Delights are all the more delightful when they come as a rare treat. It’s good not to overdo them, rob them of their enchantment. But although tonight is a rare treat, I’m a long way from saturation…

The rhythms and melodies speak to my soul beyond logical understanding; the resonance of many ancestors whose feet danced these patterns, who leapt and whirled to these rhythms, who played endless variations on these melodies.

We begin to dance a little clumsily, but as we share throughout the hall the innocent joy of skipping,  radiant smiles, exultant leaps, spontaneous jokes, hilarity in the chaos… from that chaos emerges beautiful, imperfect order.

We are performing timeworn and intricate movements: celebrating men, celebrating women, celebrating us all. The dances offer encounters as various in their quality as the connection of linked arms, the close and fluid coupling of the waltz, the delicacy of a little finger twirl, the wildness of galloping away together, the fleeting encounter of each hand grasped in a chain of many hands, the pleasure of familiarity as you once again face your partner, panting and eyes shining; be they your partner for life, for the evening, or for just one dance.

There is curiosity with each new engagement amidst all these happy, anonymous souls: a sense of being moved by the old gentleman dancing elegantly on bare feet, a little awed by the beautiful red-haired woman with eyes of cold green fire, charmed by the polite young brothers, a poignancy around the smart woman wearing a blue dress and a worried face. Their stories brush against yours for the evening.

And then I drift into imagining what can never again be. Imagine if this room was not made of concrete, with bright spotlights suspended from girders. Imagine we are in a crooked barn, dancing through the flicker of lantern shadows. Instead of being strangers to one other, we have mostly made our way here from the same village. Others have travelled from more remote, strange dwellings. We are all loosely related by blood, connection or history; our stories woven together through the struggles and triumphs of countless lifetimes. Our dancing honours that weaving, the fiddlers and pipers alchemists in celebratory ritual.

For a moment, sharp grief for what’s been lost to us could overwhelm me. So I bring myself present again, to this shadow puppetry of the long-ago dances.

And… in this place, in this company, it’s plain that I am nevertheless suffused with beautiful, imperfect happiness. We have lost those deep, twisting connections that were integral to the human story for so many thousands of years. But when we engage, when we dance together, the simple joy of connection comes surging right back through us. And we can create this, wherever and whenever we choose.

On stage to bring the night to an end is Pan himself, disguised in a blue striped T shirt, the points of his ears only just hidden under thick curly white hair.

Euan, euan, euoi-oi-oi!



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