BY MARIE MALONE | This essay was selected as the Honorable Mention in the adult category of the Awesome Sports Writing Contest.
I would not call myself a ‘sporty’ kind of woman, like a basketball player, or a swimmer. I have two long metal strips screwed to each side of my left shin bone after falling off a balcony rescuing my trapped cat. I can’t run, although I can walk a long way. I can’t jump or I would break my ankle again in its weak spots. But I can dance, and I dance well.
I was seven years old when I started at the Eric Hope School of Dancing in Farnworth, Bolton, in England. Dressed in my baby pink crossover top and matching crimplene pencil skirt, I would climb the steep stairs to the dance studio with my size small, silver Latin shoes crushed into a zipped, plastic pouch over my shoulder. I was always excited and always ready to learn. My dream was to dance well enough to pass the I.D.T.A. exams.
Many times I did the wrong dance steps, or couldn’t keep time to the Latin or Ballroom music. I would step on my teacher’s toes, or kick his shins by accident. I got upset when I couldn’t get the moves, the turns and the steps right.
I attended his dancing school every Saturday morning, even during the school holidays. Eric was an ex-dancing champion, and Anne was his dance partner. I would ride the local bus to the next town to get to school, one of the first steps of independence I took on my own.
They had special Dance Nights where eager children would dance with the adult dancers from the Intermediate and Advanced classes to improve their dancing and social skills. After, I would go home for my teatime meal to a round of questions from my parents about how I had got on that day. Some Saturdays I was elated, others I was disappointed at having been corrected too many times, in my young opinion!
I stayed at this dance school until I was fifteen. However, it was at that age that the school exams to pass my ‘A’ Levels took over. By then I was a good dancer. I knew all the basics of Latin & Ballroom Dancing, and I had taken part in Children’s Dance competitions at Pembroke Halls, the massive dance ballroom in Worsley, near Manchester.
I was the eldest of five children and my parents couldn’t afford the glamorous, flowing, sequined dresses that I would see on my favorite TV show, ‘Come Dancing’. So, I danced in the competitions in a white, Catholic ‘Holy Day March’ dress with a few extra frills sewn on. I used to be so embarrassed when I saw the other young girls in the finest of dresses. All in beautiful fluorescent colours, with matching headbands, and wristbands, and perfectly matching coloured shoes. I had to wear the same silver dance shoes I always wore, and my parents were always too busy to come and watch me.
He slid onto the dance floor in his magnificently embroidered Toreador costume., As the trumpets blasted out in the powerful Paso Doble, I was already standing there, waiting in position in the middle of the dance floor.
Looking back – I’m in my late fifties now – I think those days helped to make me strong, independent and adaptable. I learned new dance moves that got more complicated as I got older. As I used those dancing skills in various social situations, it gave me the confidence and the ability to stand up for myself, and to overcome rejection and ridicule.
After my school exams, I stopped Latin & Ballroom Dancing as I became a university student in Manchester. It was the early eighties, and I was in my suave, ‘New Romantic’ music era that followed – my seventies, John Travolta film style ‘Disco’ years.
I became a Mobile DJ and took bookings with my own equipment at the local pubs and clubs, residency nights, pub quizzes, weddings, and anniversary functions. I did that kind of work at night and on weekends for nearly ten years whilst also working as an English Teacher in the high security male prison in Manchester all day.
I didn’t dance at the clubs, I played the music for the dancers and the audience. It was still in me, the urge to dance, but it was more difficult because playing the music became my job, and I needed to be taken seriously as there were not many female DJ’s at this time.
I got married and had a very premature little girl, Isabel, born half a kilo at 25 weeks of pregnancy. I looked after her in the daytime while still working as a DJ at night. I started going to Ceroc classes, which taught you how to dance modern jive to modern music. My need to dance again was satisfied as I learned new dance moves, this time dancing as an adult with other adults in a great, friendly atmosphere. I became a Ceroc DJ and ran my own dances at the local halls that I used to rent for the night. Now, I could DJ and dance Ceroc.
I took part in group Ceroc dancing competitions and entered the Ceroc Championships in London with my dance friends from Yorkshire, in England. We didn’t win because the city dancers from London were so much better than us, but it was great fun. It was wonderful to dance and compete again.
