IF Rachel Mackie’s smile hadn’t already put me at ease at my first dance lesson, then her advice does.
“Enthusiasm is the key,” my dance partner and instructor says.
This is immensely reassuring news.
With the art of dance, I’d always thought coordination and discipline were the key. But enthusiasm, I can do.
I am one of 12 Novocastrians participating in Stars of Newcastle 2019.
Each of us is overcoming fears, shyness, or a laughable level of natural talent (ok, I’m just talking about myself there) by learning to dance and performing a routine at a concert on June 15.
The event is a major fundraiser for Cancer Council NSW. The organisers hope this year's Stars of Newcastle will raise $200,000, which will be used to help the charity fund its range of services for Hunter cancer patients and their loved ones.
So for that reason alone, I’m keen to dance.
Each participant has been given a dance style to learn and perform. I’ve been allotted “disco”. Apparently disco involves more than squeezing into tight pants, drinking quite a bit, and then flailing around a dance floor. I wish I’d known that years ago.
Anyway, to learn how to perform disco with a degree of dignity, I’m attending weekly lessons with Rachel at Newcastle Dance Academy.
Rachel is a Newcastle girl who returned home just over two years ago. For 14 years, she was based in the United States, working as a performer on cruise ships.
Once she was back in Newcastle, teaching dance, Rachel quickly became involved in Stars of Newcastle. She and her colleagues give their time, teaching the 12 participants to dance and partnering them for their performance at the concert.
“It’s something I can do and do well, and I can pass it on and do my part,” Rachel says, with that dazzling smile of hers.
“And dancing can bring out so much happiness in people when they do it.”
Earlier, I’d been waiting outside the Newcastle Dance Academy headquarters in Broadmeadow.
Before this first lesson, the June concert seemed so far away. Now it seems worryingly close. Perhaps that is why I had turned up at the dance studios before the doors were open. I was enthusiastic. Rachel would be impressed.
I probably should have been warming up while waiting. But I wasn’t that enthusiastic. Instead, I just hung around, checking out the building’s exterior. Before it was reshaped into dance studios, this place housed a glass and aluminium business. It may have been given a lick of pink paint in places, but the architecture is still attractively light industrial.
Which is how I’d describe my dance style. I have feet of steel. Rusting steel set in concrete, actually. I should have been in Tap Dogs, the internationally acclaimed dance troupe and stage show created by Novocastrian Dein Perry. You missed out, Dein. Your loss is Rachel Mackie’s gain.
No sooner have we caught up in the main dance studio than Rachel looks down at my feet of steel, cleverly disguised as something functional in a pair of gym shoes.
Actually, I’ve put in a huge effort to look athletic from neck to toes. I’m wearing a pair of new tracksuit pants. I wanted to wear my old pair, for comfort’s sake. But apparently those trackie dacks could have caused discomfort for others.
“You’re not wearing those pants, they’ve got holes in them,” my wife ordered.
I’m wearing a sky blue polo shirt. Rachel’s wearing a blue top. So I look like a dancer. Either that, or Rachel is parodying a slightly out of shape middle-aged novice dancer.
After looking at my feet, Rachel says she wants to gauge my coordination and movement skills. I think she can already guess but is too polite to say.
Rachel hasn’t chosen a disco song yet. Instead, she uses her iPad to call up a noughties guitar pop anthem, Whataya Want From Me, by Adam Lambert.
“So far, so good,” Rachel says, as I pull off the step-touch without tripping.
Then, to Lambert’s hit, For Your Entertainment, I’m taught how to perform a forward step with touch, a step-turn-step sequence and - something I thought I was intimately acquainted with - the grapevine.
I’m giddy and exhausted just writing all that, let alone performing it.
Clearly Rachel is thrilled that I can count to eight, and she is very patient when I don’t seem to know my left foot from my right. At least I’m stepping and turning with enthusiasm, if not with aplomb.
“I’m very impressed,” she declares at the end of the 20-minute lesson. “And that doesn’t come with sarcasm.”
I’m confident I’ll provide plenty of opportunities for sarcasm.
“Let’s go to the bar,” Rachel says.
“Excellent idea,” I reply.
“No, the ballet bar, just over here. To stretch.”
“I thought it was disco, not ballet,” I protest, before I effortlessly demonstrate how supple I am. I can almost touch my shins when I really stretch.
I'm very impressed. And that doesn't come with sarcasm.Rachel Mackie, dance teacher
To finish the session, we adopt a Saturday Night Fever pose for a photo. It is only later I notice I’m making a "victory" sign, so my pose is less John Travolta, more Winston Churchill. Come to think of it, so was my dancing.
But, as Churchill once advised, “Success consists of going from failure to failure without a loss of enthusiasm.”
Now that sounds like something Rachel Mackie would say!
I’ll let you know in a couple of weeks how the disco lessons are going. Until then, boogie down.