Okay so I’m not dancing fit this week and so I can’t dazzle you with my dodgy accents but I still hope that you enjoy reading this week’s episode of Queer Tango and that it makes you smile.
Episode 30: Liza At First Sight
Paulette pulled her hat out of its box and brushed it off. She’d been working but she’d need to take more of a relaxed role for a while. It gave her the chance to reminisce and her tango hat, as her class called them, tended to put her in a thoughtful mood.
She’d been a slight kid, almost scrawny but not through intention. The other kids in her dance classes had been cruel about it because they had to diet or forgo sweets because the teacher would drill into them how a true dancer carried no fat. Paulette had alternative lecture that a bag of bones wasn’t going to be a leading lady but, it didn’t matter how much she tried to put healthy weight on, she was scrawny.
‘Paulette, why did you place your foot there?’ the dance teacher yelled as she stopped the entire class to round on her. ‘It’s clumsy.’
‘Sorry,’ Paulette lowered her head as the other girls smirked at her.
The teacher turned back to the front and started her movements again, yelling out dance moves like she was in the military.
Paulette followed but her head filled with thoughts of a stage waiting for her to stride onto it, audience tense, quiet so only her thudding heart could be heard.
‘Paulette!’ the dance teacher turned and slapped her stick to her side. ‘Clumsy feet, mistimed, awful!’
The rest of the class tutted at her as if they never got it wrong.
‘Sorry,’ Paulette mumbled trying to ignore how small she felt, how pathetic. What was a scrawny bone-bag like her thinking of being in dance class. At least that’s what Laura had said.
The teacher swiped her stick through the air. ‘You can do a solo as punishment.’ She nodded over at the guy sitting in the corner with a relaxed pose, fierce look in his eyes and a large wedding ring. He hadn’t been introduced but everyone knew he was there to scout. Laura’s mum was set on her joining a theatre school. They sounded like so much fun… but only people like Laura got to go to them because they charged so much. Paulette’s family weren’t poor by any stretch but she’d never ask her parents to pay that kind of money. Bags of bones weren’t fit for stages.
‘Can you stop daydreaming long enough to dance?’ the teacher snapped.
The class laughed.
Paulette rubbed her hands together… nerves… she used to have such terrible nerves. She breathed in the way her mum told her and strode over to her bag. Her dad had bought her a present, only a small item, but he said that she could be whoever she wanted when she danced with it on.
She smiled at the hat and pulled it out.
The class laughed harder.
‘Only boys wear hats,’ Laura said and sniggered to the others.
‘Liza wore a hat,’ Paulette mumbled and placed it on her head. She headed to the centre of the room and nodded to the guy. ‘Teeth, taps… and…’
‘Paulette,’ her teacher warned.
‘Talent.’ Paulette winked at the guy who smiled then leaned onto his seat. The music started and she shook her head. ‘I want something jazzy.’
‘Excuse me?’ her teacher said and glowered over her glasses.
‘I don’t want to prance. I want a showtune.’ Paulette tapped the hat. ‘Who does ballet in a hat?’
The class looked at her like she was stupid but the guy nodded to the teacher and then she grunted.
‘Showtunes,’ the teacher said with an unimpressed tone. ‘Off you go.’
Paulette closed her eyes as the jazzy music kicked in. She pictured Liza in her top hat in a dance studio, alone, inspired and she felt her body respond to the rhythm. Yes, she began to click her fingers to the off-beat, nod her head, feel the strains of the brass seep inside her and…. bah, buh, bah, buh, bum…
She opened her eyes and twirled, sure step, toe step, to heel, twirl, pose. Hat tipped, arch back, knee bent and bah, buh, bum… she spun and tapped her metal to the floor, the click of her tap shoes, the wiggle of her hips to the drum beat… and jump twirl… yes, the music took over her and she spread her moves across the floor. Threw in a shimmy to the piano solo, struck a cane pose… bah, bum, bah, bum… jump, flick, shimmy, like Liza… and pose.
The music stopped and she peeked open an eye expecting everyone to laugh at her, to be glaring at her and Laura definitely was.
The teacher clapped, astonishment in her eyes and the other girls joined with her, politely, all apart from Laura who folded her arms.
‘I think that’s where we should wrap up,’ the teacher said then nodded to the guy who studied Paulette with a curiosity in his eyes. ‘Change and pay before you leave, please.’
The other girls hurried off and changed out of dance shoes into trainers, threw on coats and giggled as they squeezed out of the doorway. Laura got up, glared at Paulette again, ripped her coat off the hook and stomped out.
Paulette shrugged after her then wandered over to her bag excited to tell her dad that her hat had turned her into Liza in class.
‘That was an interesting repertoire,’ the guy said in a soft voice as he walked over. ‘I’ve never seen a tango move in the middle of a showpiece before.’
Paulette shrugged… again… her mum said she did it enough someone would think she was dancing the salsa.
‘You ever thought about stage school?’ he asked with a thoughtful look in his eyes.
‘My parents can’t afford that, sorry’ she said because although her dad was a police inspector and they lived in a nice house, there were a lot of them. And, her parents were trying to put her oldest three sisters through college.
