Can One Dance On A Bicycle?

Written by Kate Latham

Even at the early ballet lessons with Mrs. Plummer in the school hall I knew that I was never going to be a ballet dancer. Although I read the books about going to ballet school and knew the five foot positions, at heart I recognised that my arabesque was underwhelming and that my jete lacked height. My mother was right as she reassured me that my legs were ‘sturdy’ as opposed to balletic and thus much more use for walking long distances. So primary school ballet and a performance of Michael Bourne’s male corps de ballet Swan Lake was the sum total of my dance knowledge.

An improvised dance happening by Grand Gestures - Gateshead's dance company of Elders, facilitated by Paula Turner. Filmed and edited by Frances Anderson.

Until of course my eyes were opened by the Grand Gestures group. Watching the video of their dance ‘happening’ in Newcastle railway station at the University of Gloucester Women, Ageing and Media Conference in June 2014 changed my life. I suddenly saw that I could dance, even with by now even sturdier legs. More than that, I was allowed to dance. I could dance fetching the strawberries, on the way to swimming and even in the supermarket. No longer was I confined to ‘Mum’s hippy dancing’ in the kitchen, solo and unobserved. Whilst I have no strong sense of beat I was liberated to dance to my own rhythm and observe how that changes with terrain and activity.

Before my visit to Gateshead and the Grand Gestures group in I had walked in Derbyshire up onto the moors behind Edale. The walk began with a slow steady pull up a well worn track to reach a gritstone edge. Here the walking was flat and so, having the whole moor to myself I could skip, leap and jump from big flat boulder to big flat boulder. Who cared? Who was to see?

This was a performance much less surreptitious than any in a kitchen. It was warm, there was a breeze, skylarks and a big sky. I was at ease with myself, my body and the world. Then I saw the proposed path of the descent. The walk instructions had described it merely as ‘bumpy’ but it made me weep with anxiety and I was tempted to follow the lovely clear flat path to - well who knows where, but it would be better than trying to get down that precipice.

One of the joys of walking and cycling solo is that there is nobody to blame or to get cross with apart from oneself and only oneself to solve the problem. Tearfully contemplating what now looked to me like an abyss I elected to ‘dance’ down it. All it needed were some carefully selected moves, halts, contemplation and planning. It would be a different dance to that on the top. This would be measured movement rather than carefree and it was likely to involve the use of a bottom and both arms as a steadying form.

I came down from just under the rocky outcrop

I came down from just under the rocky outcrop

I made it down, there was millstone grit in my knickers and I had a grazed bum.  I looked back and could not believe that I had managed it. The next day I danced with a chair in Gateshead- as well as a lot of lovely other people in a wonderful church hall. 

I told Paula and the group that they had changed my life. It sounds dramatic and slightly cheesy but despite being relatively active all my life it was watching their dance happening which changed how I viewed movement and made me more aware of how my own body inhabits its space. Yes, I can dance on my bike.

That Paula is a Winston Churchill Fellow was happenstance of the best sort. I had my Churchill travelling scholarship over thirty years ago but drew on my experiences throughout my NHS career. It was really interesting to see Paula’s scholarship put into action. 

The Grand Gestures Gateshead late Happening this summer was one of the defining moments of my retirement. I wish them health and happiness for many sessions to come and I say ‘Thank you’ for the most wonderful welcome the North East can offer.