by T.S.J. Harling

As a child, I danced whenever I could. In front of a video of Mary Poppins, desperately trying to keep up with the chimney-sweep routine. In ballet classes in my local dance centre. With my friends making up moves to Salt-N-Pepa. At school when they put on musicals.

I grew up in a multi-ethnic neighbourhood where my friends showed me how to dance to Aaliyah, En Vogue, Neneh Cherry. After that I won a few dance competitions at school discos. When I look back I think I won them because of the shock factor: I was a white girl who could get down. One thing I did deserve an award for was always being brave enough to be the first one on the dancefloor.

I got a bit older and wanted to be an actress. Dance is a key part of the performing arts so I took more classes. I was okay, but always struggled to pick things up quickly and my co-ordination is frankly not that good.

Then as a teenager I got cool and went to an indie club night in Camden for the first time. I was too nervous to hit the dancefloor. This was a different kind of sound and I didn’t know how to move to it. The next time, I got over the fear and you could always find me in the moshpit.

During sixth form, my gap year, and the first few years of university, all I did with my time was earn enough money to go out dancing. Me and my friends would often drink too much and happily find ourselves Living It Up; dancing in bars where no-one else was dancing, on tables, at house parties. I had stopped wanting to be an actress and in those years all I cared for were Good Times.  

Then I, of course, fell in love. He was different to me in many ways – one being that he refused to ever dance. Nowhere, no-when, no-how. As we got closer he loosened up a bit and he conceded to dance with me a little indoors to songs he loved. When we were out with our friends I would beg him to join me, swearing that he was the only person I wanted to dance with. He would refuse. I would pester him saying – You Are Not Free If You Can’t Dance When You Want To Dance. I said this over and over.

Until one day, after we’d been together for a while, we were out drinking with mates in Old Street and he took me by surprise and asked me for a dance. I wish I could remember the song. I felt such joy.  I still think that was the best thing I’ve done with my life: persuading the man I love to dance. Not for me; for him. I never wanted him to do it if he didn’t want to, but I hated the thought of him trapped by self-consciousness.

“I still think that was the best thing I’ve done with my life: persuading the man I love to dance.”

I got a job, and grew up, and now I spend much less time in nightclubs and bars. But my boyfriend and I dance together most days; whenever we hear music we like, or want to make each other smile. We slow dance at Christmas. We perform improvised interpretive dance to make each other laugh. He tells people that one of the things he loves about me is that I have a move for every song.

Recently I had my first piece of writing accepted for publication, and I was indoors alone. My immediate response was to whack on some Beyoncé and have a one-girl party, dancing all over my flat. I played the most triumphant anthems of Rihanna, Madonna and Lady Gaga until my boyfriend came home and joined me. It was glorious.

When I visit my brother I see my niece staring at Katy Perry on TV with the same rapt devotion that I once had for pop stars of my generation. She performs regularly in dance shows of her own. And the beat goes on.


T.S.J. Harling | @tsjharling

T.S.J. Harling has a first class BA in English Literature from University of Liverpool as well an MA in Critical & Creative Writing from the University of Sussex.  She’s due to begin a Creative Writing PhD at Royal Holloway, and has been published in the Ham Free Press, Twisted Sister Lit Mag, Tales Magazine and The F-Word. Her literary Influences range from Mary Shelley and the Bronte Sisters to Elizabeth Wurtzel and Roxane Gay. Born in France, she was raised in South East London and is now a citizen of the world.

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