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My First Dance   1477  
Creators: Valerie Joanne Higgins (Writer)
Ivara is an elder of the Snow Unicorn Riders. Ashegoi is a retired female actor of male roles in The Empire. They have never met, but each has vivid memories of the first dance they attended as an adult!
Posted: 04/13/10      [1 Comment] ~ 2598 words.


"My first drum dance? We all play danced on the drums as children, but my first real dance as an adult was the same day my age set passed our adulthood tests!

We had been out in the marshes that day, gathering fire-bell roots and insect bites.

The ranger who led our age set out into the marsh, took a bag of the roots and threw it out into the water. He said "De" had fainted and fallen in, we had to rescue her.

You think we were going to lose a whole bag of roots after all that work?

We rescued "De" all right. Then he asked us a whole lot of questions about how you look after someone that's been half drowned.

He told us we had passed our final tests and we were adults.

Forget how tired and muddy we were; we laughed and joked all the way into the summer gather camp."


"My first formal dance was a week or two after I got my school certificates. I was a bit angry with Father because he didn't have the money to pay for my licenses right away.

He did get paid though, at the end of his run. He queued with me five hours to buy my Employment Licence and my Senior Study Licence, and the next day queued all day again with me to get my Acting Guild Membership. He was very proud of me even if he wasn't good at putting money by.

Father managed to get me invited to that year's Grand Dance and Awards ceremony at the Alliance of Entertainment Guilds; one of his plays was up for an award. He said I could make some important contacts!"


"There were some clean tunics hung on bushes near the laundry tent so we each grabbed one that more or less fit. The girls went to the stream, and the boys ran down to the beach. We stripped naked and washed the mud and marsh water off us. We screamed and shivered in the cold water.

I unfastened the braids from my hair and combed it loose so that it hung below my hips.

Then we went to find the raisers, we all hugged goodbye. Not really truly, goodbye, but just to say we weren't children anymore.

Me and Ruvardu found a quiet corner and sat and rethreaded our necklaces. We left untied the childhood knot in the centre and added our age-set bead. We stared at each other very conscious of the naked leather space in the centre of our necklaces.

I dug out the pack I had left with the raisers and found my new drumming shoes.

I could smell pan-bread and fish cooking outside the tent, and some of the drummers had started practising."


"With the licence fees and my new gown for the Grand Dance, my family were pretty much broke, but a friend I was at school with was studying make-up with the Theatrical Guild. She reckoned evening make-up wasn't any harder than make up for stage. She came and painted my face.

My mother spent hours piling my hair on top of my head in coils and ringlets.

My gown was all in a single colour. Soft beige, as befitted my lowly rank as a new Guild Member, but the fabric was lush, and it was pleated and had self coloured embroidery. It looked even more expensive than it was.

I still looked like an apprentice, but like an apprentice from a wealthy family. Theatrical folk are good at putting on appearances.

I looked at my reflection in the bronze mirror that my mother always swore came from her grandparents grand house. I looked impossibly perfect, like one of those porcelain dolls with real hair that guild masters' children are given but not allowed to play with."


"The shadow nights were past, but the sun still shone late in the sky. We stopped by a fire and ate some grilled fish.

I tilted my head and pretended to ignore the boys negotiating with one of the best bead makers. They were arguing about who would do the best job of oiling the tents. I caught Ruvardu's eye and we had to hide our giggles. The boys worked hard enough when they needed to, but it was so funny for them to be going looking for extra work to do.

We walked barefoot through the camp on our way to the huge dancing tent, carrying our drumming shoes swung from our hands by their long ankle straps.

Ruvardu's mother came and found her with a honey pasty as a gift to celebrate being adult.

A few minutes later one of my older brothers walked over with a smile and a hug and a new comb he had made for me, such a pretty comb, I still have it.

Ruvardu and I sat down on the skins outside the tent flaps and strapped on our drumming shoes. Then we ducked from the bright sunshine into the hot dimness that smelt of oiled leather and thin beer."


