It was 1982. Coco, LeRoy, Doris - and the one who played the cello whose name no one remembers - had us all glued to the TV in eager anticipation of this week’s exploits at the New York School of Performing Arts. As the anthemic sounds of Irene Cara blasted out, photo frames bounced about on top of TV’s not yet equipped for the high-energy synthesizers reverberating with every song, and young girls around the country watched in excited awe, wishing they could go to a school like The Kids from Fame!
I was 10 years old and thanks to Coco and Co, I had decided it was my calling to be a professional dancer, spending every waking moment practising my routines in my bedroom whilst playing the ‘Fame’ LP on my portable record player. I had a collection of sparkly legwarmers to rival Arlene Philips, and a plethora of shiny leotards and footless dance tights tumbling out of my drawers.
I lived, ate, slept and breathed dance. Dance was my life.
However, I didn’t go to proper dance classes. Oh no, I thought I was too precociously and uniquely talented in my own right to need a teacher telling me how to shimmy and kick-ball-change. I’d attended disco dancing lessons when I was younger, and Doreen, the owner, had expressed to my mother as much. I now realise, however, that what Doreen actually meant by ‘unique’ and ‘talented,’ was that I was a bit of a show-off and had a habit of taking over the dancefloor with my interpretive version of ‘YMCA’ which, unfathomably, involved backflips, thrusts and gyrations considered inappropriate for my age (Hot Gossip had a lot to answer for).
So, in need of an audience, I would listen out for friends of my parents to pop over to the house, where upon, I would don my shiny turquoise leotard and sparkly legwarmers, and casually strut around the house until eventually - being unable to ignore the odd little girl elaborately doing stretches with her legs wrapped around her neck - someone would ask me what I was up to?
“Oh, I’ve just been practising my new routine, Carol.”
I ignored my mother’s rolling of the eyes. She didn’t understand my creative spirit. I was probably adopted anyway.
“Gosh, well, let’s see it then, Purbeck!”
I didn’t need asking twice, and fortuitously, I would always have my latest track queued up ready on my ghetto blaster in anticipation of these moments when my innovative genius could finally be unleashed to a captive audience; even if it was only Carol and Maureen who had just popped in for a cup of Mellow Birds and Garibaldi whilst gossiping about Val who was seen flirting with Malcolm at bingo last week.
I so absolutely must have been adopted.
As the intro to Sheena Easton’s Bond theme, ‘For Your Eyes Only’ played out through tinny speakers around the living room, my body sprang into action. This particular routine was filled with slow, impassioned and exaggerated movements with emotive, and some might say, painful facial expressions, as I interpreted the lyrics through my lycra clad body.
My mother lit another B&H with a sharp in-take of breath and rolled her tongue around the inside of her cheek. Carol and Maureen watched on in stunned silence, and my father wandered past only stopping to raise his eyebrows before going about his business.
I was so under-appreciated by my adoptive family.
As my performance reached its breath-taking and fervent crescendo, involving a backwards crab into the splits, there was a moments silence. This was nothing new. I was used to my audience taking a moment to gather their thoughts after such an emotive display.
Maureen dunked her Garibaldi into her coffee. She obviously wasn’t used to such ferocious talent at eleven o'clock on a Saturday morning.
Carol rested her fag on the ashtray and started clapping with unconcealed delight. My mother gave her a sideward glance. I smiled smugly. Carol appreciated my talent. I’d always liked Carol. Glamorous Carol with her plum painted nails, brassy blonde curls and throaty laugh. Maybe Carol was my real mother.
“Ohhh, wonderful, Purbeck! You should be at stage school!”
Maureen raised her eyebrows as she stuffed the last Garibaldi into her mouth, and my mother turned her sideways glance at Carol into a glare. But Carol obviously recognised in me something my own mother failed to see; raw, untamed talent.
I wondered if Carol might take me under her wing, maybe re-mortgage her house to pay for me to go to stage school and become my manager. I envisaged myself in years to come on ‘This Is Your Life’ with Eamon Andrews, as a queue of people from my past trickled into the studio with tales of how they always knew I’d make it big as a dancer. Finally, Carol would enter, as Eamon announced, “And here’s the lady whose belief in you all those years ago started you on your road to success…”
“Really, Purbeck, I’m very impressed!”
Carol’s gravelly voice nudged me from my dreams. I beamed as humbly as a smug 10 year old could.
“You could be the next Bonnie Langford!”
Bonnie. Fucking. Langford.
I picked up my ghetto blaster and strutted back to my bedroom; dance school dreams in shatters.