Rhythm part of my heritage

 

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Category: Women Date: 09 Mar 03


This is a first-person account by a reader from Toronto responding to a column I did some time back. Lynne Hurry is not West Indian, but is infused with our spirit and a special life-affirming courage you find in women everywhere.

 

The article “I Still Haven’t Learnt to Wine” was of special interest to me as I “wine” very well (I’m 56).

 

This was a surprise to my West Indian friends as I have a disability. I suffer the “slings and arrows” (which is a great description if you know the disease) of Peripheral Neuropathy (PN), a neurological disorder that ultimately results in numb hands and feet accompanied by sharp, shooting pains and feelings of extreme heat (hands) and cold (feet).

 

I shocked my friends last fall with my ability to “wine.” I come from a family of dancers, so rhythm is part of my heritage.

 

My mother won all the dance competitions in the ’30s in the West End of London. My father’s secret desire was to become a professional tap dancer, but WWII robbed him of his left leg, so that didn’t materialise. We all loved dancing.

 

When I was young, in the ’60s, the “dirty boogie” or “bump and grind” was a popular dance. I was adept at it and thought that others who weren’t, simply felt it was obscene. I was a virgin then, but loved this dance, since it had no sexual connotations for me.

 

Dead men don’t wear plaid (maybe you’ve seen or heard of that movie), and white men generally don’t dance, except when courting, I discovered. There would be the odd fellow who was a good dancer. I dated one for two years, despite his bad breath, because we danced so well together. My husband’s idea of dance always ended up being a fast or slow polka, of sorts (Ukrainian background).

 

When I was married, there were one or two men I enjoyed dancing with, and we sought each other out at parties. My husband would be off in a corner discussing politics or sports, grateful he didn’t have to dance.


Once my marriage ended, I taught several fellows how to dance, but rarely found a partner who was really any good. So eventually, I gave it up.


Then PN became my partner, and eventually I couldn’t even maintain balance, let alone dance.

 

Then I wined. It was the most liberating experience for me.

 

PN is a chronic pain condition that often results in the victim gaining weight, and I was no exception. After a decade of no interest in men, I began to think again about men, but felt no one would be interested in me due to my girth. I was wrong. I met West Indians.

 

Not only do they fail to notice, but some even prefer some “meat” on their partners. What a revelation!

 

Two things happened. First, I discovered a great wining partner and one who took me to Grenadian and Trinidadian clubs in Toronto. I was accepted as a dancer and not a freak as I would have been in a White club. I could dance without moving my feet, which was really important to someone who has difficulty with balance and apparently I looked good while doing it. It was a great experience and had the added bonus of me getting back some feeling in my feet.

 

Second, I met a wonderful Trinidadian at a party. After a decade of no relationships, this man really appealed to me. I liked him a lot and we saw each other a good deal. Then one day he accused me of having had an affair with my wining partner. Someone had seen us “wining” at a Sunday lime and told him “you don’t dance like that unless you’ve been having sex.”


So while wining is a thing I love, it also has lost me a love.

 

At least the good weather is around the corner and I can expect to wine again. It is the only dance I can do and, while it is sexy, it doesn’t mean sex to me. I find it is a way of dancing that provides a real sense of freedom (as you mentioned in your article) and let me tell you, it brings joy to a woman with mobility problems.

 

Here is a poem I wrote just after my first wine. I was overjoyed at the experience, and my wining friend wept when I read the poem to him.


One day I met a man from Grenada:

Deep voice, wide smile, sex appeal.

It was my first visit to their community,

And I felt privileged to be invited to share a meal.

This man I noticed right away,

Although there were many in the room.

He delighted those around him that day,

With his wit, charm and warmth,

And then I saw him dance.

He danced a Soca dance,

With his friend, Angela.

They had rhythm to spare,

And I watched them both,

Imagining myself there.

I looked down at my feet,

Securely strapped into leather sandals.

I, who had danced so often, so well,

Before the accident.

My life was dance then:

The Monkey, The Twist, The Jerk, Jive,

Dirty Boogie, The Bump and Grind, Disco too.

Any kind of couple-dance.

The guys led, I followed,

Perfectly and with movement.

Bands asked me to dance for them,

Touring on the road. I’d blush and say,

“No thanks,” but loved the compliment.

In a family of dancers I was raised,

Mother, father, sister, brother,

And me, the baby, could dance just as well,

But suffered like my father.

The war blew away his leg.

In time he learned to dance again.

A strange disease called PN

Blew away my feet.

This man from the south showed me, though,

I could dance with him.

He danced me in a chair one time.

I laughed and told him, “I can’t balance.”

Then, last night I was standing and he moved,

He moved in deliberately and close,

His body and a wall erasing my awkward balance.

He held me, my back against the wall.

I could move and sway like many years before.

It felt good. I felt secure. I felt sure.

We moved away from the wall,

Then back again. I knew I belonged

In the dancing world with the man.

After all these years, I felt movements return,

Rushing into my belly, thighs and shoulders.

The sheer joy I felt at being able to move again.

But there was more.

In that dance you get lost,

And are pulled into the sensual pleasure,

That is part of it all.

A sizzle, a burn I’d ignored for so long.

Age no factor. Movement is all. Sensation,

Pleasure, appreciation, stimulation.

Response is all.

The following morning I wakened,

And pulled on slippers,

Warm, sheepskin-lined slippers for numb feet,

And felt, as I walked across my bedroom,

A sensation.

Just the slightest

In my toes,

And other small areas of my feet.

Wonder. What wonder.

This man made me feel like a dancer again,

And, more importantly, a woman.

An appealing woman.

Nice change. Been a long time. I’d forgotten.

More dancing I hope,

More movements like that,

Will help my feet remember,

The glide on hardwood of leather shoes.

The slide of feet as the body moves.

The rhythm that gets inside your soul,

That makes two become one

And makes you whole.

I think in time my toes and heels and soles

Will remember to feel and I will know

I am healed.

 

And that’s the story of a woman touched by the West Indian spirit.

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All Articles Copyright Ira Mathur