On Tuesday, I was a guest author on the The Story Ape’s blog, where I wrote about Israeli folk dancing.

Ailsa Abraham commented:

I started in late middle age with Breton dancing and although exhausting it was such fun to be moving in rhythm with other people. Metaphor for life, perhaps?

The comment got me thinking about my relationship with dancing.

It began at the age of four with ballet. I had private lessons because the class was on Saturdays and I couldn’t join that for religious reasons. But I was allowed to take part in the annual concert, which was also on a Saturday. We walked to the hall because travel wasn’t allowed, and the teacher took the clothes I had to change into and wasn’t allowed to carry. I enjoyed ballet. I would probably have enjoyed the class more than the private lessons. I’d have enjoyed dancing in rhythm with other girls, but religion prevented me from doing that. I took some of the ballet exams. The best remark I got was that I had a very good sense of rhythm.

I don’t remember how I picked up the twist. Maybe from watching it on the telly. Maybe we did it at summer schools. I remember being good at it. I remember dancing it on the last day of primary school.

There were never many occasions to dance while I was at school. A wedding here, a party there. It was something I knew how to do. I watched what everyone else did and copied them. I always had confidence in my ability to dance. They laughed at me when I spoke, but never when I danced.

MeAndTheTribe

Being different (with a dance group in an Indian village)

At university there were several opportunities to dance. I loved them all. In particular, I liked dancing to the Rolling Stones’ song, Brown Sugar. I didn’t know what it was about; I just loved the music. And I loved jumping around in time with the music and in time with all the other dancers. This was something I could do at least as well as everyone else.

People I worked with were surprised to see me dance at all, let alone better and in a more liberated way than most. They assumed anxiety over talking must extend to every other activity. They were wrong.

I don’t know why it took me so long to discover folk dancing in Israel. For once, this was an activity in which I could be in step with everyone else. In everyday life I was always out of step. The only problem is that there’s more to going dancing than dancing. It’s also a time for talking.

My conclusion? Dancing is not a metaphor for my life. It’s a metaphor for what my life might have been.

If this post seems a bit confused, I think that’s because writing it has confused me. In the words of Fagin in the musical Oliver, I think I’d better think it out again. Can you help? Help me get my feet back on the ground? No, Beatles. I’m happier jumping in the air.

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Jerusalem Park Blossom2-30%

Jerusalem Park: Spring blossom

Jerusalem has a new park by the zoo. It’s part of a larger project called The Jerusalem Park. We can walk there from our house and we did the other day. There and back. And we walked all round the park and the zoo. The park is beautiful and so is the zoo. Jerusalem is hilly. We were exhausted when we returned, yet I managed to dance for over three hours (with breaks) that evening.

Jerusalem Park: Canal

Jerusalem Park: Canal

The next day we were in Tel-Aviv and did a fair bit of walking there. Fortunately it’s flat.

Jerusalem Park: Hopefully not full of Hyenas!

Jerusalem Park: Hopefully not full of …

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… hyenas!

Then there was a walk to the post office (twenty minutes each way) and more folk dancing. Tomorrow my writing group is meeting at a different location from usual. If the weather is okay, I’ll probably walk there, too (about half an hour each way).

Apart from being good for the body, walking provides more opportunities to see things: scenery, plants, animals, humans. Things to put into stories. The park is now ensconced in the first chapter of the sequel.

Jerusalem Park: my favourite bird

Jerusalem Park: my favourite bird

I was at folk dancing yesterday evening when the news broke. We were dancing to a lively song. No one was taking much notice of the large screen that usually shows the lyrics of the songs we dance to but, because of the World Cup, showed the TV programmes.

One match had just finished and the news took its place. Gradually people started to point to the screen. One by one people stopped dancing and gathered round the screen to stare at the awful words at the bottom.

The bodies of the three teenagers have been found.

For eighteen days we had been hoping, talking, writing, tweeting with the hashtag #BringBackOurBoys. We knew the best outcome would be to find them and bring them back. The next best outcome would be one of those prisoner exchanges – thousands of violent criminals, including murderers, in return for our three innocent boys, two of them only sixteen years old.

But the final outcome was the worst of all. Perhaps, in our hearts, it was the one we expected the most, but it was also the one we all hoped wouldn’t be.

