The other week I attended the Reeling Ball. Reeling, for those who are not Scottish aristocrats or didn’t go to public school, is an experience that I found I could only describe as ballroom dancing on speed and in kilts. As someone who had never reeled before, as I imagine many of you readers are, I was anxiously excited as to what the evening would have in store. Would all of the haggis-eating, whiskey-drinking stereotypes of Scotland hold true?
Was everyone in a kilt actually Scottish? How long would the free wine last? Alas, I should not have focused on such trivial matters as the ‘reel’ challenge was trying to learn the moves for each dance, whilst other people looked disapprovingly at my two left feet.
In all honesty, my friend who had invited me had recommended that I go to reeling practice. At the time, I didn’t appreciate just how helpful this would have been. As tempting as it sounded then, I quickly decided that I was too busy (an all too easy excuse in Oxford) and was floundering like a fish out of water from the outset.
The so called ‘Dashing White Sergeant’ was our first dance and this was the only one that I managed to pick up at all. I use the term loosely. I still wouldn’t attempt to perform it in public for fear of ridicule. Bustling with pride, we then began the next one which was where my reeling career, which up till this point had been close to stellar, went into decline. The first one was apparently notorious for being the easiest dance of the night and the rest would get increasingly harder, culminating in ‘The Reel of the 51st Highland Division’ which sounds more like a military exercise than a dance. The most terrifying thing about it is that you affect other people’s dancing. In Park End on a Wednesday my horrible dancing affects no one but me and maybe a few friends who have made the questionable decision to go to Park End. In reeling, everyone moves round the room and swaps partners every 20 seconds. I’m sure this is part of the fun – if you can reel.
However, if you can’t this is the most awkward part. Every new partner greeted me with a gleaming smile and an infectious enthusiasm for reeling. Unfortunately, I did not live up to their expectations; as a man, it was my role to lead the dance and as I had no idea what I was doing, nothing ever started well. Some of my partners took pity on me or offered a consoling laugh that relieved some of the tension. Others, however, did not see the funny side and were quite perturbed by my lack of reels.
About halfway through the evening I did in fact give up as not only was the embarrassment becoming unbearable but I was also exhausted from all the dancing. If there is one thing I can recommend about reeling, it is that it is a phenomenal exercise routine. Two avocados, a bunch of kale and an hour’s reeling are sure to keep the doctors away. Whilst I was sitting down observing the harmony of a perfect reel, I tried to console myself by reflecting on the shapes I could throw at a normal club. I then realised that in fact my normal dancing is probably worse than my reeling and that I essentially have one dance move to cover every type of music. The only difference is that my ‘normal’ dancing is usually complemented by the dark lighting of a club so no one can see it, whereas at the reeling ball I was practically an exhibit at the zoo for people to stare and pull faces at.
I have always found it odd that English nightlife is dominated by dancing. I have never been a keen dancer and I don’t know many people that love dancing, yet nonetheless thousands of people descend on Bridge, Wahoo, Plush or Cellar every week. So much alcohol is involved that people lose their inhibitions and before long a plethora of dance moves are hurled at the dance floor in a variety of ways. People such as myself stick with the tried and tested and rarely undertake new trends. However, the overriding feeling is that no one knows what they are doing on these anarchic WKD-fuelled nights, and even the best dancers don’t get to show their full arsenal of moves.
This chaos is not an environment I thrive in and this is where I missed a trick with reeling. If I had bothered going to the practices then I would have known the moves, which meant I would have actually been a good dancer. There are no surprises with reeling; the band is not going to fade from ‘The Dashing White Sergeant’ into an acoustic rendition of ‘Mr Brightside.’ You know what you are getting and this sense of security is something that is lacking from your usual night out. If I am ever invited back to the reeling ball, I will be sure to learn my reels.