Travel: Dig out your dancing shoes for a stomping good cause

Book now if you want to boogie for CND in Saltaire next weekend. By Hilary Macaskill

Hilary Macaskill
Sunday 23 October 2011 05:52

IT WAS 9am on a Saturday morning and there were more than 60 people in the elegantly proportioned upper room, all there to rock'n'roll. It was one of the first workshops in the Day of Dance, a twice-annual event based in Saltaire, on the edge of Bradford. By the end of the day, at least 30 different routines would have been tried out, from Greek to morris, Appalachian to aero-jazz.

I had been to a Day of Dance before, to a session on Scottish dancing. A refresher course, I had thought, though it turned out to be not quite so easy to recapture the steps of my youth. But upstairs I could hear the stamp of Indian classical dancing and it had given me the taste for more. So here I was, to learn how to jive in the smartest location - the mellow stone Victoria Hall, flanked by lions that had allegedly been originally carved for Trafalgar Square.

There were couples of all sorts, from the vaguely hippy to two grey-haired ladies, elegant in court shoes and two-pieces, scarves at the neck - and singles too. I started off with Nick, a student, who was going on to do Klezmer (Israeli folk dance) at 11 o'clock. He was serious about this rock'n'roll, practising the steps with solemn concentration before moving into action to the accompaniment of `Shake, Rattle and Roll'. My next partner was a man going on to do the French jive workshop. And then there was the wiry man with the Planet Earth T-shirt who knew exactly what he was doing - he wasn't looking at his feet and had mastered the "push-spin" to perfection.

The tuition in this session was a bit of a family affair: the dance teacher's husband was working the sound system, her daughter Arlene was demonstrating, and her mother was pottering in and out of the dancers, diligently examining their footwork as they ricocheted back and forth. It was all enormously enjoyable.

The Day of Dance - the 10th is on 17 April - started with teachers giving their time for nothing, as a fund-raising exercise for Yorkshire CND and Oxfam, and it has been very successful: pounds 35,000 raised so far for them, and other charities. But it has also become a regular date on the calendar for local enthusiasts, though it retains an appropriately earnest air round the edges: food, provided by volunteers, is wholesome and vegetarian.

This year, for the first time, all sessions are in Saltaire, so people dipping between the venues have a little more time to take in the glories of this great piece of industrial architecture. Built at the behest of mill-owner Sir Titus Salt on the banks of the River Aire (hence Salt-aire), its purpose was to provide housing for his workers. Some sessions will be in the United Reform Church, Grade 1-listed and one of the finest churches in the country.

Salts Mill, once the largest textile mill in Europe, opened in 1853 and closed in 1986. With Saltaire in decline, it was bought by another entrepreneur, Jonathan Silver, who transformed it into a spirit-raising complex of art galleries devoted to David Hockney, a bookshop filled with lilies and the sound of opera, a cafe that positively encourages one to linger, and interesting shops.

The village is thriving again, with two bakers, three secondhand bookshops and a pub by the river in what was once the boathouse. But there will be little time to savour this properly on the Day of Dance, because you will probably be rushing from workshop to workshop: you can fit in five if you are very fit. I was more moderate. I only went to three.

After rock'n'roll, I tried circle dancing. It was a little different. "This one is a tree meditation," explained Lorraine from Ilkley, gentle and cheerful. "Reaching up shows the tree growing, and swaying indicates the wind in the branches." Fine, except that I was sandwiched between two people swaying in different directions. One of them was Janice, who had driven over from Doncaster. Later she was off to do the welly dance. "Bring your own," the instructions read, and she had hers in a carrier bag.

There were some more rousing folk dances - a jolly Israeli wedding dance and a Romanian hazelnut dance with a lot of stamping (to crack the hazelnuts, presumably). "The next dance is rather wafty," said Lorraine, and she suggested that we stay holding hands, joined in a circle round a couple of candles and a cyclamen.

Back in Victoria Hall, there were scores of people swaying to the beat of the salsa, following the sinuous moves of Nikolai and Alan - "resident dancers at the Casa Latina in Leeds" - and elsewhere, the jolly atmosphere of a ceilidh, as students learned the calls and formed their sets in preparation for the real thing that evening.

Down in the basement, the welly dance was in full swing, the room full of heat and exertion. There was no music, just the thump of 25 pairs of wellies. The brows of the new practitioners gleamed, as they focused intensely on Naps, the inspirational teacher who had stepped in at the last moment.

After just an hour of tuition, this collection of assorted novices were stomping, slapping their boots, clapping their hands, pounding the floor in perfect rhythm.

At the end, two of the star pupils hugged their teacher. For them, this had been much more than a dance workshop, it had been a total revelation.

The next two Days of Dance are 17 April and 16 October. No welly dancing this time, but belly, clog, cha cha, lindy hop and ballet.

Entrance to workshops is by ticket but you can take a chance and turn up on the day. Each workshop costs pounds 3.50 in advance, pounds 4 on the day.

Timetables and booking forms are available from Oxfam shops in the Leeds and Bradford area; or send a sae to Yorkshire CND, Lower Lumb Farm, Cragg Vale, Hebden Bridge HX7 5SH (enquiries 01274 775161)

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