Caribbean rhythms via Scotland
By Natalie Williams
“Stick your hips out so, like so. Yes like that…and the other one too. Right, now stoop down a little like you about to sit on the loo. That’s it, good, good ladies.
Now raise ah hand inna de…sorry your hand in the air…yes, yes, like you are Her Majesty and about to wave from the carriage. Then push your bam-bam out. Your what? Your bumsie, push your bumsie out a little. I beg your pardon? All right, stick out your arse. Yes, like that. Good! Now when the music begins, feel the rhythm, then jiggle and jiggle and you will soon be wining!”
I suppose I should acknowledge right from the start, that the English husband, whom, after years of marriage, I now reluctantly call the Wise One, said to me (and come to think of it, anyone who would listen) that his Trini wife joining a Scottish folk-dancing group was and is a bad idea. “Forget it,” he said repeatedly in those early days. “Just walk away from the idea,” he teased, always with a smile in his kind eyes.
He teased me with all my friends, with his colleagues and sometimes with the random stranger at the farmers’ market, warning that the combination of Trinidadian rhythms, Caribbean “hotness” (his word) and Scottish folk dancing was “a recipe for disaster” .
He jumped in to every Skype conversation I was holding to ask, in his best pseudo-Trini British accent: “Did Natalie tell you she does do Scottish dancing?”
Then he would duck out of the camera shot, laughing his head off, leaving me to explain to friends and family on dodgy video connections, what the hell Scottish country dancing was and why it “aint have no rag and flag waving involved”.
At first, he would ask gingerly, as I pulled on my dancing shoes, so to speak, already filled with despair at not yet having got those country dance moves “down pat” despite weeks of trying, “Are you still going Scottish dancing, honey?”
But the worst mischievousness the husband employed has to be when I completely befuddled the time difference between the Mediterranean and Calgary and called my goddaughter in what turned out to be the wee hours of the morning for the poor girl.
My intentions were honourable enough: to congratulate the darling girl on her magnificent ice skating I had enjoyed the day before, beamed in to my hot Mediterranean villa via the wonders of the glorious internet from her freezing cold ice rink in Canada, where she had been competing in the Alberta youth competition.
With that vocal cheeriness only a West Indian could muster up when waking up an entire household at such an ungodly hour, I exclaimed into the telephone: “My darling! You were brilliant on the ice yesterday!”
As soon as I realised my mistake, I immediately wanted to hang up, but… enter the husband.
Full of shame and embarrassment, I decided to put on a fake telemarketing voice.
A wee bee in the bonnet
In all of this, I am neglecting to admit that on the very first occasion I participated in Scottish country dancing, I left the class with a bee in my bonnet about it needing to be spiced up with something extra – that injection of Trini Carnival zest.
And, from the moment I met these gentrified, nibble-footed, good-natured Scottish/English ladies who so kindly invited me to join their group, I had fully convinced myself that I was the West Indian to do it.
It would be my way of sending good vibes out into the universe on behalf of Caribbean nationals everywhere who were too shy to shake things up at social groupings in their neck of the globe.
Not I, said the cat!
So I persevered.
In the first session of “my” Scottish country dancing class, I spent ten minutes explaining how the word “wine” could also mean something beyond vino and wasn’t exclusive to a primitivo or a merlot.
For good measure, I spent an extra two minutes convincing the ladies that some obscure Oxford dictionary linked the etymology of the word to dancing and rhythms.
At the next class, I dedicated half an hour to teaching the ladies how to “wine”, but it caused me utter irritation when they quickly and steadfastly gave up.
These Celtic ladies never came anywhere close to brining out that “inner hottie” in their waistlines, although perhaps I should have seen it as a triumph that one lady did literally moan that my attempt to teach her to wine was good therapy after her recent hip operation.
The power of Sparrow
Still I persevered.
In my fifth week, we met in the spacious grand dining-room at the home of one of the ladies.
It was the perfect setting for another attempt on my path to get my Scottish dancing friends all wining again.
A cool sea breeze wafted through the luscious pink bougainvillea, beautiful sunshine flooded through huge French windows; one lady even wore a hibiscus in her hair to the class!
And I had come prepared, happily armed with my recently downloaded Sparrow tunes and my favourite Shadow calypsos.
“Ladies,” I began, “fellow Scottish dancers, shall we just try for a gentle gyration with hands in the air doing a brief twirl above your heads to music of the islands?”
No takers whatsoever.
Faces were plastered with polite smiles, but the eyes and the looks of alarm they exchanged said “Jesus Edinburgh, this Caribbean woman still coming to Scottish dancing lessons? When does her husband’s posting end?
“They’ve just arrived? Heaven help us…”
So after nearly three months, I was forced to abandon my high hopes of blending all things Trini with Celtic folk traditions, and to concede that the husband was right after all.
A Trini in Europe have no business busting moves on dance techniques that were developed way back when by those wearing ghillies and kilts in the chilly Gaelic highlands.
Well, in my own defence, what did I really expect of ladies with an average age of 60, who were much more at home executing dances named The Bees of Maggie Knockater, The Dashing White Sergeant, Speed the Plough or The Wind that Snakes the Barley, for which the lack of any sense of rhythm seemed little impediment?
I suppose I should have known better, enough to understand that choreographed wining never works. Hip-jucking and gyrating must come naturally to be authentic.
As my young son Justin mumbled when first witnessing the Notting Hill Carnival in London, “Dem people need to go home and start again,” and by home he meant Port of Spain, Trinidad.
So in the end, all this Trini in Europe got for her attempts to flavour up local classes of Scottish country dancing was a painfully frustrated hour or two trying to find Sparrow music on iTunes, while enduring cheerful nagging from the Wise One.
And in fact, it is the dear husband’s voice that keeps ringing in my ears: “Scotland and Trinidad could mix good, man,” he says, “in a decent cocktail as the sun sets after a hard day’s work….”
What you having, whisky or rum?