Chivalry is alive…

…and dancing.

There are rare moments of chivalry in my life – male colleagues who hold open doors; friends who insist on getting the first round in or walking between me and the traffic; waiters who pull out my chair and take my coat… I’m no die-hard feminist and I appreciate odd moments of traditional chivalry, in fact, it’s definitely something I could do with more of. So imagine my delight when I found myself in a world where chivalry was not just alive, but dancing too, on Saturday night – the world of swing dancing. [I had to be careful not to describe it as the ‘world of swinging’, as I’m not so sure there’s much chivalry in that particular world!]

I am no connoisseur of swing dancing. In fact, I was only there because it’s was the glorious final component of a vintage hen day – we were clad in vintage(ish) frocks, had had our hair suitably coiffed earlier in the afternoon, and, I have to say, looked pretty bloody marvellous. We looked so good that we created something of a stir on Carnaby Street as we walked from the hair salon to Soho Square, with our own photographer in tow – tourists stopped to take photos, it was quite, quite bizarre.

We felt a lot less conspicuous when we arrived at swing night. There, it seemed to be the done thing to dress appropriately – the men were in suits, waistcoats, trilbies and some even sported suitable facial hair, while the women donned fabulous dresses and awesome hairstyles. We fitted in – until the dancing began.

Luckily there were lessons too, and in true girls’ school style, we paired up in all female couples to have a go at a routine, safe in the knowledge that our friends wouldn’t mind our idiotic mistakes or having their toes trampled upon. Things took a turn for the worse at the end of run-through #1 – all girls were asked to move along one place and the girls at the end of rows (of which I was one) had to go down to the other end and dance with the man there. As a result, I was banished from the safety of my circle of hens and thrown in amongst the expertly dressed and expertly talented crowd. The shame!

In actual fact, it turned into a good thing. I danced with several men, one of whom was really good (he lied when I said I was rubbish – claiming that he was too, yet within seconds was correcting my foot position) and by the end of half an hour I felt like I’d learned something. However, I’d not learnt enough to join the throngs of dancing couples upstairs and instead sought the safety of our reserved tables – until an unexpected encounter at the bar – a man (a not unattractive man, in fact) asked me to dance…

The important thing to recognise is that in the regular world, “going dancing” generally means clubbing, and clubbing generally means a lot of sweaty people, squashed together, vaguely moving in time with the music and “dancing with men” usually entails some uninvited male rubbing themselves against you in quite an unpleasant fashion. The extraordinary thing about the world of swing dancing was that men not only asked you to dance in quite a pleasant fashion, but then danced with you properly – no groping involved – and led properly, so it didn’t matter if (like me) you hadn’t got a clue what was going on. Chivalry in the flesh!

Being asked to dance took me somewhat by surprised – all I was doing was waiting to get a jug of water at the bar. The rather cheesy line of “the queue’s far too long – you’d be better off spending your time dancing with me” put me off initially, but I fluffed my intended response of “I’m not very good at dancing”, coming out with “I’m not very good at queueing” [this inability to talk to men is probably what leaves me single…] which broke the ice and induced a promise of being led and shown what to do. It was enormous fun – I was twisted and twirled and my skirt twirled with it – I didn’t step on my partner’s toes and I didn’t fall over – an all round success. Later, older, more experienced (at dancing) men took me off for a spin and I was well and truly knackered by the end of it. In fact, one gentleman even commented that I was “quite the dancer” – I may get that inscribed on my gravestone.

It seems that the 1940’s/50’s was really the era in which I ought to be socialising (though with iPhones, internet and 21st century hygiene) – the gentlemanly behaviour and style of dancing was a refreshing change to the general grubbiness of modern day interactions. I just need to work out how to style my hair myself and buy a dress with an even swooshier skirt.

A touch of vanity with a healthy dose of humility

Yesterday, I told you somewhat enigmatically, of my rather unusual Sunday. As I’ve now had chance to play with some photos and put them on Facebook, I figured I could tell the whole story – with illustrations.

One of my dear friends is a rather fabulously talented singer who often does pretty exciting things, like performing gigs in rather cool venues with a similarly talented band and backing-vocalists. Her first album is due for release imminently and the first official single off it will be out soon too.

This single needed a video to go with it, and therefore the lovely Jenny recruited a number of her friends to help. The story revolved round a gig in a 1940’s jazz club – so plenty of vintage glamour – and we were the audience. Not a big ask really, we just had to sit there sipping mock champagne (the Methodist classic: Schloer), watching her and the band perform. Simples. (As a Russian Meerkat might say…)

The day was basically one big game of dress-up, the like of which I’ve never played before. Not only was there the night spent with my hair in rollers (ouch) but I had to teach myself how to do this 1940’s style – there is actually a skill to this and it took me forever. [I even cancelled my Saturday night plans to ensure success.] There was also the immense fear that even after the rollers came out, that the results would be disastrous. (There are no photos of this stage, but it was long and scary. My hair was rather lumpy.) Somehow, I managed to go from this to this:

[Rollers are such a hot look aren’t they? And I wonder why I’m single…]

It seemed to work. I will state for the record that I’m not going to do this look on a regular basis (or even for special occasions, it’s just too much) but it was definitely something of a change. Goodness only knows what previous generations of women went through to get their hair perfectly coiffed. All I know is that I’m glad I have comparatively lowly ambitions as far as my hair’s concerned and a handy pair of hair straighteners!

Would you believe that I went to church after the shoot was over?
Would you also believe that one of the guys on the shoot decided to go to church without changing first (i.e. in full white tie) and was trying to persuade the girls that we should do the same and take up a row of the congregation in full-on evening dress??

Needless to say, we ignored his suggestion and I managed to tame my hair into something slightly less bouffant. We still raised a few eyebrows – even at ‘the church of beautiful people’ [not it’s official name clearly, more its reputation in certain circles] it’s rather uncommon for there to be a large group of people with 1940’s style hair & make-up.

I love random days of fun and even better, this would be the first music video I’ve appeared in (surprisingly) and the first time I’ve had 1940’s hair, so that would be two more 2010 Firsts. Hoorah.

In case you’re wondering exactly where the ‘humility’ of the post-title is, I’ve just put a photo of me – without make-up on, with my hair in rollers & a face shiny from moisturiser – on the internet for all to see. That’s humility…
Actually, it might just be plain stupidity. We’ll see.