“What’s this Mum?”

“It’s called a dance card,” laughed Nancy taking the yellowed card from her daughter and opening it carefully. As she stared at it she felt herself tear up as she read the name next to the box, ‘Last Dance’.

“You OK Mum?” said Elizabeth, Nancy’s 20-year-old daughter, soon to be 21 on the 1st of January, putting an arm around her mother.

“It was your father’s,” Nancy laughed as she cheered up a little, “When your father was a young man he was a bit of a dancer and a bit of a charmer. He would collect loads of the cards where he would write his name against the last dance and then give them out to the girls as they arrived at the dance hall. He always used to say, one of them had to say yes.”

“So how did you two meet?” Elizabeth said as she loved hearing the story of the father she never knew and knew it would only take the briefest of nudges to get her mother talking.

“Well,” Nancy began, “When I was younger I was a bit wilder than I am today…”


“Nancy Surgeon I sentence you to 100 hours of community service.” The judge paused and looked over the top of her glasses and stared at the young girl in front of her disapprovingly before continuing, “And I would warn you that failure to comply with the order within six months will result in a custodial sentence.”

“Sweet fucking Jesus,” Nancy said under her breath as she heard the gavel bang down. “100 hours in six months, that’s gonna cost me half a day a week for the next six months.”

Nancy continued her muttering as she followed the directions of the court official until she found the room with the words ‘Community Service Office.’ Entering the bleak room she looked around at the walls where there were a variety of small postcards pinned on the boards with an assortment of labels ranging from ‘Working with children’ through to ‘Outside work’.

Nancy was still upset with the judge as Community Service was tantamount to slave labour. What she had hoped for was the recently introduced ASBO (Anti-Social Behaviour Order) that would have been a badge of honour on the estate she lived on in a rough part of Streatham. OK she thought to herself they were being noisy and yes OK they did cause a little bit of damage, and perhaps they were a little bit drunk on cheap cider. But what the hell it was boring around the estate as she had nothing to do since leaving school three years ago at 16. The longer unemployment went on the worse her job prospects became but at least she wasn’t pregnant like half her mates. Not that she was a virgin just she made sure she took precautions rather than leaving it to the idiot boys who were always sniffing around with grand promises in the hopes of getting inside her knickers. She didn’t take drugs either, well perhaps the occasional spliff but nothing hardcore, she had no desire to end up like some of the skanks who would do anything for a rock or a twist of white powder.

She was still congratulating herself mentally when a voice from behind the screen in the corner shouted out, “The cards have hours per week written on them so make sure you pick one that will allow you to complete your sentence. If you don’t pick one before the end of the day then one will be allocated to you.”

That would explain Nancy thought as to why the room was empty, as most of the offenders just took what they were given and then try to get out of it later. She on the other hand had been given some sound advice by her older brother before she appeared in court, “If you get community service go to the room and have a pick, at least that way you won’t get something shitty like cleaning out pig styes.”

She ignored the ones saying farm work as it would wreck her nails and the thought of shovelling animal shit made her feel ill. She didn’t fancy working with children as that wasn’t as glamorous as it sounded and often involved cleaning toilets in nurseries so baby shit instead of animal shit. Picking up litter was just degrading and her hair would go frizzy in the damp, and worse of all the yellow hi-viz jacket looked awful.

Picking up a card she looked at it and considered it for a moment. ‘Help at old people’s tea dance. 4 hours per week must be able to dance.’ “Excellent,” she thought to herself, she knew she could throw a few moves on the dance floor and with old people as well it should be an easy number. Walking over to the clerk behind the screen she handed it over, mentally congratulating herself on picking out what was going to be boring but an easy way of passing the time, if nothing else it would give her something to do. The good news was that she should be able to get it well finished by the end of the year, well the end of the millennium even if it was a shitty way to start it.

The clerk looked at the card and then leafed through the ledger to find the details. Writing the address on the back of the card she held it out to Nancy but didn’t let go.

