Several months ago I decided to spend £70 on nine contemporary dance classes. I gave it pretty much no thought beyond: 'this could improve my writing' and 'this would give me something to do on a Monday night besides steadily, doggedly working my way through All The Netflix'. The online listing loudly promised: "no experience necessary", and then added, quietly at the bottom of the page, that the nine weeks would be followed by an on-stage performance in the tenth week.
At the time I assumed this would be a sort of show-and-tell for the rest of the class, not literally dancing in front of real life ticket-paying humans, who might actually watch us dance. And so, after the harsh discovery in week one that we would be on a proper stage in front of about 100 people, I spent the nine weeks gearing myself up to be so stomach-churningly nervous that I might just do a runner, faint dramatically into the first row or - at best - forget my steps, panic, and do my trademark enthusiastic arm-pumping.
So when I finally stepped on the darkened stage of the Lowry's studio, I was surprised and not a little self-satisfied to realise that I actually wasn't apprehensive at all, just excited. As a group of about 24, we had spent a total of 27 hours learning how to create little pieces of contemporary dance, what types of simultaneous movement look good on stage, and why a trilby is a better prop than a set of car keys. We had an absolutely wonderful, supportive teacher, the choreographer Ruth Jones, who is constructively critical enough that you learn some real skills and technique, but encouraging enough that you don't feel silly for imitating a flock of seagulls. The whole class contributed their own ideas to form the final piece, an energetic, fun mixture of solo, duo and group movements.
Actually being on stage, under the lights, was a real buzz. I managed to remember all my steps and actually enjoy performing. Kitted out in brightly coloured neon t-shirts, we were a bright, sometimes chaotic, but always synchronised swirl of movement. We got lots of applause and some laughs (the good kind) so it felt like a real success. There was also a great sense of community amongst the group, pride that we'd created something.
When I find myself watching a show, sitting in the obscurity of a dimmed theatre, I'm simply an anonymous audience member scanning a critical eye over each dancer, the movement, the choreographer's vision. That now seems easy compared actually being on the stage. Despite not being a performer (and still having no real dance moves to speak of), as an arts writer the experience of taking this class has been really enlightening. I've gone from learning a basic plié to choreographing my own solo, from creating a duet to seeing how a musician composes for dance. I feel I now have just a little more insight into the skill, patience and imagination it takes to produce work for the stage.