Rosalie Ham | Use what you know: dancing - Rosalie Ham
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November 28, 2014

Use what you know: dancing

“Use what you know”  – advice to first time novelists from a teacher at RMIT, 1996
Use what you know; dancing
Sue Maslin wasn’t in my Deportment or Ballroom dancing classes at school. I would have remembered her. But she did eat in the dining room and so she does know how to dissect and eat a banana in small half-moons, like a lady. As Sergeant Farrat does in The Dressmaker.
Spookily, my old school friend Sue produced the film of The Dressmaker. I might have told you that, but it needs repeating for the following stories.
            In deportment, Miss Rose taught her girls the appropriate curtsey to meet the Queen of England (and Australia?). Such expectations they held for us! But more of that in my next blog.
In dancing classes Miss Rose stressed, ‘Remain light in your partners arms, do not lean. Do not lead, allow yourself to be guided.’
These instructions were alive to me as we set off for our ‘dance’ scene in a hall in Williamstown/Dungatar. We’d received the instructional DVD and like good extras, pushed back the couch and practiced together…except for my nephew, Matthew, normally a farmer; ‘There’s no way know I’m gunna dance, no way! I’ll just stand against the wall.’
            In the car park we joined the other practicing extras. Angela took a firm hold of Matthew’s left hand and placed his right on her hip and said, ‘Forward, forward, back, back, side-together, slide.’
Then I was gone, led away by my old school friend, Sue. She took me to set where the actors and superstars were rehearsing and deposited me in front of Sergeant Farrat. ‘This is your dance partner.’
            Sergeant Farrat was kind, but aloof, and I, terrified. The music started and he took my hand. This was my moment. I must dance without fault. Sergeant Farrat looked at me, confidence in his eyes. ‘He thinks I know what I’m doing,’ I thought. In front of us, Mr and Mrs Pratt danced like they were born to it, so I just did what they did, and, I remained light in my partner’s arms and allowed myself to be led, as did Matthew, who danced all day with Angela.

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