"I don't know how my father afforded the grand carriage. We didn't own it, but even to hire one was more than we could really afford. It might have been a loan from one of his fans of course.

I took my father for granted at the time, but looking back, he must have been quite famous. Whenever we walked down a street together or rode a railcar when I was little, there were always people who would call out to us or come and speak to him.

We rode in style to the entrance of the guild hall where this years Grand Dance was being held. I walked behind my parents up the marble steps.

Liveried waiters greeted us in the entrance hall. They took our cloaks and offered glasses of wine which everyone accepted, and dainty things to eat which everyone ignored. Then we followed the crowd through into the vast galleried dance hall, brilliantly lit with expensive time crystal chandeliers."


"The floor of the tent was covered with furs and rugs, covering the tussocky roughness of the grass beneath.

There were five great dancing drums in the centre of the tent, with a good space to stand around each.

Drummers sat with their hand drums in groups around the edge of the tent. Most of the really good drummers were just lounging and drinking beer but a few people who were learning to drum were starting to beat up a rhythm together. They would pick up a beat, and do pattern and answer, and it would start to go really well, then someone would show off a bit too much, and the beat would go ragged again.

After a while they picked up a beat that caught you in the gut and I saw that more drummers were joining in.

Pickled radishes were being passed around for people who wanted to sing, they crammed in great mouthfuls, until their eyes watered and their friends laughed. Then ballooning mouthfuls of beer, bowing low and bending their heads forwards for a measured count then tilting their heads back. They rubbed their shoulders and their scalps and slapped their throats laughing. Then they dropped back their heads and let out the voice that echoes in your bones."


"A factotum announced us and we walked across the polished wooden dance floor to our table alcove under the gallery. We arranged ourselves so that everyone could see us to best advantage. Then we had to sit and listen to the names being announced as other people arrived, so boring.

It was interesting to see some of the great actors and singers, but a lot of the people arriving were high up officials, not of interest to a young girl. It went on and on, and then the welcoming speeches started...

Eventually the orchestra filed into place, and after the bows and introductions were at last ready to play music for the first dance."


"We crowded between the dancing drums, swaying in time to the drone of the throat singers and the beat of the hand drums.

We yipped and hollered and beat on the edge of the nearest dancing drum with our fists.

Reqem started a low "Ye ye ye yiiiii" strutting backwards and swaying his shoulders, we cleared his running path to the drum as he backed up. One, two, three, four, and he vaulted up onto the drum. He strutted and stamped in a circle arms raised over his head while all the girls round that drum yi yi-ed reaching their arms up to him. He whirled, bending his body and reaching out his arms while we screamed. He grabbed a girl by her wrists and swung her up to dance with him, and the wild beat of the drum dance added to the hand drumming and the yipping and singing. Oh yes! I had to be up there!

I hollered and drummed and screamed and yipped. Whenever I saw a gap in the dancers on the drums, I wriggled and fought to the edge of that drum reaching and yi yi-ing. Finally Firl lifted me on to a drum and I was dancing wildly with the drumbeat in my blood, swinging the veil of my hair, stamping and hollering! I knew that at the next dance, I would vault the drum myself and not wait to be lifted!"


"The name of the first dance was announced, and we filed in orderly fashion to our places in line, discreetly shuffling ourselves to arms width distance. The orchestra struck a beginning chord, and the dance began. It was terrifying and complicated, I was so worried I would shame my family by turning the wrong way in a figure of the dance. I held up my chin and kept my arms neatly by my side. I walked my way through the pattern of steps with all the women on my side of the floor, while across the hall the men danced our mirror image. Then we crossed, each group weaving through each other in neat patterns, untouching.

I reached my chair again, and was pleased to sit down without having embarrassed myself. There were more speeches, and awards given. Some of the companies being awarded performed their stage dances or scenes from their plays. It would be a while until there was another interlude when we would need to dance again."


"I wanted to dance on the drum again but it was hot and we were very thirsty, Firl and I went to find some cool beer!

