“You know what’s funny?” I ask Sven, as I take in the darkened, crowded atmosphere of Casa Publica late last Thursday evening. Coloured lights flicker and spin over the swaying bodies of Zouk dancers in the middle of the floor, and I’m seated with a bunch of my dance friends around a table in the back of the bar. Salsa nights every Thursday evening are always something I look forward to every week, and tonight was certainly no exception. “Why on earth have I not yet written a blog post about dance yet?”
“Well, maybe you should write one,” Sven replied. “You could write something about joining UCanDance, even though that was ages ago.” He grinned. “I remember the first Latin party I went to, Fuego. Man, that was awesome! They had a live band and everything.”
I sighed in envy. “I so wish I had joined that year!” I had been in my final year of high school at St Margaret’s, and as a result, hadn’t known about the dance club that had changed my life for the better as a result. “I remember when I first joined up as a eighteen-year old and thought I had so much swag.” I laughed, shaking my head. “God, I’m glad my fashion sense dance-wise has changed since then.”
Before I can elaborate further about those early days at my favourite dance club, I’m approached by a tall guy with brown hair and black glasses. “Do you Zouk?” he asked, holding out his hand.
“Well, a little bit…I only know the basic moves, but – um, OK – I’ll just…” I nod my assent and take hold of his hand as he leads me into the middle of the dance floor. It’s become slightly less crowded, which is a good thing as it leaves us more room. And as we begin to dance, my body letting go and feeling the rhythm of the music, I become oblivious to anyone else who may be watching. Instead, I feel my mind wandering as I think back to when I first joined UCanDance, three years ago…
As an eighteen-year old come to university straight out of high school, I had no idea what to expect when it came to joining any sort of club at uni. It was my then-boyfriend’s brother Christian, who invited me to sign up at the 2014 uni Clubs Day, and who also took me along to my first UCD class. Coincidentally, one of the guys who lived across from my flat in Ilam Apartments and who I had met at a party the previous night was also on the committee. So that evening, I arrived at the dance room with Christian, and hung around near the door, feeling terribly shy. I was also wearing (brace yourselves): a white singlet from Cotton On, my school leaver’s jumper, sneakers, and my black ‘swag pants’, which were comfortable and kinda made me feel like a cool semi-professional hip-hop dancer. This, by my standards, was the standard outfit of any dancer; after doing jazz and contemporary dance classes for thirteen years previously I thought I’d had it sussed, right? WRONG.
I can’t remember how many people I talked to at first, but suddenly, the room was full and it was time for the class to start. We did the warm-up, then Finn (teacher of the class and who, by the end, I had likened to being a modern-jiving bachata-dancing GOD) shouted out, “Alright everyone, guys find a girl, girls find a guy and let’s stand in four lines for MODERN JIVE!”
I immediately panicked. Oh God. I was always that kid in primary school who nobody wanted to be paired with cause I wasn’t considered ‘cool enough’. What if all the guys instinctively decided to steer clear of me because I was wearing my swag pants and was basically a tiny naive fresher? Luckily, I was saved by Jay – a friendly, chatty guy who, judging by the slogan on his T-shirt, seemed to love soccer. By the end of the class, I felt completely at ease and found myself looking forward to the next session. I think the high-fives administered every so often as we changed partners definitely helped a lot.
For the rest of that year, I kept on going to UCanDance, making some great friends, learning some fun new dance moves and of course, attending most of their social events and parties. By the end of the first year, I had mastered (sort of) bachata, salsa, modern jive and how to take part in a Rueda. For someone who had previously learned dance routines as part of a group class and then performed them on stage at the end of the year, this was certainly a step in a different direction. In between learning new dance moves in class and hanging out with groups of my new-found dance friends, we also did other fun things, like end-of-term parties, a car rally/scavenger hunt and of course, the annual Latin Ball. I also started to make Thursday night dancing a regular thing. The first session I ever went to, along with Sven and a few of the other dancers, was held at Coriander’s, an Indian restaurant on St Asaph Street. One time, it was pouring with rain.
“It’s so refreshing out here,” Sven commented, as we stood outside on the deck away from the loud music and noise from the other dancers.
“Hmm? Oh yeah, true.” I was starting to shiver, watching the way the rain hit the ground under the yellow streetlights. The next song started up, playing through the speakers that pointed onto the street. “Have you ever danced cha in the rain before?”
“No. But would you like to?” he asked, holding out his hand. I smiled, and took it. And for the next four minutes or so, we danced together with the rain falling down around us.
By the start of 2015, I’m relatively pleased to state the fact that my fashion sense at dance had evolved. Gone were the sporty shirts and swag pants, hello to the colourful skirts, tights, boots and…committee t-shirts. Yep, I’d somehow been elected to stand on the committee, and help out with, well, mainly planning, making and assembling the decorations for the annual Latin party. We had fluffy clouds hanging from the ceiling, silhouettes of palm trees being blown by the wind stuck against the walls, and a massive stormy seascape (painted entirely by yours truly) down one end of the room. That seascape was one of the things I was most proud of come the end of the night. During the middle of the year, I found myself learning swing dance, and not long after that, Zouk. This was also the year Sven and I formed friendships with three new UCanDancers; Lauren (who had also been in the year below me at school) Yuri, and Aaron. The five of us named ourselves ‘Thursquad’, and we’d meet up nearly every Thursday night for a dance, often ending the night sitting round a small table talking about anything and everything that came into our heads. Our little group has since drifted apart, but the fond memory of Thursquad brings a smile to my face.
The Zouk song ends, and I pull myself back to reality. My dance partner thanks me for the dance and I smile at him before we leave the floor and go back to our seats.
Yuri is clapping as we return. “That was a good Zouk.”
“Thank you!” I grin in reply, pleasantly surprised that I was somehow able to refrain from falling over or blanking out entirely. “Are you guys coming to Alverados tomorrow night? They have a live band and everything.”
He nods. “Yes! Of course.”
“Great! I guess I’ll see you there, then.” I find I’m already very much looking forward to tomorrow nights’ Latin dancing at the bar.
“On that note…” Yuri stands up and offers me a hand. “Salsa?”