Dancing for exercise

A phresh start

Kirstin Innes finds a commitment-free way of fulfilling the First Commandment of new year resolutions: Thou shalt exercise.

‘Anyone want to take a guess at who that musician was? Yous’ll be so surprised. Long time ago . . . jazz trombonist . . . YES! Dizzy Gillespie! That’s it! That tune was recorded in 1961, would yis believe it?’

We’ve just been spinning to a fast bit of funk-edged broken beat; so there are some mildly bewildered faces, yes. Our teacher Wallace (who has cracking taste in trainers) switches to the Quantic Soul Orchestra with a quick crash course in their recent gigging history. I’ve never been to a hip hop dance class before, but I imagine the bolt-on musical education doesn’t come as standard. This is Turn Up and Hip Hop, part of the Turn Up and Dance programme at Edinburgh’s Dance Base. The classes run weekly, but customers are encouraged to pay as they go and drop in and out of sessions as it suits them. ‘Life often just isn’t that straightforward - you don’t necessarily know what you’re going to be doing at a set time on the same day every week,’ says director Morag Deyes, who came up with the idea after potential customers mentioned being put off by having to pay for a whole term’s worth of lessons. ‘People need to feel that they can relax and have a laugh here. It’s not about perfecting a technique, or dancing competitively.’ Wallace backs her up. ‘Long as you’re enjoying it, I don’t give a monkey’s whether you remember the steps or not.’

Drenched in sweat and lurching about the floor, I’m thankful for that. I’m excellent at the first bit (lunge right-lunge-right-grab your heel-repeat) but then the movements kind of escape me. I end up wriggling my hips like one of those faintly obscene kids you used to get on Minipops, arms completely out of control, right - no, shit, left - foot aloft and turn. Everyone else in the class might be doing a completely different step to me, but some moth-eaten endorphins in my brain have woken up and I’m having a brilliant time.

The morning after my hip hop odyssey I was back in studio 1 for Barefoot Ballet, Edinburgh Castle outlined golden against the sky through a slanting glass ceiling. The building was designed purposely as a dance studio five years ago, and it’s relaxing and enormously pleasant just to be in. Morag explains later that she wanted each studio to have a connection to the outside world in some way.

Barefoot Ballet proves to be a bit more of a challenge for someone whose last pirouette occurred in a fusty hall in Fountainbridge in 1985. I remember what first position is (pretty toes, yes?), but fifth? It’s not that the class is too advanced, but I’m disadvantaged by coming in right at the end of term - everyone else at least has the right terminology. Nonetheless, after some no-nonsense coaxing, my leg defies biology, physics, and my well-honed sense of my own limitations to extend higher and straighter than I believed was possible, and I don’t rupture anything.

Dance Base run a course programme structured around classes the right tutors - the ones like Wallace who generate freewheeling, relaxed atmospheres - want to teach, so the centre is currently offering courses in everything from breakdance to traditional West African ritual movement, with a side order in Vogueing. ‘I love that idiosyncrasy,’ says Morag with a grin. She asks me how I’m going to write up the article, and I explain that the angle is fresh starts, New Year’s resolutions. She pauses for a second. ‘Yes, but there’s nothing new about feeling good when you’re dancing. Babies get pleasure out of dancing before they learn to walk. I think that when people take up dance, they’re really just reconnecting with some fundamental sense of rhythm they’ve always had.’ Walking out into the Grassmarket with an extra ball-change in my step and a big fat funked-up grin plastered all over my face, I’m inclined to agree with her.

Term starts Wed 10 Jan, Dancebase, Grassmarket, Edinburgh, 0131 225 5525, www.dancebase.co.uk

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