Ruvardu found me again, looking a bit reproachful that I had just dived off into the crowd to get a place on a drum. I hugged her and mouthed "Sorry" over the noise. Ruvardu shrugged and smiled and Firl handed her a tankard of beer.

I'm not tall enough to see far in a crowd but Reqem was down from the drum, and a space had cleared near us where he was singing. He had stripped to his waist and his knitted underwear clung tight to his legs. His head was leaning back; he was lost in his voice, his mouth shaping the harmonics, the muscles of his stomach rippling as he supported the notes. Ah, Reqem was beautiful. And Firl would look after Ruvardu, and she would forgive me.

When Reqem had finished singing and the crowd closed around him, I moved with the crowd and made sure I ended up crushed against him."


"One of the sample performances was the scene from "The Golden Plague" where Dier menaces Tosira on the fortress ramparts. He threatens to burn her to death in case she should survive to reveal his treachery. It's a barnstorming monologue from Dier, though Tosira doesn't do much except simper and look scared.

I said to my father that Dier was the best part in the play. He smiled and said "Well maybe you will play him one day!"

To play Dier one day when I was old enough, I would have to be in an all women company. That wasn't too bad an idea, women who played male roles often had a huge fan following. When you lost your youthful prettiness there were more meaty older roles than you would get in straight role theatre. Of course there were reverse mixed sex companies but comedy romances didn't have the great dramatic roles I yearned to play. I quietly widened my options.

As I walked through the measures of the next dance I was less nervous. My mind was busy plotting who I would need to speak to.

I walked back to my father with a smile and asked him to escort me around the hall in the interlude and introduce me. Bless him; I think he had already spoken about me to his contacts. I had many compliments, and made a great many appointments for the next tenday."


"Dancing with Reqem was like a dream. We beat time together whirling and stamping and howling! My tunic belled out, I could think with my body how a wider skirt would swing round in the dance.

We leaped down from the drum in unison, the crowd around us catching us and laughing!

I hung on his arm. Reqem laughed down at the very obvious eyelash gestures I was making at him, pointing with his head at the tent flap. He grabbed his pouch and tunic and we slipped out into the coolness outside.

Full night had fallen, if only for a couple of hours. A few more weeks and we would be heading back to the winter villages. The Past had lead The Present into the sky and The Future was yet to be revealed.

We stopped by a cook fire to eat roasted roots and shellfish thrown from their bucket to open on the hot ashes.

Then hand in hand Reqem and I walked down to the shore by the light of The Present. I held tightly to Reqem, you could never be quite sure what monster might come from salt water.

At the edge of the waves, where The Present light gleamed on the wet shells, Reqem stooped to pick up a strong ridged shell: He took an awl from his pouch and carefully bored a hole in the shell.

I remember the smell of the sea and the feel of wet sand between my toes as Reqem placed the shell in the palm of my hand and wrapped my fingers around it."


"The awards and speeches went on for hours. I sat and smiled. I walked and promenaded. I stepped neatly through the formal dances, and smiled, and smiled, and smiled.

By the end of the evening I had many prettily printed leaflets to tuck into my licence pouch. Each leaflet had an appointment time scrawled on the back. A lot of people had made me very pretty promises; some of them even meant what they said.

I was determined that I would go to many more such award ceremonies, boring as they were. I was going to play the great roles. I was going to be accepting the awards.

My head ached from the tightness of the coils and ringlets, my feet hurt in my too tight fancy shoes.

It didn't matter; I walked down the marble steps behind my parents, to the waiting carriage with excitement in my heart and a head full of plans!"

Author's Notes

Northerners and The Empire have very different ways of celebrating a dance, this is my exercise in compare and contrast.

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Characters Featured:
Ivara, Firl, Ashegoi, Reqem, Ruvardu,

Story collections:
Senseless, Part 4
All Northern Stories and Art
Red Glass, Green Glass (Poem)

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(These stories may be unrelated)
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Senseless, Part 4
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Red Glass, Green Glass (Poem)

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