Why should something so joyous and wonderful as men and girls dancing together require bravery?

A sunny bank holiday weekend in Huddersfield. In the Packhorse Shopping Centre people are shopping. We have appeared in a shop unit with the Talking Place, next door to a discount children’s clothes store and across the way from the key cutters. People are passing by, passing by our stack of newspapers, passing by yellow A-Boards that say Men & Girls Dance. On one side the boards have a picture of a man lifting a girl –with both hands – above his head and the other side an invitation, to come in, and talk with us.

A woman is pushing a buggy, laden with carrier bags that hang from its handles.  Her head is wrapped in a scarf trimmed with gold. She has two toddlers in tow and no time to stop. Another woman – by herself - ambles towards the shop.  She picks up the paper and looks through the pages. Shakes her head, not with distain, but puzzled and asks why is it free? Suspicious. An older couple, probably pensioners, probably husband and wife, walk towards the papers, they look down at the cover they frown and walk away.

A mum with two school aged daughters, looks through the pages, she smiles and nods, as if to agree. A female student and her boyfriend are holding hands, they each pick up a paper, then read some of the things people have written on the chalk boards at the front of the shop, about dancing and family and love, they half smile and wander away.

There’s a family stood outside the shop talking with another. A boy - waist high to the adults - raises his arms, pushes his palms up high and pulls them swiftly down, he bends his knees, twists his waist, shakes his shoulders and repeats. His younger brother - knee high - jolts and judders, wiggles his bum and giggles. They hold on to each other, smiling, touching, as they move to the music in the mall. Their sister swings her braids behind her shoulder seriously and deliberately, casually rocking a pushchair.  The adults keep chatting, unaware.

Parents and pushchairs and baskets of socks, busy faces, fed up faces, funny faces, faces that want to play and faces that want to shop. Piles of newspapers and puzzled faces, curious faces, faces that dance, faces that care.

That evening below the viaduct, around the corner from the big purple letters of the dance studios on St. Johns Road, in a bar, is a party.  A 30th birthday, where friends and family are arriving and as they do, locals slowly begin to leave, crossing paths, making space for a private celebration.

There are blond babies in big tattooed arms, toddlers on shoulders, blokes who hug and slap each other on the back, blokes who jiggle tiny tots who are tugging and playing with their nana’s hair. A girl in bright pink jellies and a flowery skirt clasps hands with a man and he begins to spin her round and round in circles. There are only two cubicles in the bathroom and a human chain of adults passing children back and forth to avoid any accidents.

No suspicion, no uncertain faces. Simply smiles and love. So many different people. Different voices going about their days. Shopping, celebrating, talking, living in one place.

 

The ways of dancing have changed. 

They don’t dance together they dance apart. They were more romantically in those days, more enjoyable.

Today you have to shout, you’ve got to shout to be heard.

 

She used to love to sing and to dance, to music. 

I’d go play the piano for her.

  

There was nothing in the paper then,

nothing went on in those days

 

She’s twelve now and her friends keep telling her to stop doing cartwheels.  There’s this strip of grass that’s lovely out front and she’s in the playground doing handstands and cartwheels, and they’re telling her to stop… but, how lovely to not have inhibitions like that

 

Kids have a different childhood now

 

We have a memory of something culturally different

 

…that’s why we didn’t know,

because we didn’t question those people who were in power

  

I think the idea of play has changed

 

Permission to play is not really afforded to men

 

I would still say proceed with caution

 

Protection. Permission. Play. We were here to make a show, to make a company, to make connections with people. People, who wanted to talk about men and girls and dance. People who wanted to talk about dancing and the people they love. People, who wanted to talk about being people and their fears.

To talk about ideas about masculinity, about men and women and about who cares. About who can demonstrate love and where.  At home or on your street, in the park, the pub or the shopping mall. Talking with people in Huddersfield we heard questions about what we see, and what we don’t, about who looks at who, how and why. 

We talked with men. Fathers and grandfathers. Brothers and uncles. Men who have daughters and sisters and nieces. Men who danced with their wives whilst courting. Men who stood small children and growing grandchildren on their feet to waltz.  

Men who read things in newspapers. Men who hear about things in newspapers. Men who believe things in newspapers. Men who question things in newspapers. Men who are strong. Men who are fragile. Men who are afraid. Men who love. Men who are cautious. Men who care.  

Men who told us about the things that were in the newspapers eighty years ago and the kind of things that are in them now. They talked about where this information comes from, how it comes to be a headline and how they do or don’t find information elsewhere in a digital age.

We heard from men and women about nearness, about neighbours and knowing. About times when people knew everyone on their street and how today, they don’t. How people played out from light to dark and how there wasn’t so much fear. Some people remembered a different time, of physical intimacy, between families and friends and neighbours. Some people remembered families who weren’t physical or tactile at all.

We heard from people about how they are connected, by computer, to people all over the world that they may never meet in person. Never shake their hand or hug but feel incredibly close to and then we heard concerns about the online identities of very young people.

In conversations after the shows, some people who work in education talked about shifts they’ve observed over time, in the children they teach and in what they can teach. We talked about who has permission to play, children and adults, who has time to play and how we play, in person or in the ether. 

 And this led on to more talk about connection, about touch and about looking, about different histories of looking at different moments in time, in different places, generations, faiths and cultures, in neighbourhoods, communities, in papers, on stage, online and in person.

 

Fourty years ago I played out on the street when I was growing up

and in the park

my older sister's six-foot boyfriend would swing me about

  

 

My husband and I can be out with our three year old and if I walk away,

say to pay, and she cries,

people look at him differently to they way they would at me

 

 

Adults and children are being separated by professionalism

  

 

Something’s shifted, we’ve been able to delay having children,

to have a career…. There is ‘something,’ people feel about those of us

who don’t have children

 

I loved how happy the men and girls looked

  

 

It’s raised one of my most precious memories, of my dad putting me on his feet. That tenderness wrapped in strength, totally positive to be carried, to be held

 

 

I loved playing with fun adults,

fun men,

when I was a little girl

  

You made me cry tears of joy

 

 

We have forgotten how to play

 

We heard that tears shouldn’t always be for sadness and that touch shouldn’t have to be suspicious. That play might need to be remembered. That something as joyous and wonderful as men and girls dancing together shouldn’t require bravery but perhaps, because of all the things we’d heard and talked about, it seems at this moment, it does.

We talked for hours and noted that sometimes it was hard, sometimes it was uncomfortable, to talk and to listen about what we don’t, often, together.  That these things need more space, more time, more attention. We wanted to talk more but didn’t quite know how. 

 

 We’ve stopped talking and it needs talked about

 

And we came to wondering how do we talk about what we don’t have the words for, how do we go beyond the words we’ve been given, how do we find other words, better words, words that reflect what we really feel, words that tell other stories, with words people choose for themselves. 

 

Those words have been given to us

and I want to give them back

 

All quotes participants of The Talking Place, Huddersfield