I Can’t Do Rhythm


I can’t do rhythm.

No matter how hard I try I’m all fingers and thumbs.

Its crazy, it really is and it drives me mad. If I manage to get my feet doing one thing the rest of me just seems to sit back and admire what’s going on and take no part in the action.

It’s like all my bits operate separate to my brain.

My body has a mind of its own.

Which my parents, at different times, have pointed out to me is one of my unique features.

I could live quite comfortably with features not so obvious as that.

Nothing about my body synchs with anything else.

I am such an unco mess.

Marching for example, is a very trying experience.

Many’s the time I have been traumatised by the efforts of my arms and legs trying beyond all the coordinated efforts of my brain to stay in synch with each other let alone being in contact with my brain which shouts orders left, right and centre all to no avail.

Of course to others including my family and friends it’s all an exercise in hilarity.

They think it’s enormously funny to watch me marching up and down.

My dad says ‘watching you Jane is like observing someone trying to engage muscles that each have a mind of their own.’

He’s right.

I do so often feel that my left side is in constant conflict with my right side.

When I was in primary school I was the one never picked in any team.

I was always the one chosen last when the time came to play games in PE.

The other kids just hated me being on their team for it was an instant recipe for failure.

Needless to say my reports in PE were far from glowing – ‘Jane struggles with basic physical concepts in this subject.’

Translated means I couldn’t catch a ball.

When I was in high school my parents decided that something had to be done for they weren’t having any truck with a daughter of theirs going through life as a sporting pariah.

So they in their wisdom sent me to tennis lessons.

You see tennis is a game that is a large part of my family.

When my mother was growing up her parents built a tennis court in the backyard and everyone around the town played tennis on Nanna’s court.

Nanna’s tennis court had become a centre of social interaction.

It’s what people did then.

Everyone, apparently, could hit a ball at least back over the net and so therefore become socially acceptable.

‘Tennis,’ my mother had said was an excellent skill to have.’ You can go anywhere and mix with people and establish yourself in any community.’

So off I went each Saturday afternoon to Don McIlwain’s tennis school to stand on one side of the net while Mr Mc’s tennis ball machine propelled balls at me at varying speeds, each one terrifying me as I attempted to swing my brand new tennis racket in an attempt to make contact.

I did learn all sorts of valuable skills which I was ok at like: holding the racket as if I was shaking hands with it, putting my left foot in front of my right when attempting to hit the ball.

I was ok at these things because my brain had time to organise my respective limbs into getting where they should be before the ball was suddenly there expecting a racket to smack it back over the net.

At least that was the theory.

More often than not I did the swinging bit but the hitting the ball bit was another issue all together.

Despite Mr Mc’s best efforts at telling me in the kindest way possible that I was supposed to watch the ball as well, I soon concluded that the problem of having to engage three parts of me into an action at once was far too complicated and too much hard work for my brain to organise let alone my hand, legs and eyes deciding to work in tandem with me.

Despite all the best efforts of Mr Mc, tennis and I never really hit it off. (Sorry about the pun).

I did contribute though to afternoon tennis by becoming very proficient at collecting the balls from the back of the court and reloading the machine.

I would attack the task with great gusto mainly to make it appear that this was something I could do and at the same time stay away from the notice of Mr Mc who was very keen for all his charges to get the right number of turns in front of his tennis machine.

I did play in one Saturday afternoon competition.

I was put in a team, D Grade, with Elsie Simmons and Dolores Munch.

We played a singles game each and then paired up for doubles.

Because I was so poor at tennis the other girls would calculate by how much they had to win by in order for our team to have any chance of winning. To say that I was there to make up the numbers is a fairly accurate way of stating my position in the team.  Basically in order for Elsie and Dolores to play each Saturday I had to turn up to make up the team. I did stand at the other end of the court from my opponent and I did try valiantly to compete but when it came to stretching out, or returning down the line, such commands were never in the computer of my brain.

My father would comment each Saturday afternoon when I got home that it was another whitewash again.

It didn’t do much for my confidence and only reinforced my already fragile ego.

So as tennis was not for me my parents in their wisdom decided that dance would be an avenue I could pursue.

How and why they came to this conclusion was beyond me.

Here before them was a girl who had, on countless occasions, demonstrated her lack of any semblance of coordination and to think that dance might assist me in some bizarre way was and still is beyond my comprehension.

But my parents were the perennial optimists and off to dance lessons I went.

The first thing that was obvious to me that would hinder all progress in the dance world was the uniform.

Now I have never been a size 8, the only time I was an 8 was on my eighth birthday.

Miss Debbie’s school of dancing had as its uniform a bright pink leotard.

