HOLLY MIRANDA SMALE

Writer, photographer, "rapper" and general technophobe takes on the internet in what could be a very, very messy fight. But it's alright: she's harder than she looks, and she's wearing every single ring she could get her hands on.







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Sunday, 31 October 2010

Dancefloor

Some emotions are so old, and so well buried, that when you feel them again it's as if they're new.

When I was a child, every year my school would hold a disco. And, every year, I would don my best velvet waistcoat, take my hair out of its permanent pony-tail, and attempt to occupy some kind of space on the dance floor. I would half-heartedly jump up and down, I would twitch from side to side, and - most importantly - I would try to pretend I recognised music that was quite clearly not Tchaikovsky's Dying Swan. And every year I would nervously await the final three and a half minutes of the night: the three and a half minutes that made me try and fake a sickness every single year, on exactly the same date.

It was always horrible, and I can still remember exactly how I felt. I can remember the cold chill I got when the lights went down, and the churn of my stomach when the pace of the music slowed to a rate that forces you to cling in pairs. I can still feel the sense of shame as I immediately retreated to a dark seat in an even darker corner, and the pain and sense of exclusion I felt as I watched every one else choose somebody to dance with that wasn't me. I remember the humiliation - trying to become invisible - and the hurt that I wasn't visible enough. The desperate wish to be somewhere else, and the more desperate wish to be someone else. The hope, tiny and improbable as it was, that perhaps that year somebody would pick me.

And I remember - inevitably - the moment when the teachers would look at the remaining boy (whoever it was that year), and at me, and would then make a little gesture that said: well, go on then you two. You're a girl. He's a boy. Dance. As if we were being problem children by sitting it out, and destroying the happiness of the couples by watching forlornly from the edges: our sadness making everyone uncomfortable. As if we had given up all rights to picking our partners by not being popular enough. And as if anybody would do. Because we just needed somebody to cling to, didn't we?

Of all my memories of childhood, that one hurts the most. And - when I left school - that was the one I left behind with the most gratitude. Never again, I thought. Never again will I have to sit on the edge of the dancefloor on my own and watch the room fill with couples. And I didn't. I stayed away from them during University formals, and I always left the club before the music slowed. I made sure, as an adult, that I never ever had to feel again what I felt as a nine year old girl.

Twenty years later, and the room is filling all over again. And I feel nine, all over again.

Everyone I know has now chosen their partner, and been chosen. They've fallen in love for the last time, and now they're starting the long, long slow dance that will (they hope) last the rest of their lives. And I am still sitting on the edge in the dark, on my own: being pushed towards the leftovers, regardless of who they are, because they're somebody to hold onto. Watching the couples, and watching their happiness, and recognising those feelings of loss and loneliness all over again. Wanting it for myself, and knowing I don't have it. Wondering why. And knowing as I knew back then: that when everyone has chosen, you have to sit the rest out. Because it's too late.

"Do you think," I said to my dad last week, "that most of the truly amazing men in the world are taken by 30?"
I had hoped he would roll his eyes and tell me not to talk nonsense; had hoped I was talking nonsense.
"Mmm," he said. "Probably. Well, the nice ones get snapped up, don't they, and then they stay there because they're nice. I was snapped up at 23."
"Are any left?"
"Possibly. But there's usually something wrong with them. Commitment fear and trust issues and infidelity issues etc. Same goes for women though."
"Do you think I've missed the boat, dad?"
"Maybe. But you can always wait until round Two and go for the divorcees."

And I laughed, but it made me sad. Not because I want to settle down now - the thought terrifies me - and not because I want a house and children immediately, or even very soon. But because I've never really had love - never been in love and been loved back at the same time - and so it seems tragic that I'll never have it when I'm young, and if I get it when I'm older it will never be a fresh love: will always be on the back of something failed and tired and sad. That I'll never get the innocence and hope and whole-heartedness that everyone deserves once in their lives. And it seems tragic that I'm still in love with a man who doesn't love me back - still unable to shake him from my heart - and that while I waited for him everyone started dancing.

When I was nine, I knew there were no real options if I wanted to maintain my dignity and self respect. I couldn't charge on to the dancefloor, picking apart couples or waiting for them to fall apart of their own accord, or stand on the floor shouting in protest, or cry in the corner.  And I couldn't pick up whoever was left, just because they were left. Twenty years later, I still have no options. I won't meet somebody here - we don't speak the same language - and I can't move home to London purely so that I can pick up whatever is left before it's too late. I can't start ploughing through bars and clubs trying to find anyone still on their own; even if I was ready to date again - which I'm still not quite - I couldn't do that. It's too far from who I am. And - more importantly - I have a life to get on with. Plans. Hopes. Dreams. Ambitions. I'm not giving them all up just so that I have somebody to dance with before they're all gone.

There was one secret dream I had, when I was nine, that I never told anyone: the dream that would stop me dissolving into a lump in the corner. When I was sitting on my little chair in the dark, I used to imagine that somebody new would walk in. A boy that nobody had seen before: who was so beautiful, and so intelligent, and so charismatic, that he had been somewhere else when everyone else was choosing. So amazing, that he had seen more than just the dancefloor. And he would walk in, and every single girl in the room would wish they hadn't picked so soon: would regret how quickly they had made their decision. But he would look at them, and look at me, and see all of it. All of me. And he would ask me to dance.

The emotions I pushed down so long ago have risen back up again and startled me. But - as when I was nine - there's absolutely nothing I can do but wait, and use my time as wisely as I can. Accept that perhaps I'm not meant for dancing. And hope that if somebody amazing turns up, I'm the one he wants to dance with.

Even if we're a little late.