“The maracas clicked, the Latin music boomed throughout dance hall, and I arched my back, flinging my arms into the air to the hypnotic beat.”
In 2000, I moved to Fuengirola, Spain, in the hopes of improving my daughter’s health with a milder climate. I started to learn to dance Salsa, Bachata, Merengue, Cha Cha, and the Spanish dances, like the Paso Doble and Sevillanas. Similar steps, different rhythms – there is so much passion in the music and different dancing skills.
My learning from the earlier dancing years came back to me and I remembered the steps that I had learned from my old school days in Farnworth. I trained with other dancers and I became adept in the dance movements, learning to dance to new beats.
I joined the local Latin & Ballroom Dance School at the Feria ground and I attended dance classes with Spanish people. Even though I was the only English person there, they accepted me. We shared a passion for dance and they taught me a lot, not only the dancing, but their language and culture, too.
I wanted to compete again. I found a great male, Spanish dance partner. We trained to compete in the ‘European Dance Championships’, in Torremolinos, in Southern Spain. The competition brought in the best dancers from all over the world, not just from Spain. We entered the competition for the Paso Doble, my most favourite dance of all. Even now I can remember that night so well, like it was yesterday:
He slid onto the dance floor in his magnificently embroidered Toreador costume., As the trumpets blasted out in the powerful Paso Doble, I was already standing there, waiting in position in the middle of the dance floor. The maracas clicked, the Latin music boomed throughout dance hall, and I arched my back, flinging my arms into the air to the hypnotic beat. Fast and furious, with rapid arm and leg movements, we strutted proudly and we kicked out our legs, stamping our feet with pride, mirroring each other’s steps, and tapping firmly to the passion of the rhythm in the music.
My stunning, real flamenco dress swished to the sound of steady, then, erratic music changes. The pace changed, matched by sharp head movements. We squatted down to the dance floor, separating for our individual dance steps, and meeting up again for triumphant air lifts and turns.
Knees bent, arms in the air and wrapped around each other’s waists, clasping hands, subtle hand signals, and intense looks as we followed the routine that had taken us months of regular and dedicated dance workshops to master. Changing stance, with not a moment to lose time or to drop a beat of the music. Swinging my legs into the air, followed by a break in the Latin music, he swung around, taking me up high to the delightful crescendos as the crowd gasped, and I unraveled, to perform matching feet taps as the music pounded in our hearts.
An air of elegance, in our beautiful sequined and matching bright pink and mustard yellow costumes, with my matching stilettos and perfectly groomed, dyed black hair and make-up. A desire to win the dance competition after months of fitness, gym and rigorous dance training from dedicated dance teachers, who had instilled in me their love and passion for dance and music. Dancing like bullfighters, incorporating their special moves into our routine, learning intricate dance steps, to concentrate and keep perfect individual and couple timing, and to dance to the best of our ability – in unison, a joint effort for a work in progress, to meet the ultimate challenge to win.
It was all worthwhile, whether we won the contest, or not. Yes, that was our aim, to be the best dancers, but sport is not always about winning. It’s about taking part, being dedicated, adapting yourself and pushing yourself. It’s about improving your mind and your body and proving to yourself that you can do it, even if you have to repeat the dance moves so often, you think it will drive you crazy. Because in the end, you can do it. That mindset passes into other parts of your life. You try to reach other goals because you know that you have already made great achievements, even if only in small steps. But, those small steps can lead to better and greater things: your self-improvement.
Now, I dance for fun, to keep fit and flexible, to make new friends and keep close with old ones.
Dancing improves your brain ability. It keeps you feeling young. You have to coordinate your mind and body to the music, whether it’s new or old. There is nothing that I would change about my dancing, past or present. I truly believe that dancing can make you a better person.
Dancing is exciting and exhilarating! Not only is it a creative form of expression of individuality and teamwork but it also improves your stamina and strength. Dancing increases your muscle tone and helps to fight off those extra calories from eating too much chocolate like I do! Dance as a sport can help to eliminate stress from your daily life and help to increase your endurance levels and improve your emotional well-being.
Other kinds of sports do not interest me at all. Dancing is the greatest sport for me. It makes me feel good and keeps me healthy, strong and flexible. It makes me a better person, and I won’t ever stop!
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