to not make an arse of myself... so she stayed at the table with me, looking in horrified fascination at the wrinkled miseries doing it in full sight of their peers.
To dance? No. Defintely not. Not in this lifetime, anyway - unless I take some lessons, and unless I can do it with a smile on my face.
READING: Still with John Connolly's "The Lovers". Worth reading slowly - it's an interesting discourse on the nature of evil.
LISTENING TO: The Doors, Best Of. They were great.
WORD OF THE DAY: terpsichorean.
Mary grinned, silently applauded him, and went back to see Mr Benefield.
“Do you mind if I spend a little time with your team at your next session?”
“No, of course not,” he replied. As if any sane man could resist that smile. “I doubt that a deaf, dumb, and blind man could do worse than me.”
“And you can stop that, right away. Do you think that young man would have just done that run if he hadn’t thought you were watching?” When Mary was fierce, she could make a Polar Bear retreat. “These are great kids, and you’re a good coach. You just don’t know all the tricks.”
“And you do?”
“Well, there’s this thing I do before going onto the badminton court, and I want to talk to your team about it.”
“Anything, Mrs Talbot. Anything.”
“Well, first thing is this: you call me Mary.”
Another heart won.
Three days later, and another chilly afternoon. The sun a finger’s width off the horizon, the air sweet with wood-smoke, the slight wind razor sharp, and carrying the Antarctic‘s bitter dryness. Mary had booked the school gym, and the boys were there. Mr Benefield (Tony, by now) had talked to the boys about the fact that Mary Talbot would be coming in to talk them through a few moves, and there was a general sniggering. Yeah, right. A woman. Then Mary hove into view, wearing a Northridge football jersey, shorts, rugby socks, sneakers, and goosebumps. The sniggers stopped, and Mary said “Hi boys. That was a dreadful game last Saturday, but Mr Benefield reckons you have the making of a champion team.”
I do? First I’ve heard about it, thought Tony Benefield.
“Not only that, but he reckons you can win this weekend’s game.”
Not a freaking chance in hell, thought Tony Benefield, BSc.
“And he’s asked me if I could show him a couple of tricks I learnt in my sport. They might just help. But first, let’s do seven lengths of the basketball court, starting now!” She clapped her hands and set off. There was a grin on her face: Jerry Ngamoki had bounded ahead of her. He’s got it, she thought. Three minutes later, panting, Mary challenged three boys to stand across the court’s midway line. She went to one of the goals, and called out “OK. All you have to do is tag me twice before I get to the other end. Understand? It’ll be easy to get me once, big boys like you,” and she took off, sprinting directly at the team’s speedster, Bill Mahoney. “But you’ll not get me twice!” And she skidded around him, and the other two on the floor cracked after her, and missed.
Mary drew in a deep breath. “Come on, boys: I’ll make it easier. Two of you, tag me once each. Don‘t be gentle just ‘cause I‘m a woman.”
The boys looked at each other and grinned. Easy.
They missed by miles.
Mary then called Jerry Ngamoki out, and asked him to select two others. He pointed, and when they were collected on the court, Mary ran. She ran, twisting, turning, and Jerry Ngamoki was a ghost, a chimera, a speeding shadow. On this run, he tagged her once. She shrieked “yes!” and ran to the wall. She turned, ready to make another run.
“Excuse me, Mrs Talbot.” Jerry stopped her. “All three of us tag you once each this time?”
“Just a minute.” Jerry called his companions, and directed them to their places on the court. “Right – go!”
And with that, Mary knew she’d lost. She sprinted out, but the young Maori boy had her tagged before she’d taken two steps. He then crowded her toward the second team-player, and try as she might she couldn’t avoid him. The far end of the court was rushing up, but so where the three boys, and the third one tapped her arm half a metre before she hit the line. Her grin was so wide it could have cracked her face.
A minute later, after regaining her breath, she spoke to the boys. “None of you would have ever seen my husband play rugby, but a couple of you might have watched him play cricket. He doesn’t know why he was so good on the footy field, or why he can hit a cricket ball better and more often than most other people – but I do. And I bet Jerry Ngamoki does, too.”
The big lad looked at her, his face a mask.
“It’s because,” she said, “Jerry and my husband know what’s going to happen before anyone else does. That’s why Jerry makes tackles you might miss: Jerry understands what the other fellow’s going to do, often before the other fellow’s started doing it.” The boy looked at her again, but this time there was a small smile on his face. “But here’s something I do know, and it’s this: you can all learn to do it.”
And she talked with them for an hour, explaining how to see themselves as they would be in a heart-beat’s time. How to see themselves through the opposing team’s scrum, to see themselves rolling the maul over the other team, exposing their ball carrier. How to anticipate another’s run, and to be a blocking tackler who’s three metres wide. “It’s all to do with time, boys: you take the time to learn to anticipate someone else’s moves, and you’ll be faster than them, you’ll be in the place you want to be before your opponent even knows you’ve moved. More importantly, you’ll be there even before you know you’ve moved.”
They exercised an hour on the basketball court, with the thin and wispy Tony Benefield, BSc, joining in, slapping his size 11s onto the polished floor, sweat running, and most of them got it.
The next weekend, they won their first game of the season, and Tony Benefield rugby coach, a colourful and grinning streak of humanity, applauded his team, and they slapped his back and called him Tony, and Jerry Ngamoki turned and waved to Mrs Mary, who wiped her eyes and waved back, knowing that when the time came to paint this story, it would be a painting she would never be able to sell. And now, eight years later, the painting hangs over the sideboard in the dining room at 22 Talbot Terrace: a young warrior, fiercely proud in his schoolboy rugby jersey, arm raised in triumph. When Mary slept that night, her lips were curled in a smile, and she dreamed of her man wearing a black rugby jersey, with a Silver Fern on the breast.