Change Your Mind

Entry by: Paul McDermott

28th September 2018
Change Your Mind

“And five and six and seven and Change!”
The céilí band segued into the Tara Reel and two lines of eight dancers followed the call. Rod, at the head of the Boys line skipped a perfect dos-i-dos to meet his new partner Eileen, hitherto second in the Girls line. With crossed wrists they swung energetically for the next four bars to reach their new position at the tail of the line.
The Caller, Eamonn, wasn’t satisfied. He silenced the band with a brusque slash of his left hand.
“No, no, no! Y’r dancing like sacks o’ praties! Ron, Eileen, come back to the top of the set, at least there’s the one couple with a flicker of rhythm in their feet!”
Rod’s cheeks flushed as his name was mentioned. Backhanded compliment or not, Eamonn wasn’t known for fulsome praise and this was likely the best he could expect. As they returned to the head of the set he felt the lightest of pressures from Eileen’s hand. Technically (and by convention) they should have parted and returned separately to their start positions but Rod sensed Eileen had chosen to hang on to his right hand for those precious extra seconds. He’d always liked Eileen but had never had the confidence to tell her. Was his luck about to change?
St. Michaels set dancers weren’t just good, they were very good. This was entirely down to Eamonn’s demands for perfection. They’d won every award and competition worth winning in the county and nationally. Rod had enjoyed every minute of the three years he’d been with the team, but there was just one thing he regretted. The very nature of Set Dancing was that everybody danced with everyone else. It wasn’t like ballroom or Latin, where you had a regular partner. Some girls – Eileen, for example – were much better dancers than the others. The constant Change Partners was the one thing Rod didn’t care for, and he couldn’t see a way out of his personal dilemma.
“Dancers, you can take a break while I have a word with the band. Stay loose, don’t let y’rselves stiffen up!”
Because he and Eileen had been sprinkled with faint praise Rod had allowed himself to ‘zone out’ for a few seconds and the crispness of Eamonn’s last words brought him back to the real world. As the other dancers headed for tables dotted around the hall or the snack bar in the corner he felt Eileen’s fingers brush as if by accident against his. With a toss of her auburn curls she headed for the door, which opened onto a flagged outdoor patio. He risked a swift glance around the hall. Nobody appeared to be paying the slightest attention. He followed her lead, trying desperately to avoid attracting undue notice or ribald comment.
“We’ve not much time ere someone comes looking f’r us” Eileen began almost before Rod was through the door “So I’ll say my piece and hope you’ve time to answer.”
Half a dozen conflicting thoughts chased through Rod’s mind, but he was conscious of the fact that their absence would soon be noticed. He nodded, not daring to waste a second.
“You’re by far the best Set dancer I’ve partnered. Don’t ask me how I know this but I do, and you feel the same way too. I’m right, amn’t I?”
Rod blinked his agreement: he’d no time for more. Eileen’s hazel eyes sparked as she continued without pausing for breath:
“I love the Set dancing, the competitions and everything, and that’s not going to change! But if we were a Team of Two as well as being part of a set of sixteen …”
Rod found his voice.
“You mean like on Strictly Come Dancing …?”
“Yes! Now I saw you last week coming out of the Dance School with three or four other buachallí, and not a cailín in sight! And please don’t try to tell me none of yiz have found a girl to dance with?”
“Sure, the class only started a few weeks ago” Rod protested. “They said we should use the first lessons to change partners all the time …”
“Change your socks, change your mind, change partners …”
“ … and dance with me” Rod crooned in a passable tenor, eerily close to Fred Astair’s film version of the song.
“Oh, you great lump!” Eileen mock-scolded, with a genuine smile in her eyes. Sounds indoors suggested Eamonn had finished roasting the band, who were tuning up to continue.
“I don’t want to change the Set Dancing,” Eileen stated “but if you’d like to introduce me to the school next time you go, a few other things might Change. D’you mind?”