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.