I could have danced all night

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The Independent Culture
THE OTHER night, I made love in public with a woman I had only just met, and I'm not sure how I feel about it. Yes I am. Fed up, resentful and hard-done-by.

It started in a cellar where I go to drink. It's an exclusive cellar, mostly patronised by hacks from the quality papers and other writing johnnies, and, by God, if you could see us at our bellowing, sodden play, you would never read another word any of us wrote, ever.

See us: pink-faced, honking political correspondents, howling their fatuities with all the even-handed intellectual rigour of coelenterates. Embryonic sports hacks, alcoholically illuminated some hours before, now gone beyond that into a sort of saturated extinction, alternately weeping on the tables and shouting hoarse abuse at nobody in particular, sounding like nasty children trying to see how many vulgarisms for parts of the reproductive system they can remember.

Look further: literary novelists, blotto - worse than blotto, actually: disintegrated from booze, not knowing how they got there, why they came, where they are, who they are talking to, what they are talking about, just enough functioning brain cells to hold an inchoate sense of their own genius, which they share, fitfully and without prompting, with everyone in the room, none of whom are listening. Young women, over-dressed, over- made-up, over-obvious, obviously on the make. Other young women, none of those things, affable, talkative, gassed to the antlers but still not on for a lovely tumble, no matter how often they are asked; nicely at first, then with increasing truculence and disbelief: "Why not? Why not? Eh? WHY not?" Me, mincing and poncing about like some debauched Heliogabalus on a whistle-stop tour, dispensing patronage. "Dear heart. Sugar-plum. Sweetie-pie. Mwah! Mwah! Mwah!"

Oh, you wouldn't want to be there. You wouldn't want to know us. And you'd think that when the bar closed and the bills were rung up, we would all scatter on the instant, running like hell, glad to get away. But not at all. Dear me no. We stand around, swaying unsteadily, asking each other where we can go now. Usually the answer is "Nowhere."

But the other night the bastard Nazi womaniser was there, with his eye on a woman. I didn't know he was a bastard Nazi womaniser until a woman said so. We were walking along together, the three of us. "I know about you," she said. "Michael's nice, but you... you're a bastard Nazi womaniser." A dreadful moment for a man, knowing, as you do, precisely which one of you is going to get laid.

Often, the bastard Nazi womaniser says "We could all go back to my place for supper." Supper is big fat cigars, washed down with brandy. Yum yum. Manly. But this time he said: "Let's all go dancing," and my heart sank. I do not dance. I never did dance. All through the Seventies, my footloose years, I hated the music: its stupefied, thumping, moronic drumbeat, like a bully punching away; its abject poverty of musical resources - just the three chords, thank you, no shading of timbre or dynamics; the bankruptcy of its lyrics, dedicated to repeating endlessly the proposition that life in general and sex in particular were not fair. It was, quite literally, the mating dance, but I hated it. Couldn't do it. Never knew what to do. The pelvic waggle? The Abba hand-rotations? The chirpy-chirpy cheep- cheep thumbs-up smirk? The angry-executive-banging-his-fists-on-his-desktop? Whatever I did, I knew I would look ridiculous, and my partner would laugh at me, and anyway you didn't even have a partner, just someone you sort of looked ridiculous at. So, instead, I sat in a corner reading Elias Canetti and trying to look like something out of The Sorrows of Young Werther, hoping that some beatific girl like a Fra' Angelico angel, with hooded, pain-filled eyes, would come and sit next to me, and presently, wordlessly, we would walk off into a frightfully agreeable sort of pre- Raphaelite landscape of ferns and plainchant and red-hot sex.

So when the Nazi, etc, said, "Let's all go dancing," I said, "F*** you."

"No, really," he said, "trust me, you'll love it."

And I did. It was pub called the Finca, in the Pentonville Road, which on certain evenings becomes La Finca, the Salsa Bar, and I had one of the best nights of my life. It was hot and sweaty, and I loved it. It was utterly mindless, and I loved it. It was impossibly crowded and utterly good-humoured and everyone danced with everyone else and nobody said "What you looking at?" or even thought it, and the music was... irresistible. It was a natural force: latino instrumentation, what I think were West African rhythmic influences, and how the two ever got together I don't know and I don't care.

The things was, there were steps. Salsa, and its faster cousin, merengue, are dances with actual, proper steps. I can't tell you how good that made me feel. And you dance with your partner, not at her. And, hell, I may not have known what I was doing, but I knew what I was meant to be doing, and the music pulled me along, and, as I say, I made love in public with a woman I had only just met, which is what dancing is meant to be, and it was wonderful.

Happy? Was I what? No. There's the horrid thing. I got home, damp and exhausted, and collapsed in my armchair, and there I sat until dawn, mourning for my lost youth, for all the girls I could once have danced with, for all the fun I could have had but didn't, too busy being aloof, detached, the cynical, amused observer who sees the game of life for the hollow sham it is. Because I couldn't dance. And now I can dance, and I love it, and it's too late. And the sooner this damnable Salsa craze dies out, the happier I will be, because the most depressing thing in life is being reminded of what you've missed. !

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