I’m not sure whether ballroom dancing has the same international reputation as it does in the UK, but this story was brought on by watching Strictly Come Dancing (Dancing with the Stars in the US, I think) which goes to Blackpool this weekend. My other main influence for the story comes from Ralph McTell’s song, ‘Doreen Was Dancing’. My story is just over 1000 words, and I hope you enjoy it.
The Lure of Blackpool
Doreen kicked off her high-heeled dancing shoes and sank into the tattered sofa in the dressing room. She stared ahead, ignoring glances from the other women as they sped in and out, in various stages of undress, some having completed their competition, others changing into the leotard-based flimsies they would wear for the Latin dances.
Only when the last of the competitors left did she get up, moving stiff-legged to her own bag, pulling it over to a grubby desk in front of a fly-blown mirror. The face that looked back at her was heavily painted to keep the sparkling eyes and fixed grin in place, even when a grimace or howl was a more honest expression. Only a fellow competitor would detect the fiercely protected eyeliner smudged under a fought-back tear. The regional final was over. Doreen and her partner had not qualified, by just one position. So close. The difference between a reverse fleckle and a second ronde-jambe. She had told him, so many times, they needed more content. “No,” Martin had said. “Perfect precision will take us through.”
Perfect precision. Hah!
Maureen and Colin had not had perfect precision. They had a second ronde-jambe. Style marks equal, content marks plus one. Doreen could not decide who she hated more, Maureen, Colin or Martin. If Maureen reached the finals in the Latin as well, Doreen would kill her.
The finals would be in Blackpool. In the Grand Ballroom underneath the Tower. The world-famous Tower Ballroom. World-famous for a reason. It was the centre of the ballroom universe, and everybody knew it. The huge, perfectly sprung floor, the tiers of galleries for spectators – it could hold nearly one thousand of them, and nearly as many dancers. And now, after daily training and nightly sequin sewing, on five costumes, each with seventeen layers of petticoat, plus the shoes and the hairpins… Doreen looked at her fingers, first the beautifully manicured nails, then turned them over to reveal the red and painful fingers, and the callouses from both needles and the machine shop where she worked the early shift. Doreen Matlock and Martin Filey, sponsored by Arkwright’s. She imagined Mr Arkwright’s sneer when she gave him the news. Maybe she would leave it to Martin.
That would be the end of the dream. No more full pay for half days from Arkwright’s. Not when they hadn’t made the finals. Not when the Easeborough Gazette would connect Arkwright’s with ‘losers Matlock and Filey’. Arkwright’s wanted winners, to promote their machine parts all over the world. Reliable, stylish, precision, just like the dancers.
The knock at the door was followed by a timid,”Doreen, are you there, love? It’s time to go. Car’s waiting.”
How long would they have a car? Not long. If only they could have gone to Blackpool.
She checked the face that she’d been absent-mindedly smearing with cold cream, and wiped it clean, hurried brushing up her eyelashes and reapplying a milder shade of lipstick. “Coming!” He would wait.
The telegram from the Ballroom Committee to Mr Martin Filey took him by surprise. He raced from his desk in the accounts office, through the corridors at Arkwright’s down to the machine shop. He hovered in the doorway, trying to get the foreman’s attention.
“What’s up, then?”
“I need to see Doreen, Miss Matlock, straight away.” Martin’s urgency and excitement made the foreman’s eyebrow rise, but he went over to the line and pulled one of the packers in while Doreen stepped out for a few minutes.
They stepped out of the din into the frosty autumn air. “What is it, then, Martin?”
“Read this! It just came! We’re in!”
Doreen took the paper and read it carefully. “Due to the indisposition of one of the qualifiers, the committee requests you to compete in the final. Confirm acceptance soonest.”
Doreen smiled while she read it, but changed her expression as she looked up. “You mean? Martin, we’re going! We’re going to Blackpool!”
Martin took her in his arms and waltzed her round the yard, grey suit and dungarees making a strange contrast to their normal attire.
There was no time for new costumes, just a few extra sequins in a contrasting colour to emphasise her shoulder-line. The committee kindly told them where the previous contestants had been booked in, so they took up the rooms at a two star bed & breakfast with relief. Frantic rehearsals followed, both improvements they’d invented for their routines, and formal rehearsals for the competitions themselves, which were to be televised. Everything was double-checked and second-stitched. Wardrobe malfunctions could spell disaster. This was their big chance! At Blackpool!
There was an air of sadness mixed with the excitement, though. The news had rippled through the ensemble that the pair who had withdrawn had been murdered. No, only the woman, Maureen Allison, had been murdered. Suspicion had fallen on her partner. Apparently he had been furious for their narrow escape in the qualifiers.
“That can’t be right, surely,” Martin said to nobody in particular. “All that matters is making it here – narrow escape or not.”
“Aye, everyone starts on a level footing,” said the man next to him, retying his white tie yet again. “Do you use the ready-tied ones? Does anyone object?”
“Only old Farthingale, and he’s not judging this year.”
Such was the attention given to the shocking murder of Miss Allison.
The competition went on. The sparkling dresses whirled and swayed, and crushed against their partners’ legs. Tears were shed, and angry words were shouted.
Martin’s assertion, that perfect precision would win, took them further than they had dreamed, through the knock-out stages into the group finals, and now, the all-round Grand Final.
All that ended when the police arrived and took Doreen away for questioning. Martin watched, hands fallen by his sides, jaw slack, supported by his sister, who had vouched for his whereabouts on the night of the murder.
If only the police had left it one more day, they would have danced in the finals and, who knows, held that glittering trophy aloft.
It was the one variable he had not been able to choreograph with perfect precision. Bad timing.
© J M Pett 2016
picture from a YouTube recording of the World Junior Ballroom Championships 2009, sourced from Google Images