Picture the situation. It was last week, though technically that will depend on when you're reading this, I was in Barcelona, that city of culture and Spanish miscellany, with C and she was perusing a guide book looking for things to do that evening.
"Do you want to go to the ballet?" she asked.
"Um. What?" I replied, using the old buying a bit of time by pretending I hadn't heard trick.
"Do you want to go to a ballet?" she repeated.
"Well, not really." I answered, with all the firmness and assertiveness I'm renowned for.
And so, at six o'clock that evening I was sat in a theatre, waiting for the ballet to start, pondering on my assertiveness skills.
Earlier that day the woman in the box office had told us that the evening's performance was a "children's ballet", only an hour long and "quite good". I'd succumbed, it was a rather picturesque theatre and an hour of watching blokes dancing around while dressed in tights couldn't be all that bad could it? Besides, I could change out of the tights later in the evening if I really wanted to.
Looking around at the other members of the audience made me uneasy. It was mostly women with their children, most of whom were girls. I had a bad feeling that we were about to watch a pantomime, oh yes I did. Perhaps when she had told us it was a children's ballet her English had let her down.
Two people appeared on stage. One was a woman and the other was a man, or was it the other way round? I forget, but it matters not. For about ten minutes they told us things in an animated, children's TV presenter fashion. Every word was spoken with big eyes, bold body language and more variety of tone than a xylophone player falling down the stairs (with xylophone) and having his fall broken by a couple of accordions. Sentences were littered with sporadic outbursts of dancing from our two performers as they explained through dance what they'd just explained through words.
I didn't understand the words or the dancing, which was a bit of a bummer really. But, it seemed as if the friendly couple were explaining ballet, or perhaps bad clothes and their effect on dance moves, to the children. I began to think that maybe this was it; an hour of teaching kids about ballet, getting them interested and hungry for it, all in Spanish, though it may have been Catalonian.
I'm forty four and linguistics isn't one of my things. On top of that ballet isn't one of my things. All in all I felt as if this might be one of those rare occasions when I left before the end of the show, even if it was only an hour. Then, before you could say something quick, the couple left the stage and were replaced by a group of dancers and some music.
I breathed in a huge sigh of relief. It wasn't traditional classical ballet, more a cross between that and modernish dance, clearly aimed at enticing kids into the evil, dark and murky world of ballet. It was quite good.
There were three of four more acts; one was a dance accompanied by an electro sort of soundtrack, another had a seriously groovy tribal thing going on and there was a bit of classical sounding stuff too. It was dumbed down for the kids and suited me perfectly.
The troupe performed their last number and wallowed in the rapturous applause. It was a full theatre and all were clapping enthusiastically, including me. The gang of dancers (probably an oxymoron) left the stage and ran down the centre aisle, giving it some large ones.
I was sitting next to the aisle. A dancer made eye contact with me and held out a hand. She was one of those girl dancers, the sort with a body made from chiselled flesh and probably used by Michaelangelo and other Ninja turtles as a model. It would have been rude to refuse so I countered by proffering my hand and shaking hers. I figured that I was British and a handshake, a well done, a metaphoric pat on the back were what was called for.
Well, I was wrong.
Before I knew it she'd pulled me out of my seat and I was being led towards the stage. Somewhere in my peripheral vision I could see that most of the other dancers had grabbed an audience member too. Now I'm pretty rubbish at estimating crowd numbers but I reckon there must have been around four hundred thousand, perhaps a million people in the theatre and, in a daze, I was onstage, front left, close to the audience.
The dancers were all going mental in a freeform modern dancing way. I looked around me to see the few other people from the crowd who had been dragged up there were dancing too, but all a bit subdued and mild. My dancer, her with the body, was telling me something in Spanish. It was apparent, even to me, that she was telling me to dance.
I figured that I was a foreigner in a foreign land, I was representing both Britain and Sri Lanka. It was a mad moment to consider my identity but I did, though failed to come to a conclusion. Instead I danced, like a total mentalist.
I pulled out all my moves, the ones that A and K would have absolutely cringed at, the ones that I was sure C would be cringing at. Afterwards she told me that she was watching through her hands, whilst they were covering her eyes.
I shook my legs in my best Elvis impression, I swivelled my hips sexily, I waved my arms above my head and spun around a few times, without falling over. I could tell that the dancers were impressed with me, sometimes a chap just knows these things.
Then things evolved into a slow dance, something that's slightly less my forte. And I say forte in a way that a fish can say his forte is mountaineering or BMX biking.
Dancer girl took hold of me and attempted to lead. I followed for a bit, then battled for the lead, changing my left hand position to gain control while being careful not to fondle her bum too much. Once she surrendered and let me lead I realised I didn't have the faintest idea what to do. For what seemed like hours but was probably seconds we did this weird dance. I managed to establish that the music was in 7/8 but she wanted to dance in 3/4 so we settled on 4/4 and went for it.
Then the music shifted gear again, into something I recognised; that Pussycat Dolls version of Sway with me. Again I pulled out some of my smoothest moves. I forgot to do the one when you lift up one leg, bend it at the knee and grasp the ankle with one hand while putting the other hand behind your head and shaking, but the rest were all there. I felt the spotlight on me, the eyes of the crowd and their gasps of admiration and I loved it. There's something about that song that makes everyone want to dance isn't there?
My dancing partner said something to me. I mumbled a phrase that vaguely sounded like "can you speak in English" and she told me I could go back to my seat now. Disappointedly I left my stage, for it was mine by then. I went back to my seat and the other people went back to their own ones.
As I got to my row I could see C, half laughing and half crying. She had the look of a mother who's just seen her child do really badly in the lead role of the school nativity play; proud but embarrassed, kind of hoping the child would go and sit in the row behind by mistake.
I sat down, knowing that I'd done it for my countries. It was good to find out that I haven't lost it. Well I suppose you can't lose what you never had in the first place. At least I know what it must be like to be the singer instead of the drummer now.
I've since decided that ballet's quite good. Though I did only reach out to shake the girl's hand.
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