Just over twelve months ago, while driving around Abergavenny, I noticed hand-made signs tied onto various posts at the side of the road advertising learning to jive – “Easy Jive” as it was called. There was a telephone number included in the details. Dancing isn’t something that has ever interested me. I’ve never considered myself to be either good or bad at it, it’s just something that has never particularly compelled me to take the time to learn. The exception to that was about five years ago when Sarah and I learned a simple foxtrot for the first dance at our wedding. Our teacher wasn’t the best. He seemed to look down upon my complete incompetence as if it were buffoon-like behaviour, unaware that it was less than two years since I’d suffered a sub-arachnoid brain haemorrhage and subsequent neurosurgery, I was lacking in confidence and the amount of platinum rattling around in my head could amount to a deposit for a small house. The fact that I was capable of performing anything at this remarkably low standard was bordering on miraculous.
On our wedding day, the dance went without a hitch even though it began with a trip over a guest who was too slow to clear the floor. Maybe we winged it a little, but when the chips were down we performed. It was now done, dusted and put into a compartment to be forgotten about other than in our recollections of the day. Sarah has often said that she would love to have someone to dance with (she trained in ballet until the age of about 19 and has done a little tap dancing since), but assumed that her dancing days were now over. But by now, things were changing in our lives. We had already burst back onto the scene of life-living, celebrating Sarah’s recent breast cancer survival by exercising our new-found freedom in style, driving across America, Route 66 from Chicago to Los Angeles. We needed now to keep up some momentum. It was only two months after the trip that I found myself making the phone call to arrange dance lessons. Sarah’s disbelief (I had still not shown any interest in dancing up to this point) turned into excitement at the prospect of dancing again. Unsure as to how I would cope with physical aspects of the fast movements, Sarah expected little from me. However, I tend not to do things by halves – something that Sarah has never fully appreciated having only known me for six months before my illness. Low self-esteem is not something that I subscribe to (I believe that everyone owes it to themselves to love the way they are), I fully understand the learning process with its ups, downs and occasional plateaux, and I’m rarely discouraged by initial failures. Having had an 18 year career as a driving instructor, nurturing seemingly hopeless cases to achieve a fair degree of driving competence, I knew with 100% certainty that it would just be a matter of time before I was able to throw some decent shapes on the dance floor.
Our new dance teacher had the skills to help us along the way. We had been dancing less than two months when we went to our first dance. We and the other newbies were a little over-awed by the standards that we saw on the dance floor, feeling inadequate at our meagre three or four moves that we had barely mastered – again winging it a little. But we quickly learned that it doesn’t matter. There is a community of 40s/50s style dancers all around the country that meet regularly at local venues and occasionally further afield for weekends away. From novices to experts nobody judges anyone. Some will never be very good, but all of them are there to have a good time, help others and occasionally show off a little. It’s what it’s all about.
We still go to our original dance class, but we accept that it is a complete beginners class and now spend more time helping the newcomers than developing our own skills. We have found another class teaching lindy hop and swing dancing about 20 miles away from home that has enabled us to step up another level. Cautiously (Sarah has to be careful of her left arm after the removal of her lymph nodes and I have to be aware of my head with it’s funny little ways that are too complicated to explain), we have stepped up to each raising of the bar. Here, we have another set of fabulous teachers and we are now able to look back over the last twelve months with an enormous sense of achievement.
Last night we went to a big band dance night in Gloucester about 40 miles from home. People came from many miles away. When we look at the standard of some of the dancers, we realise that we still have such a long way to go and so much more to learn. Much of what we see is unachievable for us. But when we look back at just how far we have come in only twelve months, we pat each other on the back and thank the wonderful NHS system that we have in this country that has made all of this possible.
Visit my website http://www.markdpritchard.co.uk for more about our extraordinary story and to purchase my book I’M NEVER ILL (A journey through brain surgery and beyond…)