Country dancing was a big part of a child’s world in the late 1950s and early 1960s, well it was in mine. My first dancing memories are of Miss Strudwick, our infant teacher, thumping on the piano, and me clutching the policeman’s son in my sticky hands, twirling happily in the Sir Roger de Coverly. Who was Sir Roger? I haven’t a clue, but there is probably a whole website dedicated to him. I’ll have to look the old boy up again someday.
My big sisters were very familiar with him. Sometimes in the evening, they'd push the table up against the wall, hum his tune, clap their hands, pirouette and strip the willow on the living room lino. A tricky manoeuvre with just three children and a dog.
All too soon my sisters sang a different tune. The eldest graduated to dancing in halls, driving off in cars and bringing home a boyfriend, then she left home. The middle one wore tight sweaters and rode off on her bike to see her friends and suddenly I was on my own in the evenings.
But in my eighth year I was able to join the G.F.S. (Girls friendly Society. An organisation deserving a blog to itself, I promise.) Miss M and Miss B, genteel ladies, who’d lost their loves in the First World War, were very keen on Sir Roger.
Under their tuition us group of girls skipped and thumped in St Andrew’s Hall, till its wooden walls shook, though we were careful not to crash into the bentwood chairs or the hot stove. Eight o’clock found us on our knees, promising to, ‘….render to no man evil for evil…’ The most wayward of us emphasing, ‘Man’ in the most daring manner, causing giggles that the chaste old ladies stonily ignored.
Sadly I attended this girls club without my previously saintly sister. She’d brought disgrace to her family by jiving during the Sir Roger de Coverly and had been asked to stay away from G.F.S. Obviously a bad influence. Though tainted by my family connections, the fairly forgiving Miss B. allowed me to remain, but she kept a close eye on me just in case. She didn’t want any more moral transgressions. I didn’t disappoint her.
By the time I was twelve years old Sir Roger had been abandoned for the complications of American square dancing and other thrilling fare. At my all girls secondary school, lunchtimes saw me swinging and sashaying to Turkey in the Straw and do-si-do-ing in true barnstorming fashion.
When I shyly asked our young teacher if she’d ever heard of Sir Roger de Coverly, she laughed and led us onto daring European folk dances requiring much stomping and stamping and even the occasional shout. Aah! If only I’d stayed faithful to old Sir Roger, all would have been well.
In the fourth form we gave an open day dancing display. She’d chosen a particularly vigorous European dance. As a big strapping lass I naturally took the boys part in my red school shorts, white gym blouse and black lace up shoes. My partner was togged out in swirly skirt and white plimsolls. We were quite a pair.
Sadly boys play a large part in the rest of this story. One was waiting for me just outside the school gate and, excited at the prospect and anxious not to keep him waiting, I wanted to get through the dance and change as quickly as possible. Scared he might not bother to stay, I took some unwise short cuts.
Our dancing team bounced onto the arena, determined to put on a really good show. We stamped and capered, twirled and kicked and stamped again. It was the show of our lives. I knew we were impressive as everyone stopped to watch. It was going down really well. Most of the audience were smiling, some were even laughing, all were enjoying it except our young teacher. Her usual sunny face had a frozen stare and it was concentrated on me. I stamped all the harder and swung my partner with renewed vigour. Something was jouncing against my leg. Again and again I felt it bounce. Now it was both legs. My suspenders, that I thought safely tucked into the elastic of my grey regulation knickers, had come adrift and were bouncing away freely.
That was my last country dancing display. Shortly after I gave up Sir Roger and his friends for Jimmy Hendrix and a Purple Haze and bought myself my first pair of tights, then a whole new world opened up for me.