“Now you listen up young lady. It says here that you need to dress correctly, jacket & tie for the boys and a knee-length dress with sensible shoes for the girls. You will have to do a trial on Wednesday which is the practise day and it won’t count from your sentence. If you fail the trial then you will have to keep going on your own time until you pass.”

Nancy avoided saying anything but rolled her eyes, “How difficult could it be to dance for heaven’s sake?”

The woman released the card and smiled almost wickedly as she said sarcastically, “They will send a register of the hours off your sentence, just remember without their approval it doesn’t count… and most come back with their tail between their legs.”


The following Wednesday Nancy stood outside the run down dingy hall where the sign stating ‘Clapham Community Centre’ had been sprayed over in a variety of paint sprays. Nancy had to borrow a dress from her grandmother, of all people and had the last school shoes she had worn that could only just be classed as sensible, well they were flattish at least.

Entering into the hall she gave the old woman sitting at the table her name who after scouring the list tutted as she said, “Community Service… community hooligan no doubt.” Then looking Nancy up and down with disdain clearly written across her face sniffed, “Sit over there and wait for Mr Watts.” then muttered under her breath to the woman sitting next to her in a voice loud enough for Nancy to hear, “First and last time for that floozy you mark my words.”

Nancy realised that she was the only girl among the half a dozen youths that were sitting in the hard chairs, clearly uncomfortable in their jackets with ties that had a huge knot and were half undone. They were laughing and joking in hushed tones though they all fell silent when a sprightly old man walked in and stood in front of them.

“OK for those of you who don’t know me my name is Bill Watts but you may call me Sir.” The man paused and looked at the faces before him then pointed at two of the boys sitting there sheepishly as he said sharply, “Thompson and Jones, your last chance today. Fail and you are gone as not suitable.”

He then turned and his stern face broke into a smile as he addressed the two witches who had checked Nancy in, “Mrs Gladstone and Miss Symes if you would be so kind.”

Turning back the remaining audience he watched the two boys stand and walk as if they were going to the gallows, “Look lively you two.” Then he pressed a button on an old ‘boom box’ and the sound of old fashioned dance music started to echo out as the two boys took their respective partners.

Nancy watched in horror as the two boys started to try to guide the two old women around the room in a dance that Nancy had only seen on television before in the old black & white movies. Her shock was shared by the remaining new boys who watched as whilst the smaller boy with the sandy hair seemed to be doing OK the other taller dark-haired lad was drawing squeals of pain from his partner.

“Thompson stop,” barked Bill, “Clearly you haven’t practised and you are still trying to kick poor Mrs Gladstone into the middle of next week. Time for you to return to whence you came and seek out something more suitable.”

Nancy saw a look cross the face of the boy and his hand move towards his pocket. She had a sudden fear that things were about to turn out badly for the stern old man but to her surprise, he just smiled and stood there relaxed.

“Now son, one of two things is about to happen. Either you are getting a comb from your pocket to deal with your hair or you are reaching for a knife. One of those is a wise and necessary thing to do when looking at the tangled mop you call your hairstyle but the other will mean that you will be walking with a limp for the rest of your life. Your choice young man, make your decision.”

Nancy was in awe. She had never seen someone remain this calm before in a situation that could turn very ugly very quickly but the man seemed to radiate control. He stared at the lad with cold blue eyes that remained unwavering, no emotion was visible on his weathered face apart from a wry smile of amusement.

The lad must have decided that discretion was the better part of valour and made a weak joke about having hair, then he muttered a few curses under his breath and left, kicking a chair as he did so, though had made sure he was well out of reach.

Nancy found herself gazing at the man with admiration and to her surprise found herself getting slightly damp even though he must have been old enough to be her grandfather.

“You can put the doe eyes away young lady, I am far too old for that and you won’t get any preferential treatment just because you are female. Three strikes and you are out, same as the boys.”

