To dance or not to dance; that is the question.


The other day, Mum impulsively decided to send all her children an email clarifying a few issues which had come to her attention.

It began, “Now gather round…. You remember when you were about 12 and I issued my first advice about dancing partners?  Girls, the one where I told you that if a boy was brave enough and plucked up enough courage to ask you to dance then it was absolutely compulsory that you said ‘Yes’ so as to not rob him of any burgeoning self-confidence?  And Arthur, when I told you that all girls were secretly longing to dance and that asking them was a charming and vital thing to do?” 

I remembered, yes.  If a boy crept towards you at a village disco, Mum explained, you had to accept his hand (not in marriage, quite yet).  It didn’t matter who he was, or what his intentions were – it was just important that we said yes, because he’d plucked up too much courage to let him down gently.

So we did…  Always.  Friends of mine were given the same advice, which meant that boys really did hit the jackpot if they ever approached us in a dark village hall (echoing with Robbie Williams’ ‘Angels’), to ask for a dance.  That was if they were able to catch us.  If you managed to cleverly walk backwards as they began to target you, evacuating the hall and running to the loo for safety, you were fine.  If not, you were caught.

If you found yourself in this awkward ‘oh dear, I’ve now got to dance with him’ situation, then your loyal friends would stand around, pointing and mouthing (scarily obviously) “do you need rescuing??”.  Invariably, ‘rescuing’ was exactly what was required, which prompted a 13-year-old girl in a short skirt and heeled boots to scuttle forward and whisk you off ‘for a chat’ because she just ‘needed’ you.  No excuse would be subtle in this case, so no one bothered to invent one.

So yes, I did remember the traumatic (but very necessary) lesson of ‘how to be polite to a pre-pubescent boy’, as explained to us by a patient Mum over fish fingers and peas, at teatime.

Back my eyes flickered to her email…

“Well, it has come to my attention that some of you are still holding to that piece of advice, so I am adding an addendum.  Which is that once you are 21 it NO LONGER APPLIES.  Nell darling if a dodgy looking character asks you to dance you can now happily say no.  And even more so if you happen to be dancing with your own boyfriend at the time.  You are 23!  And actually Arthur, I know you aren’t 21 yet, but even so you are now of an age to choose your own partners to dance with.  But ask politely!”

It was very kind of her to clarify all that.  Because yes, being a bit of a sucker for rules, I stuck with her “always accept a dance from someone brave enough to ask you”, throughout school, my gap year and then straight on to (and throughout) uni.  Luckily, I managed to apply my own judgement too (which helped me to avoid a handful of sticky situations), but Mum explaining that we were now able to use our own judgement really did help.

No one likes to go against their Mum’s lessons, you see.

Yet that got me thinking about all the other tips my brilliant Mother has given me over the last few years, and how well they have all fared me.  Why is it that mums are always so much wiser than other people?  They just hit the nail on the head every time; they always get it right.  There must be some Universal School of Mums out there, coaching mothers on the sly.  Whatever this hazy institution is, they’re doing a good job.

Some of Mum’s finest tips – which have been drip fed to us over the years – include:

  • Never trust a man with facial hair (he must have something to hide). That was the reason I was always so creeped out by Father Christmas, actually.
  • Always wear rubber gloves (when washing up)
  • Write thank you letters immediately…then they can be shorter (the longer you leave it, the longer they have to be)
  • Put face cream on in an upward motion, or you’ll go wrinkly faster
  • Never go anywhere without a secret stash of chocolate – and never underestimate the power of sugar
  • Assume that everyone else on the road (driving) is a moron… Actually that’s more one of Dad’s tips, but it’s been incredibly useful over the years
  • And finally, the all important ‘Fanes don’t lie’. That one gets whipped out regularly.

But as of today, we are no longer required to dance with creepy overgrown boys who look like men; that rule has been scratched from the records.  We are, however, still expected to don our rubber gloves, eat disgusting amounts of chocolate, and not lie about it.  Fair deal, really.


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