Thursday, 5:30am, Harold Mair Hill, Albury. The stars are still glittering as I’m skipping like a five-year-old to Chiddy Bang’s Remix of “Ray Charles”, throwing in a few flamboyant moves when the music calls for it. The song ends as I reach the top of the hill and I accompany the finale with what’s best described as a right-hip-thrust with a pivot-turn. Thinking I’m alone in the pre-dawn dark, I look up to see that a man my age is almost directly in front of me and smiling. I know I’m supposed to be embarrassed by my ridiculous bopping, but I’m not; I can’t be embarrassed when I’m enveloped in my iPod cocoon. I return the smile but as we make eye-contact I quickly look away in panic; I know this man and I don’t want him to recognise me.
I have just seen Dan Firth for the first time since I was fifteen. Dan contacted me last year through Facebook – I’d not heard from him in almost twenty years. He lives in Albury so there was a reasonable chance I was going to see him, but there’s a distinct irony that it happened as I was immersed in a theatrical dance.
Dan was a boy at school I’d never noticed until we started compulsory dance lessons for our Year 10 Formal. Over a hundred of us had to learn a variety of dances from the waltz to the quickstep every week for months before the event. I’ve never enjoyed dancing as much with a partner as I did with Dan. His dancing skills were incredible, and especially so when you realise how appallingly sixteen-year-old boys tend to dance. I spent every two-hour class excitedly anticipating my turn with Dan. He wore a slightly different maroon jumper to the other boys, so from the corner of my eye, I could always see where he was in the outer circle of boys fox-trotting my way.
After what felt like ages, Dan’s right hand was around my waist and he was gripping me tightly, pressing me against him with force. Relief flooded over me, now I was dancing. For about ten minutes we moved fluidly in time to the music before we moved to our next partners and my toes were stepped on as I was jostled about awkwardly by boy after boy. The ten minutes with Dan were easily worth any bruised toes.
One afternoon our dance instructor, Mr Anderson, gathered us for an announcement.
Mr Anderson: Today I want you all to continue practicing the dances you’ve learnt with Mrs Brunton before we move onto something else. Dan and Simone will you please come with me.
Slightly confused, I looked at Dan but his face looked as clueless as mine as we followed Mr Anderson to the corner of the school hall.
Mr Anderson: Okay from now on I’m going to get you to demonstrate the dances for the others, and today I’m going to teach you a basic tango.
I was elated – we were to be permanent dancing partners! That definitely offset the embarrassment of performing in front of the other students. Dan pulled me in as close to him as always, his posture straight and his grip firm; I followed his perfect physical commands unquestioningly. Man, could he lead. For the next few weeks we danced together. Although we never really spoke, I cherished those hours. A week before the Year 10 Formal he didn’t come to school – rumours surrounded his disappearance. Was he expelled? Had his parents divorced and he’d suddenly moved? It turned out he’d joined the military. A fact I only discovered last year.
I’m hoping I looked away quickly enough yesterday and won’t be receiving a Facebook message from Dan in the next few days. I still love dancing as much as I ever did, but I don’t think the thirty-five year-old-dancing Simone can match up to the fifteen-year-old one.