Dee Why, Sydney. 1979
I was 15 when I first danced with my father. I was doing work experience in a record shop in a Dee Why arcade. Sadly, Sandy’s, my favourite shop for vinyl, to whom I devoted every cent of my pocket money, was booked out, so I went to the record shop in this arcade. As it turned out, it was meant to be.
The lady who ran the store, stupefyingly beautiful, a cascade of blonde curls as one who had just emerged from the saltwater of Dee Why pool, instantly agreed to take me on for the week.
I was so excited. Letting me loose in a record store was like bringing that “kid in a lolly shop” scenario to life. I was in heaven, surrounded by every record imaginable. Whatever I wanted to listen to was all there at my vinyl-pickin’ fingertips!
As it turned out, the lady who owned and ran the shop was also a dance instructor with Arthur Murray. I should have picked up on it straight away as she didn’t so much move around the shop, as waft ethereally like Kate Bush in Wuthering Heights. She all but floated in her loose-fitting cheesecloth and billowing maxi dresses. I think many customers lingered longer not so much to listen to the music, but watch this fantastical lady all but levitate above Bryan Ferry and Roxy Music singing Avalon.
It was a Wednesday arvo, we had just dusted off the vinyl, unpacked new deliveries and Laureen had given me my first cappuccino and she was up for a dance. She’d been saying to me that she would happily teach me all she knew about running a record shop as long as I would allow her to teach me how to dance.
My history teacher Mr Mitchell came in to check up on me. He smiled instantly when he saw me dancing with Laureen.
“The other kids are all stuck in factories doing hard labour for their work experience,” he laughed good-naturedly. “And meanwhile, you’re acting like John Travolta in Saturday Night Fever. I might have known you’d even turn work experience into yet another chance to play music.”
The smooth Mr Mitchell caught Laureen’s eye while I caught my breath and he effortlessly cut in, taking over the dance. I watched the magic unfold seated atop the counter, swinging my legs in time to the music.
It was like watching An American In Paris meets Bob Fosse. I was in heaven. They were Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, 1979-style.
Then Dad turned up to also see how I was going.
Laureen and Mr Mitchell were clearly lost in the dance, and Dad refused to be a wallflower just standing there gawking at them. He put out his hand, reached for mine, reefed me off the counter, and so we danced.
It wasn’t awkward, it was brilliant. I remember the gentle rasping of my father’s five o’clock shadow against my acned face. He led me across the floor to Dobie Gray’s smash hit, Drift Away.
Dad held me, I closed my eyes and the words “Give me the beat, boy, to move my soul, I want to get lost in your rock’n’roll and drift away,” all but hypnotised me.
And I did drift away. I was lost in the thought of my father. Dad, never had a song or a whistle far from his lips. I thought of my first joltingly fun wheelbarrow ride where he tore about the yard making me feel like I was on the Big Dipper at Luna Park. Me laughing and holding on for dear life. I remembered the day he hoisted me up on his shoulders so I could see the footy properly. I felt so safe up there, my little hands holding tight to his slick Brylcreemed hair. And now here I was holding my Dad again, dancing with him, eyes closed not caring for a second as to who was watching.
Most teenagers don’t want to be seen dead with their parents, let alone dance with them, but for some reason, I knew magic was being created in this little Dee Why record shop. I think Laureen had cast some beautiful spell over all of us. I remember Dad often telling me, “You’re never too old to get a goodnight kiss from your father”. He’d lost his parents when he was young and he always made a point to show us kids his love for us for fear that he too might be taken young.
I heard clapping and I opened my eyes and there in the doorway stood most of the other shop keepers from the Arcade. Clarry the butcher was there, Vera from the cake shop, Helen from the haberdashery, Len from the coffee shop – all of them beaming and clapping. Each with their own stories about dancing with someone they loved.
“I remember dancing with my dad, too,” piped in Vera. “He got me to stand on his feet, so I could learn to waltz properly. It’s why I love the Blue Danube so much to this very day.”
Shortly after, Anne Murray had a worldwide hit with the song, Could I Have This Dance For The Rest Of My Life.
Whenever I hear that song, I always conjure that day dancing with my dad in a Dee Why record shop.
Dad, has since gone to heaven, the record shop is long gone too. The dance, thankfully lingers and I’ll have the memory of dancing with my father for the rest of my life.
First published in The Big Issue Australia as ‘Dance Like No-one’s Watching’. (#594, 23 August to 5 September 2019)