‘We do scholarships,’ he said with a gentle smile. ‘Why don’t you take this leaflet. I run the dance classes… we feed into RADA.’
Paulette stared at him and took the leaflet with shaking hands. ‘But I’m scrawny. I don’t have…’ She motioned to her chest and her hips. All the other girls had chests and hips.
‘Don’t care, besides, if you’re happy in that hat, we’ll stick you in as a lead.’ He handed over a card. ‘Liza isn’t above wearing a tux.’
‘She isn’t.’ Paulette nodded a shaky nod then hurried out before he changed his mind. She climbed into her dad’s car and put her seatbelt on.
‘Hi, Luv, how was class?’ he asked like he always did. They were a team, her parents: Mum would drop her off and Dad would pick her up and always with a smile.
‘This fella said I could have classes with him on a scholarship,’ she said, holding out the card and leaflet as her dad drove them home. ‘He said they feed RADA.’
‘I’ll have to check him out first,’ her dad said in his usual police tone. ‘You fancy being Liza then, do you?’
She smiled at him. ‘I wore your hat.’
‘I know,’ he said in his usual unruffled way. ‘I watched from the doorway.’
‘You did?’ Paulette giggled and hid her face. ‘You’re not meant to watch!’
‘I did,’ he said with a smirk then shrugged… exactly the way she did. ‘Your Mum will be pleased as teacakes.’
Paulette hugged her bag and her hat. ‘You think… I know she’ll want help in the canteen but I can work around it… and…’
He held up his hand. ‘Your Mum will be delighted you’re following your heart.’
Paulette wasn’t sure that her mum would but then her mum and dad were like that. They did things in their quiet way—unless you counted being the Pink Plimsole—and they’d shuttled her around while juggling doing the same for her sisters. Some team.
‘Your father will be delighted you still have his hat,’ her mum said from the bedroom doorway. ‘He saved up and sent off for it.’
Paulette smoothed it over. ‘I remember. He said that when I wore it, I could be whoever I wanted to be.’
‘He’ll still say it if you ask him,’ her mum said. ‘When he’s calmed Andy down.’
‘Is he still crying?’ Paulette asked then heard a gurgle and peered over the cot at the very pink and very cute Ruby-Plimsole.
‘Yes, he’s saying how amazing you are and that he can’t believe you had a baby together.’ Her mum sat beside her and placed the hat on Paulette’s head. ‘So, are you going for a new role?’
‘Yes, but it’s one I’m not quite sure I’ll pull off like the original.’ Paulette smiled as mini-Plimsole gazed up at her.
‘Unlike you,’ her mum said as she peered over and made daft faces at mini-Plimsole. ‘You’re always up for making a role your own.’
‘Yes, but you’re a harder act to follow,’ Paulette tapped her hat. ‘And Andy wouldn’t like it if I sneaked around sorting out Trevor.’
Her mum’s eyes warmed then twinkled then glistened and she hugged Paulette and pecked her on the cheek. ‘Shush now, you’ll make me sniffle like Andy.’
‘Why is he still crying… I mean… I’ve been home for hours.’ She rolled her eyes not sure if Andy had been given the epidural instead.
‘Your father took him shopping to help him… took his parents too but…’ Her mum chuckled. ‘Andy’s father was just as bad. His mother said that it took him months to calm down.’
Paulette gazed at her baby then shook her head. ‘Yet you can compose yourself.’ She tapped her hat. ‘You think I can keep Agnes happy with a dance?’
Her mum pursed her lips then chuckled. ‘It’ll take a while to get used to the fact we have the same name.’
‘Well, Liza was taken… thankfully.’ Paulette dipped her hat and little Agnes gazed back up at her.
‘Your father will tell him, you get that, don’t you?’ her mum said with a wistful smile. ‘I can’t believe he doesn’t know you could show him every step.’
‘Don’t give him ideas, Tammy and Tracy will want a show.’ She turned and pecked her mum on the cheek. ‘Thank you.’
Her mum raised her eyebrows. ‘For giving him ideas?’ She tutted. ‘He was sweet on you, the second he set eyes on you.’ She tapped her on the nose. ‘And when he did Liza’s steps I saw that look in your eyes.’
Paulette sighed. ‘He does a fantastic version of her voice.’
‘I know, he was singing to little Agnes when you were getting changed to come home.’ Her mum shook her head. ‘I half expected him to pull out a cane.’
‘Then best tell dad because he’ll enjoy making one in the shed for him.’ Paulette lifted up little Agnes as she grizzled and cuddled her. ‘Bah, bum, bah, bum, bah…’
‘I heard that, Plimsole, I heard it, I know I did,’ Andy said and glided into the room kissed Agnes, little Agnes and then her. ‘You are sooo cool like her.’
Agnes chuckled, patted them both on the cheek and headed out.
‘Plimsole, I know you just pulled her moves,’ Andy said with pursed lips and the kind of joy in his eyes that made her heart thud. ‘You did.’
Paulette just shrugged… then laughed… Maybe it was like her mum said… Liza at first sight.