As a rule, most people like to know what they’re in for of an evening; I, on the other hand, am sometimes a bit too fond of a surprise for my own good.  Hence how I sometimes end up standing on the deck of a boat on the Tyne for an hour in the dead of a winter night.  Or why I sign myself up for something that might or might not involve trying ballroom dancing for the first time – in public – for several hours.

As of when I arrived at the Festival Theatre’s Studio, my dance experience was effectively only of your club night contact sport variety, the exception being a year of ballet taken well over a decade ago.  The friend I’d brought along for moral – and quite possibly literal – support had been taking courses in tap and swing; my thinking was that, if it came down to it, I could rely on her to help show me the ropes.

I needn’t have worried.  The evening couldn’t have been more welcoming to folk, whatever your skillset.  Within the three-hour-and-forty-minute runtime of Shall We Dance?, you could choose to be on the floor nearly the whole time, or feel equally at home watching the evening unfold from the comfort of your seat.  Some chose one or the other of these options; most of us selected something in between.

Beginning with a instructive session by the event’s organiser, Dawn-Claire Irvine, there was then plenty of opportunity for us to try out our newfound skills to the accompaniment of a five-piece live band, Radio Pachuco, playing everything from Amy Winehouse to the Cantina Band song from Star Wars (a quickstep, if you must know).  Later on, there was a stunning demonstration by current Scottish Ballroom champions Tibor Poc and Hilary Mouat – which may explain why some new learners weren’t quite as confident to retake the floor after the band returned.

Given this was the first instalment in what hopes to be a regular evening, it’s hard to say how Shall We Dance? might look in a few months’ time.  One piece of audience feedback suggested that there could be a second beginners’ session: perhaps passing on additional moves to test out during the evening’s second half.  The fact that Irvine seemed receptive to this suggests there will be some healthy evolution ahead for her project.  I for one hope it sticks around; the effort she’s already put into it deserves an appropriate payoff.

Photos courtesy of Neil Hanna.

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