As a child, six nearly seven, I arrived in the UK by sea from another continent. King Neptune dipped me under water as I crossed the equator for the first time. Each evening the adults dined and danced in formal dress while I slept beneath the porthole. Every morning a cabin attendant in a starched white jacket woke us with a tray of tea and crisp biscuits.
Flying fish leapt from the waves and dolphins followed our wake. We stopped in the Canary Islands where I bought an embroidered postcard of a Spanish flamenco dancer. Vibrant silk thread sparkled on the flounces of her skirt and I held her close like a talisman.
After two weeks at sea a tug hooted as it brought us in to dock. We waited on shore while a crane lifted our battered Vauxhall Velox from the hold and laid it like a toy on the quayside. My father turned the key in the ignition and we drove north for a new life. Our possessions, crammed into splintering tea chests in the hold, followed on. I clutched my Spanish postcard.
Learning to dance
Within months I was dancing the Dashing White Sergeant and saw snow for the first time. My mother wrote a weekly letter home on crinkly airmail paper and learned how to make shortbread. At Christmas my father, the youngest of seven and back after many years abroad, led the singsong as his siblings gathered round the piano.
So I became Scottish and British and European, speaking new languages and adapting to the rhythms and steps of countries not my own. Finally I settled in London, at home in a city with a tidal river where everyone comes from somewhere else.
Many years have passed since that tug guided us in and I stepped onto dry land to dance to adulthood. If I’d found the Alexander Technique earlier then maybe my passage through life would have been more expansive and comfortable. But these past few years I’ve returned to sea on a different kind of voyage. I’m again far from my embarkation point and heading for unknown territory. Somewhere beyond the equator my old choreography melted into the deep and something smoother and more graceful took its place.
Dancing to a new rhythm
Now as I approach the shore, I reach for a flamenco talisman again, but this time I no longer need to hold on. Instead my own internal threads have untangled. Like the act of breathing, an exchange has taken place at sea and what was outside has found its way in.
The landing point is still hazy but I hear its muffled music through the mist. That subtle rhythm is infectious and my feet are tapping. Soon I’ll leave my sea legs behind and be ready to join the dance.
Written in Term 8 of my training to be an Alexander Technique teacher