Bill then looked at the room, “Mr Jones you have passed… finally… so report for duty on Saturday at 1 o’clock sharp. As for the rest of you, we will see where we are starting from, so please take your partners. You young lady will be partnered by me, so let’s see what you know.”

By the end of the afternoon, Nancy was close to tears with frustration. At first, it had seemed strange being guided by the man and had resisted the lead. After frequent stops and starts with admonishments from Bill she had relaxed into his grip and allowed his gentle touches to guide her direction and movement. His hand on the small of her back burnt like it was on fire yet the reality was it was as light as a feather as was the grip on her hand as he whispered gently “left, back, side, together.”

Grasping the three simple steps seemed to elude Nancy as she would forget which foot to move first or which one to move together and spent most of the time with her head staring down between their bodies trying to watch her feet. She was amazed that at no time did Bill step on her feet even when she got it wrong as he seemed to anticipate her mistake and take steps to correct it. After an hour of being led around the dance floor, they stopped and Bill guided her to a chair into which she gratefully slumped, if for no other reason than to rest her aching feet.

“So it is quite clear you have never danced before,” Bill started watching the young girl’s face.”Your attempts to trip me up, well I assume that is what you were doing, were amusing. Your hand on my shoulder felt like you were at some point going to launch yourself into the air and it is clear that you have no idea between your left and your right foot.”

Nancy felt like she was going to cry as Bill’s assessment whilst harsh was totally accurate, as he went on,

“You were of course hampered by those,” as his gaze travelled down to the clumpy shoes that Nancy was wearing he said, “What size are you?”

“Four,” Nancy replied instantly.

“Good the same size as my Betty was, I will bring you a set of dancing shoes next Wednesday,” Then leaned so close Nancy could smell his old spice aftershave he whispered, “If you do well next week then we will count it towards reducing your time served.”

Bill then stood and handed her an old book that had a black and white drawing of a man and a woman on the front in an embrace. As she looked at the cover Nancy had a sudden thought that inside would be pictures of men and women in sexual poses. She almost giggled as she wondered whether he had just handed her an old fashion pornography book like ‘The Joy of Sex’ when she realised Bill had handed one to each of the young men as well.

“Study chapter one as it gives you the movement for the basic dances, the waltz and the foxtrot. See you all next Wednesday when you will need to perform a reasonable waltz. We will then try the foxtrot and assuming that is OK we will progress to Saturday afternoon where you can commence repaying your debt to society.”


The following week Nancy stood in the dance hall in the same floral dress she had borrowed from her Grandmother which looked a little strange against the garish pink and black trainers she had on. She was clutching the book in her hand that she had read from end to end and had practised the waltz and the foxtrot with a giant 3-foot teddy she shared a bed with, a gift her father had won for her at Clacton pier when she was younger.

When she had started this community service she had done so with the expectation that it would be boring and tedious. Instead, as she had read the book, well more devoured it, she had been enraptured by the magical world that had opened up. She had borrowed a video from her Grandmother of old Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers movies and watched them in her room, spellbound by their grace and elegance.

She had even read the pages describing the Cha-Cha and the Rhumba, trying to picture what that would be like for her to perform something that seemed almost magical. At the very back of the book was a description of the tango, a passionate ballroom dance of Latin American origin in ²/₄ time with a basic pattern of step-step-step-step-close and characterized by long pauses and stylized body positions.

It was the final paragraph that made her heart race,

The Argentine Tango is an improvised, spontaneous dance, which is based on variations of walking, turning, pausing and adornments. Even though there is a basic structure and certain rules to be followed, the dancers can never truly predict how their partner will interpret the music, construct a dance or embellish it.

She had imagined herself in Bill’s strong manly arms, although in her head he was younger, and could feel her nipples harden beneath her pyjama top as she pictured them dancing in a dance that relied on them having an understanding of each that transcended a normal relationship.

