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dance

offers me the combination of individual skill and shared achievement that Chris found in playing football; also a highly enjoyable balance between accuracy and improvisation. You will appreciate we are not talking disco here
D/002

Apart from occasional rainy afternoons of nondescript 'country dancing' at infants' school, I had no contact with dancing until the Sixth form. Someone had clearly decided that it would be a good idea to find an unexceptionable way of introducing us to the company of young persons of the opposite sex, so the senior French master and his wife organised decorous dancing hours once a week after school. As education should do, this fitted me with a sound basic knowledge in case I wanted to go farther later in life.

Playford is decidedly my favourite style. Named after the publisher of The English Dancing Master, it brings together ease and elegance. A relatively small number of moves are combined into hundreds of different dances, and much of the music is so memorable that the tunes were also used for broadsheet ballads – the radio news of the day. I am lucky to have found a group based near Antwerp who dance Playford well and with much enjoyment.

I have also been happily involved with more public forms of dancing: Provençal in St. Jeannet and Morris in Sheffield.

When I was in Provence I was lucky enough to join the musicians of the village dance group Lei Courcoussoun de Saint Jeannet. Their dancing was more demanding than anything I'd seen up till then, involving some almost balletic footwork – but part of the genuine tradition of the village, to the extent that when the group had an evening get-together most of the people who turned up were well able to join in. Their simple costumes, the clear sound of pipe and tabor, the unspoilt views in the centre of the village ... sometimes I would look up and almost wonder what century we were in. They are on my list of people to thank, as without them I should have rather lonely during those two years when Chris and I were living in different countries.

I'd like to thank Sheffield City Morris as well, especially Pete Delamere for first persuading me to turn up to a practice and Gerry Bates for patiently instructing me. As cures for shyness, gloom and introspection, cracking hankies – which become surprisingly heavy in the course of an afternoon – and whacking sticks work remarkably well when they are activities you're obliged to carry out in front of complete strangers and without falling over or hitting anyone. In fact, my years with City Morris saw me playing solos in front of over a thousand people, risking simultaneous translation in front of a large marquee full of French (plus a French teacher in the side), appearing as 'Saint Greoge, that noble Grauniad bold' in a mumming play and having my face painted blue by a bunch of molly-dancers from Paddington. Farewell, self-consciousness: hullo, self-confidence.

By the way – it's not true what they say: in all the time I was with Sheffield City Morris, travelling around the UK and even into Europe for festivals, I never met one other gay Morris-man.


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