Stephen Gilfedder: ‘At Leggett’s Ballroom’

At Leggett’s Ballroom

Glissade, paso doble, alemana, cucaracha,
Promenade, quickstep, tango, foxtrot, rhumba,
The ballroom cha-cha’d among early Seventies
Hippiedom in Greville Street, a blistered
Time capsule of some fevered heyday.
A danceband in threadbare tuxes ever tuning up
For the twice-weekly supper soiree
Welcoming revellers from another age.

A parade of ensembles “straight from the Ark”
My mother always jealous would have said.
Dressed to the nines, silver-haired widowers
In formal suits, shoes buffed to the nth degree,
Matriarchs in pancake make-up and fading ballgowns,
All white-gloved, Chanel mingling with Old Spice,
Dancecards marked up between the sets
To last an evening, to make time fly.

Youthful Al in blazer, bow tie and pocket square
Patrolled the sidelines of the dancefloor
Predatory, full of cheeky innocence and charm.
Rehearsal night was Friday before a frosted mirror
Leaning on the leather-fronted bar in a spartan flat
After his firie shifts, slicked back hair like Hefner
That appealing cheesy grin, puffing on an unlit briar
Wedged jauntily between the moistened lips.

A heartstarter always, say Manhattan or Martini
Recipe clipped religiously from Playboy pages;
Maybe a double scotch on the rocks, a pint
Of milk to set him up for the big night out.
This ex-British squaddie a simulacrum of style,
Background erased, head clear of the nightmare OC
Forever punishing some minor fault, making him
Sweep the parade ground with a toothbrush.

That one attempt at family to a Ten Pound Pom
To make something of himself, become somebody.
The voyage of self-discovery somehow produced
A mid-Atlantic accent with all the wisecracks needed,
Attendant steps learned at a dance studio after hours,
A backlit silhouette above tramstop number ten.
Al gave amusement for a while, overnight, a week
At most, left flowers and a note and then moved on.

You can bet Al’s heels still click across the parquet
Though if things didn’t turn out as planned
Or that touch of osteo was setting in
Just waltzed into traffic to a Guy Lombardo tune.
More likely in a retirement home critiques
Performances on Dancing with the Stars
His dressing suite one corner of the single room,
Costume laid out just so on a pristine bed,
Then twirling with himself and a ghostly partner.
An Emcee pronouncing They make a winning couple.

Stephen Gilfedder

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