Why did we care so much about three boys, with faces and names the vast majority of us didn’t recognise three weeks ago? Because, although we argue with each other as much as a nation can, although we often don’t care for others as we should, when something like this happens we become one big family. Those boys become our boys, the parents our brothers and sisters.

That lively song was soon turned off. For the rest of the evening we danced to slower, sadder songs. Most people left early and the dance session ended earlier than usual.

As they say, normal service will be resumed. Next week we will dance as usual. But we won’t forget what happened to our boys.

I realised what I want from 2014 when I commented on Annalisa’s blog: “I had fun in 2013. I want 2014 to be fun, too, but more productive and fulfilling. I want to push myself more.”

Last night I had more fun when we welcomed 2014 with a little celebration at folk dancing. The January New Year in Israel is always a bit subdued compared to many other parts of the world. Although we know it’s not religious, there’s a feeling that this holiday isn’t really ours. “Happy New Year” refers to a different time and today is a normal working day.

Before that I made a decision about the 100k in 100 days challenge. I’m going to do it. I’m going to write lots of blog posts and stories and more and hope to reach the target. I succeeded at NaNoWriMo in November, so there’s no reason I shouldn’t be able to do this.

The only problem is that I haven’t done enough planning and will have to decide what to write as I go along. Any suggestions will be gratefully received.

One of the ways I think I should push myself is by blogging more about social anxiety and how it comes into play in everything I do. Because not mentioning it is like trying to pretend it doesn’t exist, which I did for much too long. I started writing in order to raise awareness of social anxiety and I need to carry on doing that.

So that’s what my ‘Fourteen will be about: Fun, Fulfilment and Forcing myself to cross new boundaries.

What will your 2014 be about?

This is the fifth in a series of posts describing my recent trip to England, Ireland, the Netherlands and Wales, from writing course to school reunion and more.

This is where I get to tell you something amazing.

I met Nicola Morgan!

Yes, I did. Really! She had 45 minutes free before she had to catch her train back to Edinburgh and she spent them with me. And she is even nicer than her Internet persona. I was a little nervous at first, but she put me at ease and the minutes flew by. Wow! Thank you, Nicola!

After that, I had planned to go on to meet the travel writer, Jo Carroll. That didn’t work out because she had scaffolding problems. Although I’m really sorry we didn’t get to meet this time, it would have been hard to be ready in time. As it was, I had time for a proper night’s sleep the night before (needed even more after I was scratched by the cat), and I was able to return after meeting Nicola to organise my suitcase, leaving behind stuff that I could meet up with later, before making my way to Staines. S, whom I knew only through folk dancing, had very kindly invited me to stay with her and her husband. One of her daughters was there, too, and they all made me feel very welcome. The heatwave was still on, so we ate outside in the garden. The evening air was pleasantly cool and the food delicious.

The following day, I used the time I had alone to go for a surprisingly beautiful walk by the river. I say “surprisingly” because I lived near Staines for three years while at university and never realised it was worth visiting. Since I was alone, I was able to jot down notes describing the scenes, making me feel like a real writer. I even wrote the rhythm of a cuckoo’s song:

Cuckoo sound in Staines

On hearing a cuckoo in Staines
(with apologies to Frederick Delius)

At least, I assumed it was a cuckoo, but I’m no bird listener.

In the evening, S took me to her folk dancing group in Slough, which couldn’t have been more different from the one I’m used to. There were about seven people, instead of over a hundred. They were all very friendly, but obviously the atmosphere was very different – much more calm and sedate. And at the end I didn’t feel as if I’d had much exercise, whereas usually I struggle to go up the stairs. Still, I recognised most of the dances and had a lovely time.

To round off their wonderful hospitality, S’s hubby drove me to Heathrow’s Terminal 1 early the next morning (but not early for him) for the next stage of my trip.

It’s raining, it’s pouring.
Life isn’t boring.
I’m off for the chance to dance and dance.
Will I get up in the morning?

Yes, rain is pouring down and will apparently continue tomorrow. Here in Israel, we know rain is good. We hope it will fall when we’re tucked up in bed rather than when we have to be outside, but whenever it falls it’s good.

And yes, I’m going to folk dancing this evening, but I’m going by car and we dance in a hall.

FolkDancing2011

Boaz, the friendly dance instructor has taught this dance twice recently, so he won’t be teaching it again. He’s also put up a video of it on YouTube.

But I still don’t get part five. It’s hard. And the next folk dancing session is this evening. Oh well…. I’ll fake it as usual.