I’ve never been one of the lads. I don’t drink beer and football bores me. I did once toy with taking up rugby to boost my masculinity, but I abandoned it when I realised how much grunting and thigh-grabbing was involved. Closet homosexuality isn’t really my thing. Still, I’ve always felt more like one of the girls. Which is just as well, because as I step into Paradise by Way of Kensal Green’s ballet class I realise that the number of men in the room is one. And given the ensemble I’ve borrowed from our teacher, it looks more like zero.
‘Okay ladies,’ says Shelley, our instructor (see? I’m fitting in already), ‘let’s get going.’ Some upbeat ’80s pop blasts from the speakers and we begin by pointing one foot and lunging. Next, we grasp the bar and kick a leg in the air. As we stand in line flailing our pins, there’s a warm camaraderie.
So long as you enjoy mocking me, that is. ‘He’s cheating!’ giggles one woman as I fortify myself with a sip of wine. I point out that our £5 entry fee includes ‘a class and a glass’. ‘You’re meant to drink it afterwards!’ squeals another as the room erupts into titters. Given the hilarity a sip of pinot grigio causes, I’m glad that I didn’t decide to fortify myself with pub grub.
‘Who ordered pub grub?’asks a member of staff from the doorway. ‘OMG! He got scampi!’ guffaws a woman next to me. ‘I didn’t!’ I bleat. Not that anyone notices; there’s now so much raucous hooting it’s like a flash fire in an owl sanctuary. ‘Shall we carry on?’ asks Shelley. Apparently the rest of the class take this as a reference to the owl noises. As I spin in the wrong direction, it sparks a sound like a tawny owl singeing its bum feathers. Shelley tells me off for apparently borrowing my posture from the Hunchback of Notre Dame and the hooting’s volume suggests snowy owls trying to extinguish candles with hairspray.
Then it gets painful. There’s a groin straining attempt to ‘work those wobbly thighs’ via squats. There’s a flurry of stomach-ruining sit-ups. And by the end, the only thing that keeps me going is Shelley yanking my wonky leg into position. Which isn’t as euphemistic as it sounds.
Then it’s over. ‘You did really well!’ enthuses Shelley. The other women crowd round to coo over me and I realise that I do fit in. I am one of the girls. Then a maltese terrier wanders over, the ladies all go ‘aww’ and I notice something: that’s the same noise they just made for me. Maybe I’m not one of the girls after all, then. But at least I make a good pet.