I’ve been on holiday. To the highlands. Where mostly I walked with Billydog in the mountains and thought about what I wanted to see more of in the coming year.
I can’t dance. Can’t do it (with the exception of my wedding day and very rare bursts of boogy on over enthusiastic press nights). Certainly not with any confidence or for any sustained period.
Last New Year’s Eve I went to a ceilidh. A village hall. The lights off. Plastic chairs around the outside. 3 musicians on the stage.
Everybody seems to know the dance: from the old grandparents in the corner to the hardest looking dudes in the other corner.
When one dance starts by everyone forming a circle and holding hands, everyone does it: 7 year old boys (natural enemy of holding hands) and dads and 14 year old girls and me. All holding hands because that’s how this dance starts.
Everybody participates, everyone is having a go. Sat next to me is an old man in his 70’s, Roy. Roy bust his leg falling down a few months ago, the pot is only two weeks off, “it takes it out of you more than you expect, doesn’t it” he tells me early on before the music starts. Now he is stood opposite me in the circle: he’s having a go too.
It is by some distance the most inclusive thing I’ve experienced, the structure of the dances themselves designed to let people access to them. They are repetitive, phrases of 8 or 12 moves that are repeated in two or three acts, so that even I, and the family of Eastern Europeans in the corner who haven’t ever seen the like, can join in quickly. Everyone is involved.
They all learn the dances at school Roy told me.
I believe him. Because amongst the crowd here tonight is a very lovely woman who is an exceptionally brilliant dancer and a PE teacher. And she is the one who keeps me on the straight and narrow, she leans in and sorts out my turns. She and I are doing the same dance, we’re both having a whale of a time, it’s just that she is doing it very well, gracefully, with a deal of composure and I am doing it with less grace but with what my wife maintains is a good deal more gusto.
There’s the band too. The Graham McKay Band. A drummer and two accordions who sound like there’s dozens more of them than there are. They are exceptional. They play for 4 hours, stopping only to let the piper on for a few minutes and to shout the bongs. Such skill. It stands as one of the most thrilling live music events I’ve ever experienced. And I’ve watched the LSO play the Firebird so I’m not just comparing it to Robbie Williams’ concerts.
It’s £15 in. There’s a raffle in the middle after the piper. At regular intervals young lads in their first kilts and scruffy trainers move around the the hall dropping off plates of fish and cheese sandwiches- £15 in and your tea too.
It is the most enjoyable evening I have had for a long time. So much so that we come all the way back to Kincraig the following New Year and do it all over again. Same thing happens a year later.
But what is extraordinary is not that it is enjoyable (although that is obviously a bonus) but that for that evening I can dance. Not necessarily well but certainly full bloodied, fully committed and better than I ever have anywhere else. I dance alongside the PE teacher and all her talent, the rest of the village, the completely bewildered Eastern European family, to the three men on the plain stage who sound like a dozen.
It is a piece of performance that is transformative, it transforms me, makes me better for a while and I understand as I wind my way home that night that I was both in the audience and a part of the company. It feels brilliant. I want more of this feeling. There’s a world with more ceilidhs in that I am interested in living in.
I remember something Steve Lawson (@Solobassteve off of Twitter) said when we were talking about our allotment at the HUB one day on twitter. Allotments are one of the best arguments that everyone can create things, that not all art is the preserve of a specialised elite. I think there is something democratic and empowering about allotments- it’s the main reason we have one at the HUB. In a world where there is little space for alternatives to the prevailing hegemony, where even attempting to discuss alternatives to the relentlessly dominant capitalist monoculture is deemed naive, that running an allotment is a positive, harmless, productive two fingers up to an ideology that worships Asda Walmart as a creator of futures. There’s a world that contains more ceilidhs and allotments that I’m interested in living in.
One of the Slung Low gang tell the best story about their Nana and Christmas. Every Christmas Day they all settle down as a family to watch Top of the Pops. After a few minutes the youngest member of the family would be given the nod, “it’s time to dance for your Nana.” And so the youngest would start to dance for her Nana. After a few minutes the coffee table would get cleared out the way and the rest of the family would join in until everyone was dancing whilst Nana delightedly watched from her chair. “Dance for your Nana.” What a brilliant inspiration for any piece of performance- dance for your Nana. The specific thing I love about this story is that it makes me imagine a space so safe, so supportive that an entire family will stand up to dance for a grandmother. I love imagining that space. There’s a world that contains more spaces like that, more ceilidhs and more allotments that I’m interested in living in.
2014: the year of more ceilidhs and allotments and dancing for your Nana. Here’s to it.