Bill studied the young girl’s face but said nothing as he handed her the pair of highly polished black shoes that had an inch heel and a strap that fastened over her ankle. As she struggled with the buckle Bill knelt and cradled her foot gently as he slipped the shoe on before fastening the buckled with a delicacy that denied his large fingers.

“My Betty always struggled with the left buckle. Claims it was bent.”

Nancy stood and it felt like she was floating on air as the shoes seemed to mould themselves to her feet and despite not being the most attractive were ideally suited for dancing.

“Of course for Saturdays, you will need a proper pair of dancing shoes and perhaps something a little more elegant to wear.”

Bill’s face softened as he saw the crestfallen look on Nancy’s face and said quietly, “I have some old stuff of Betty’s you might like to look at if you are interested.”

Turning to the there boys that were in attendance he said firmly. “As you can see we have had a couple of casualties already and they won’t be joining us again. Now you three young men will have to share the delights of the long-suffering Mrs Gladstone and Miss Symes between you. Please try not to treat them like they were the opposition centre forward that you have to stop from scoring the winning goal by any means available to you.” Then seeing the confused looks on their faces went on, “Try not to kick the ladies.”

With that the music started and taking Nancy’s hand Bill led her to the centre of the room where they moved to the melody.

Nancy quickly realised a few things. When she had practised she had no music so although she knew the steps she had no idea of the pace. Additionally dancing with a three-foot teddy bear is a totally different experience from dancing with a real-life dance partner. The music changed and Bill barked to the room, “Well done on the waltz, now we will try the foxtrot.”

“That was really good young lady. Now, remember,” Bill whispered softly in Nancy’s ear, “The basic elements of a foxtrot are walking steps and side steps. The long walking movements also involve a rise & fall action, which is similar to the waltz, although more subtle. The basic box step is also similar to waltz steps.”

At that point, Bill stopped and looked into Nancy’s eyes and could see the excitement gleaming in her crystal blue eyes that seemed to glow. He smiled to himself and knew that this girl was going to be a dancer. Bill had to stop himself laughing as he saw the look of panic cross Nancy’s face and then it dawned on him that the girl had probably never heard a foxtrot.

Stopping he clapped his hands for attention.

“The main difference being timing, the foxtrot is 4/4, the waltz is 3/4. You already know how to waltz, so learning foxtrot will be just a matter of rhythm. The basic rhythm is slow, slow, quick, quick. The slow steps use 2 beats of music and the quick steps use one. The slow steps are long and elegant, and the quick steps are short and energetic. As already mentioned, the music is played in 4/4 timing.”

Then leaning close to Nancy he whispered in her ear, “Just let the music take you.” Bill tarried a moment and inhaled the sweet smell of Nancy that for a brief moment propelled him back in time to make him imagine for a second that it was his sweet Betty he held in his arms. Then pulling back, he mentally shook himself and taking Nancy by the hand he relaxed into the music.

As the session went on Nancy allowed the music to enter her and caress her as a lover would. She found herself not thinking of the steps but floating with them as they became part of her being. Every so often she would be jolted back to reality as she would stumble when she didn’t follow Bill’s lead, but on the whole, it all seemed to go well.

At the end of the session, Bill proudly announced that they would all be joining them on Saturday and they should wear their best outfits.

After the boys had left and Mrs Gladstone and Miss Symes had wandered off muttering about nice young men Bill turned to Nancy and presented her with a card. On it was an address not far from the community hall and clicking his heels as Nancy had seen in the old black and white movies Bill said, “You are welcome anytime.”


A few days later Nancy arrived at the block of flats, well it was more a grand house that had been converted into flats over four floors. Unsure which bell to ring Nancy heard a cheery voice from a set of steps leading down to the basement.

“Down here girl, and I have put the kettle on for a brew.”

Entering the basement flat Nancy was surprised how big it was and listened as Bill explained it covered the whole of the ground floor of the house. At the back, the kitchen looked out over a garden that was well kept which Bill explained was a communal area and part of his duties was to make sure it was well maintained.