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Nightwatch: So you think you can dance?

'There will be dancing." Not a phrase for the faint-hearted, the stiff of knee, the gammy of ankle. But check this: it was to be dancing with Venezuelans. Irish people versus gorgeous, brown-skinned people with snake hips. Unfair, no? But when your friend decides to marry into said race of gods and goddesses, one has no choice but to pony up for a new pair of dancing shoes and represent the Riverdancing posse.

The South Americans have their salsa, their rhumba, their cha cha cha. We got nothing. Actually, that's not strictly true.

The Riverdance phenomenon is clearly as Irish as shamrocks -- but it's more of a spectator sport, really. It's not that easy to translate to the dancefloor of a wedding reception. It takes choreography, geometrically precise lines and some seriously bouncy ringlets. And unless you are light on your feet like the superhoofer Flatley -- 36 heel'n'toe taps per second, people -- it can look like you're trying to pound a hole in the floor all the way to Tasmania. They love a spot of Riverdance, those Tasmanians.

On the night, the Venezuelans were all sleek pirouettes, deft footwork and flashing eyes. At the same time, they looked completely nonchalant. Their top halves hardly seemed to move at all -- it was all in the legwork. They could easily have been eating a slice of wedding cake and balancing a pint up above while the bottom half glided around the room. They are a nation on invisible roller blades.

The Irish, meanwhile, took up residence by the bar and in one corner of the floor. Is there some rule that we can never be further than five feet from the main source of lubrication? No one could blame us. Isn't there a general perception that the way you throw shapes on the dancefloor reflects how you carry out the, er, horizontal mambo?

As it turned out, we weren't the only ones sucking up the Dutch courage. The Venezuelans had glasses of rum and cokes secreted all about the hall, but we didn't notice that. We were too busy trying to figure out how a torso could do a 180-degree twist at the waist without lasting spinal injury.

This all sounds a little depressing, I know. So here is the good news: it turns out the Irish can dance, in our own peculiar fashion. It just takes a little bit of encouragement.

In this case, the Venezuelan DJ decided to do the right thing and dragged us all out en masse to the floor for a Macarena-style/Rock the Boat/audience participation thingy. It broke the ice and we broke a sweat.

I'd like to enter it into the record here that the Irish are pretty inventive dancers when you get them going. I think we've become more flexible because we can't really fall back on the traditional dance we were brought up with -- the pre-Riverdance jigs and reels where your arms were strapped to your side by some hardcore Scorn a nOg harridan.

So while those with rhythm in their gene pool stick to their tried and tested gyrations, we are open to all sorts of external influences. From the Irish contingent, I definitely saw versions of the jive and the waltz, mixed in with some wild swing-your-partner in the style of the Siege of Ennis. There was evidence of big fish, small fish, cardboard box from the nostalgic ravers in the group. For some reason, Elvis and Run DMC seem to have made an impact on the Irish psyche: there was an uncertain mishmash of hip-clicking and running on the spot.

The overall effect was a group of toddlers let loose after being pumped with orange squash and fizzy cola bottles. It was wild but it was utterly joyous. It reminded me of that time Crystal Swing got on the Ellen show. Derek, proud ambassador for all things showband, circled and swooped on the unsuspecting audience with his version of the Hucklebuck. Who cared that Ellen looked aghast at the sight of this man-child running crazy in her studio? Not our Derek.

I'm all for taking my dancing tips from Derek's Crystal Swing. Be braver, be more reckless, dance like no one's watching.

If worst comes to worst, we can always bring back the slow set and circle on the spot.

Irish Independent