Publication: The Age Newspaper July 13, 2009
Author: Natalie Craig
WHEN I was three I was a really good tap dancer, with glittery red Dorothy shoes and long hair down to my bottom, but mum made me give up tap when my brother was born, and we buried my special shoes under the house and cut off all my hair so nobody would get jealous.
At least, that's what I told my brother.
Actually, I had a boy's haircut because my hair was too fine for pony tails, and my mum was a sadist.
As for the chintzy size 11 shoes we found one day when playing under the house, they more likely belonged to a tortured suburban cross-dresser than a prodigious tap-dancing toddler.
But truth is subjective when you're that young, so in fact, they were my shoes, and I was an incredible dancer - it was just a matter of time until the world gave me due recognition.
I am still waiting. After years stuck in the back row of dance classes - jazz, ballet, salsa, pole - and hours of late-night practice on the podiums of several Smith Street bars, I have done little more than earn a reputation for fly-kicks and falling down. Oh, and my Cherokee name, Dances with a Gutfull of Bourbon.
But it's not just the booze that muddies my style. Guilty feet ain't got no rhythm, it's true George Michael, but I can tell you there are plenty of perfectly innocent feet out there that cannot step, slide or sashay to the beat.
In my case, this is especially true when that beat is a heavy, hip-hop thud that requires strength, flow and muscle isolation. Unfortunately, this seems to be the dance of the day - the one I am least equipped physically to interpret.
My bottom is wobbly, my posture is poor and my arms are too long and I don't know what to do with them, so I fold them up against my chest, with spindly long hands flopping down, inviting comparisons to Mr Burns from The Simpsons.
While I've practised Napoleon and Tabitha's choreography in the ad breaks of So You Think You Can Dance, my loving audience is yet to pour flattery on me in the manner of Mary Murphy. "Props to you girlfriend, you own it up there! Eeeeeeeee!"
Instead, the judges on the couch are a little more restrained. "Mmmm, I'm just not feeling it, Nat", "why don't you move your arms?" and "you look crazy, sit down".
But recently, like an underdog contestant on SYTYCD whose single mother worked 17 jobs and drank sulphuric acid for breakfast just so she could get a break, I've started to pick up my game. I've improved. I've stepped up. And I'm loving it.
I've found redemption and acceptance in a dance class that embraces wobbly bottoms, jerky movements and long, gangly arms. Where? At go-go dancing lessons. I dress up like an extra from a 1960s beach movie and shake my money-maker to songs that are genuinely groovy - from Elvis and Dick Dale to James Brown and Aretha.
The lessons are taken by Anna, a beautiful, time-warped woman with white knee-high go-go boots and a black bouffant coiffure. Miss Anna's first step is the "razzle dazzle" - one foot in front, bend your knees and shake your hips, bum and thighs maniacally until you've created such a frenzy of movement that your derriere is a miracle of perpetual motion and you don't even have to think about timing. She insists you are not doing it properly unless she can hear your bum cheeks slap.
I'm pleased to say my bottom is fantastically audible and moves itself without even having to think! It's almost as easy as another go-go staple: the twist. Just stamp out your cigarette on the floor with your feet while drying your back with a towel. Simple!
Equally natural are the animal impersonations: "the chicken", the "bunny hop", the "duck waddle" and "the pony". The birdman is also hilarious and creates the most blessed sense of total freedom. Just walk around doing bird impressions as you please.
While go-go dancing started out in strip clubs, with the cage the habitat of choice, loads of wild, free-wheelin', curtain-haired, independent lasses and lads also started to "shake it".
And frankly, who can blame them for such big, crazy moves? Rock'n'roll was fresh to their ears, and suddenly dancing with a partner in stiff, formal steps was not appropriate.
They were in a human movement wilderness, but as Mr Darcy opines in Pride and Prejudice, "any savage can dance", and hence such jerky, primal moves as "the monkey".
I may be at the bottom of the evolutionary conga line, but my loose-jointed lankiness is perfect for jerking about, and in the language of go-go, "crazy" is code for "cool".
Publication: The Age Newspaper July 13, 2009
BACK TO TOP