TAP DANCING FOR THE UNWARY
by Nicola Slade
When my fiftieth birthday loomed I started to think of all the things I hadn’t done and determined that some, at least, were do-able and that there was no time to lose. Some ambitions had to be discarded. I was never going to win an Oscar (can’t act), marry Gregory Peck (too old, too dead), or dance with Fred Astaire (ditto) so the short-list, after a lot of thought, turned out to be: Learn to ski; learn to paint; have singing lessons; tackle tap-dancing; and get a book published.
Why on earth did I want to learn to ski? Violent exercise of any kind has never been my thing but we booked a trial cross-country skiing weekend in Switzerland and set off, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. The reason I chose cross-country skiing was simple, I have no head for heights and was afraid of those chair lifts that creep up and attack your knees from behind. To my horror there wasn’t enough snow in the village — this was January, I felt sooo cheated — so I had to shiver my way into a chairlift, mercifully not one of the aggressive sort, and do the lesson half-way up the mountain. I held up the class as I clambered off my skis every time we met a slope and no-one was impressed by my whine that a foot high mound of snow cannot be classed as flat.
Skiing, much as I love the mountains in winter, was not going to be my new enthusiasm.
Painting, however, turned out to be a resounding success once I’d discovered the delights of acrylic paints. Watercolour, though delicate and lovely, is no medium for a woman who acts feet first and engages brain later. Watercolour can be unforgiving, with acrylics you can paint over the mistakes and try again — my kind of medium. My secret weapon was a teacher so inspirational and so encouraging that it was impossible not to progress. Jan treated her classes as well-intentioned but slightly backward four-year olds, heaping praise on our efforts and commiserating with our disasters and more than a decade later I’m still painting, selling sometimes, and accepting commissions. At the moment I seem to be going through my giant vegetable period, (did Picasso have one of those?) Manifesting in a three foot long chili pepper, but there are indications that I’m moving on to huge flowers if the recent 4' x 3' poppy head is anything to go by.
Singing was fun too. I joined an evening class and happily did my Joan Baez impression when called on to lie flat on the floor and project my voice at the ceiling. My JB singing is usually best fueled by alcohol but supine and sober seemed to work quite well too. I took more lessons and went to a summer school but after a year or two, decided I didn’t want to join a choir just then, and went back to singing around the house, in the car, and embarrassing my family by singing around the shops.
And then there was the tap-dancing. When I was a little girl, in the late ‘40s and ‘50s, small girls took ballet or tap-dance classes, both if their parents could afford it. We didn’t have the money so when, years later I spotted a class at a local school, I signed up eagerly, rushed out and bought the tap shoes and tippy-tapped shyly into the hall. A long line of middle-aged women responded to the teacher’s mantra: Shuffle, ball, shuffle. I could manage the shuffle all right but sadly the teacher was looking for something more sophisticated than my uncoordinated shambling. I tried, Lord, how I tried. And, Lord, how patient they all were with me — you know the kind of patient I mean? The rolled eyes, the gritted teeth? I stuck it for four long weeks, trying not to notice the whispers or sighs and then, the day before the fifth class — a phone call. The teacher, in an excess of enthusiasm, had clicketty-clacked across the stage — and fallen off the edge, breaking a wrist. Thirteen years on I still remember my moment of triumph: ‘I told you exercise was dangerous!’ Pair of tap shoes, anyone? Hardly worn.
Oh yes, I managed to get the book published too.
Nicola Slade was brought up in Poole, Dorset. She wrote children’s stories when her three children were growing up, moving onto short stories for several national magazines. Winning a story competition in Family Circle galvanised her into writing seriously and since then her stories and articles have been commissioned regularly. Scuba Dancing is her first novel. She lives with her husband t near Winchester in Hampshire. For more information about Nicky and her work visit www.nicolaslade.com