Did Penny tell you how she suddenly decided to enrol us both in a rock-and-roll dance class with a load of complete strangers in a tiny village as far away as Strasbourg but in the opposite direction? That’s hillbilly country out there, worse than in “Deliverance”. I was terrified until I saw all the other hicks biting their nails and fidgeting, showing nerves as least as jangled as mine. Then I saw the teacher, Emile, a tall fit man (hunky, Penny says) black as Senegalese ebony, graceful as a leopard, and with an accent somewhere between Alsace and Africa. This was to be no ordinary evening, to quote from another film.
His partner-in-dance was a little more approachable, Solange, warm smile and passionate about dancing – any kind. Much later on she gave us a catch-up class in her living room and afterwards showed us a video of Emile and her in a one of the regional championships that they won. This may have been the backwoods but we had a class act to learn from.
We met once a week in a room of the Catholic church in the village of St. Jean de Saverne. The walls were decorated with admonitions to clean living and piety, complete with Jesus dripping blood and the local Sunday school children’s contributions to religious art. I have to admit to a “frisson” from dancing rock-and-roll in such a place. Nor was it the only “frisson”, as we changed partners in rotation. Extraordinary how different partners dance the same steps to the same tune without anything else in common. And that’s just the women.
It was not a slow start. Emile used the tactics of a drill sergeant at boot camp while Solange gave us surreptitious encouragement behind her master’s back. We needed it. But we needed the bullying too, it made us practice at home. It was fun! I had a bit of difficulty with counting steps in six’s to the 4/4 beat of classic R&B until my sister-in-law showed me a book where I found we were starting out on the American triple-jive. Uh-huh! No namby-pamby footling stuff for Emile and his cohorts. This was the “stage débutants” from September to Christmas, 1993. We were hooked.
Everybody was hooked, and re-enrolled for “Niveau 1” in the new year. The moves got complicated (I had to devise a dance notation to keep notes – choreography on the hoof) but Emile relaxed enough to laugh at us. It was great fun. By dint of practice Penny and I became quite good. This could not be said of all of us. From Easter to Summer we enrolled again to do an introduction to all kinds of ballroom dancing, Waltz, Tango, Paso Doble etc. It kind of petered out in a natural human fashion, Emile left Solange and they didn’t renew any classes for 94/95. We just caught them on a roll, and had a ball in 93/94.
Penny threw a surprise party for my 40th birthday early in the Summer. It was one of those rare occasions where the mix is perfect, the magic ingredient is present, the surprise is total, and the result is exquisite. She had invited family friends, work friends, neighbours (they were all in a conspiracy) and the dance class! Emile was absent, but I discoed with Solange on the terrace at midnight and everyone, I think, had as good a time as I did. Two of our female dance partners gave me a bottle of whisky as a birthday present. I poured the last glass to start this letter. I think it inspired me.
Rob Stansfield, December 12, 1994