Now apart from pink not being a colour I would associate with,  I have learnt over the years that some people are not made for leotards.

I am one of those people.

Leotards are to be worn by small shrunken creatures who have never eaten and who stand at least five foot five tall.

Tall and thin and you look sensational.

Short and stubby and you are bordering on the grotesque.

For me and my already shattered ego the thought of a body such as mine wrapped in the hugging form of a leotard was all too much.

After one lesson, to which I wore my old tennis shorts, the thought of fronting up again in the leotard mum had bought for me was way too much.

I disappeared.

I hid.

I buried myself in my bedroom.

Locked all doors.

I refused to come out until all mention of me and dance were removed from our household for ever and a day.

I had tried on the leotard, behind the locked door of my bedroom and was aghast at what I saw before me.

How could one human body look as misshapen as the one I saw before me.

There was no way I was ever going out of that door looking like that.

Despite all my parents coaxing that the uniform was what everyone wore and that there were girls there the same size as me there was no way I was ever going back.

So after one lesson dancing for me was abandoned.

As far as I was concerned the dancing thing was what I could do in my bedroom with the door locked.

I tried a few other things, cooking was marginally successful until I burnt the oven out after my soufflé caught on fire.

Dressmaking was an equal disaster. Seems an overlocker is an expensive piece of equipment and the TAFE people weren’t very keen on paying for repairs after the tenth time when I had somehow jammed the thing up.

Now the thing that I did have the most success with was yoga.

This may well surprise you.

But when you think of it a lot of the time it’s about getting yourself into a position.

With a massive amount of concentration and will power I could convince the muscles involved to get themselves organised and do as I wished.

The problem I found was that the effort of getting myself sorted to do the exercise usually left me so exhausted I couldn’t get myself out of it when I had to move to the next position.

You could imagine the situation. Me feeling very proud of myself for achieving an award winning position. Yes?

Then when the instructor moved to a new position I became the person in the room bereft of dignity as I rolled around on the floor, my body paralysed into a shape only a mother could love.

All movement in the class would stop and to the classes credit they did look at me with concern as I struggled to release my leg or arm whichever was caught somewhere in the past and somewhere it shouldn’t now be.

There was this air of surreal beauty as the class lost its concentration and after a minute or two there would be words of encouragement and suggestions as to how I might extricate myself from the predicament I was in.

That Yoga was to be a slow and beautiful exercise designed to help me relax my body and build my self- confidence, proved not to achieve its desired outcomes.

Rather it reinforced my already low self esteem.

My mother suggested singing as an activity as she said she heard me singing in the shower quite often and thought I sounded alright.

That my mother was tone deaf might illustrate her misguided enthusiasm for me to be a singer.

So singing lessons were pursued and I did ok.

My teacher Miss Pendergast was very patient and after every lesson said Jane there is an untapped potential in that interesting voice of yours.

My voice was interesting, so interesting that one year I was asked to sing at the end of year concert.

A solo!

My household was overflowing with pride that Jane had at last succeeded at something.

The big night arrived and we were all a buzz with excitement.

Dad had charged the battery in his camera, determined to capture the moment, as I am sure he felt it was unlikely to happen again.

Believe it or not the concert went off without a hitch.

I sang as I had never sung before.

I was applauded.

My parents were proud.

I couldn’t believe I had succeeded at singing of all things. I actually don’t like singing all that much. But hey, people said I was good and who was I to stand in the way of their accolades.

So singing was my thing.

Sport and body stuff was out the window much to my relief.

Then one day Miss Pendergast announced that we were having a new concert. A musical. With dancing.

She looked at me as she announced the parts for the show.

I was to be the singer of the aria, the pinnacle of the performance.

But I had to dance with Jason Saxby, the hottest guy in our dance academy.

Immediately all my fears flooded me.

Anxiety, so long a thing of the past overwhelmed me.

I became a quivering mess.

I was about to pull out of the concert and abandon my career as a singer when Jason suggested we work together.

I was stunned that such a thing could happen to me.

Usually I sang solo, and everyone seemed to be happy with that.

Working with another person I knew would take some effort.

I was scared stiff of having anything to do with this boy, like every other girl in the dance school I lusted after him.

He was far more patient than I would have been with me.

We practiced for six weeks, I did manage to get my body working as it should, but it did take an almighty effort.

The concert was a success.

I received flowers.

Jason received a scholarship to a prestigious musical college.

You see he is multi talented.

I am one talented.

So whilst I am a fair singer, I’ll never crack the big time, because when I dance, despite all my best efforts I do resemble a coal ship manoeuvring into port.

So as I said earlier, I can’t do rhythm but I can sing.



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