They came from houses on the sides of hills, from bedrooms that looked out onto shades of green, the smell of silage smeared on the air. They’d seen the clubs in the films, on the TV, and they knew that their little places attached to hotels, or above the bar where their fathers were drinking, weren’t the same. But once on the dance floor, did it matter where they were? Four on the floor beat and those fields slid away.
They’d be dreaming it up all week as they worked under a car chassis, did a granny’s perm, handed over a prescription, carefully counting the tablets. Dreaming it up as they passed army check-points, heard about the latest deaths. Why don’t you enter that competition for fuck’s sake! somebody said. You’re a good dancer. It’ll be a bit of a laugh. You’d get on the telly. Imagine you got signed up for Hot Gossip, huh? You seen that one where they dance in the showers to Roberta Kelly, Oh Happy Day? Oh my god, unbelievable.
Only twelve contestants in the final though, the Northern Ireland Final of the World Freestyle Disco Dancing Championships. One contestant for every month. Boy didn’t get through, the one whose mother ran up the brilliant trousers on that old Husqvarna sewing machine. Girl didn’t get through, from the end terrace who practised in the mirror while her kid played at her feet. Only twelve make it to the TV programme, with its sequence of a woman in orange silhouette dancing against kaleidoscopic lights. Isn’t the music a disappointment, though? It’s not the proper artists, only a cheap approximation of the real thing. The real think must be too expensive. You hear that anaemic version of Fandango Dancing by Pearly Gates? But still, those flashing lights are beautiful, the red and green, still a good tune.
And so, here comes contestant number one, the representative of the Shamrock Club in Belfast! Beige trousers but a splashy shirt and splashy footwork! from this maths teacher who loves to dance.
Eugene, abducted, found shot, partially buried. Lindsay, died after being shot on foot patrol. Ivan, shot in his workplace. Christopher, shot by sniper. Maurice, found shot. Norman, found shot along with his son James. Philip, shot at a pedestrian check point.
Up next, with the theatrical little hand movements, is the girl representing Champagne Charlie’s Magherafelt. In glitter headband, white leggings, and a bra top, she looks so young. Her hair in braids swings when she spins.
Charles, shot on foot patrol. Alexander, shot outside a shop. David, shot in his workplace. Patrick, shot on waste ground. James, shot at home.
That’s a better groove coming from the speakers for the hairdresser representing Sasha’s Nightclub in Belfast, with his Cossack trousers tied round with ribbons.
Gerry, shot by sniper when travelling in car. Patrick, shot. John, shot while on his way to work. Paul, shot from passing car.
The secretary repping Club Gemini in Portadown, is barefoot and dancing in a shredded white dress, a cute disco castaway.
Kenneth, killed by booby trap bomb. Joanne, shot while collecting census forms. John, shot. James, knocked down by land rover. Gary, knocked down by land rover. John, shot while driving firm’s van. Paul, shot by plastic bullet. Gary, killed by booby trap bomb.
And now the clerical officer from Buster’s Nightclub, Banbridge, dressed just like John from the Shamrock Club is breakdancing, spinning in the green lights on the floor.
Bobby, died on hunger strike. Philip, shot by sniper. James, killed in bomb explosion. Desmond, died after van came under missile attack, along with father Eric. Francis, died on hunger strike. Emmanuel, shot by sniper. Julie, shot by plastic bullet. Samuel, killed in rocket attack. Patrick, shot at his home. Andrew, killed in land mine attack. Paul, killed in land mine attack. Michael, killed in land mine attack. John, killed in land mine attack. Grenville, killed in land mine attack. Raymond, died on hunger strike. Patsy, died on hunger strike. Henry, shot by plastic bullet. Carol Ann, shot by plastic bullet. Joseph, killed during street disturbance. Thomas, shot by sniper. Mervyn, shot outside inn. Charles, shot. George, shot. Colin, shot. Michael, killed by booby trap bomb. Such a terrible month, May.
Braids flying, the girl from Kilda’s Inn enters with a handstand, vibrant and happy and lithe – moving, it seems, twice as quickly as any other contestant.
Joseph, shot during sniper attack. Ronald shot. Christopher, shot. Neal, shot. Vincent, shot.
The chef from Ballymena’s Club Gemini takes to the floor in his red trousers and bow tie, his dancing precise and tidy.
Joe, died on hunger strike. John, shot by sniper. Danny, shot by sniper. Nora, shot by plastic bullet. Martin, died on hunger strike. Gavin, shot during sniper attack. John, shot when renovating premises. Thomas, shot when visiting friend. Peter, shot by plastic bullet.
The hairdresser with the bowl cut, from the hotel in Dunmurry, moves around the floor in an exuberant jump-style.
Kevin, died on hunger strike. Kieran, died on hunger strike. John, killed in landmine attack. Andrew, killed in landmine attack. Thomas, died on hunger strike. Liam, shot while walking along an avenue. Peter, shot by plastic bullet. Charles, shot from passing motorcycle. Charles, abducted and killed. Mickey, died on hunger strike. William, shot.
In baggy leather trousers and a tight white T shirt, the next contestant is an electrician from Visions nightclub in Warrenpoint. Watch him, so fluid, caught up in the music.
Sohan, shot. Mark, killed in land mine attack. Stuart, killed in land mine attack. Alan, shot. John, shot. Eugene, shot. George, shot. Anthony, shot. Alexander, killed in rocket attack. Mark, shot.
From the Tower Bar Ballymena, the wireless mechanic takes to the floor, energy and verve, doing the splits, doing Cossack kicks.
Hector, shot. Larry, shot. Nora, killed by bomb. John, killed by bomb. Robert, shot at home. Mary, shot at home. Billy, shot outside his home. Stephen, shot. Julian, shot outside his home. Kenneth, killed while attempting to diffuse a bomb. Edward, found shot at rubbish dump.
The joiner from Downpatrick in a red shirt and tie does some robotic movements at the beginning of his routine.
November. Arthur, shot at home. Trevor, killed by booby trap. Charles, shot as he left work. Cecil, shot when leaving a relative’s house. Robert, shot. Kenneth, shot. Thomas, shot from passing motorcycle. Peadar, shot from passing car. Albert, shot at his farm. Silas, shot. James, shot. John, shot. Stephen, shot at his home. Angela, shot. William, killed by bomb.
From the Lodge Hotel in Strabane, the girl, a manufacturing operator, moves with sinuous grace in the leopard skin cat suit.
Danny was abducted and killed.
Noted for each month are the deaths listed in the Index of Deaths from the Conflict in Ireland (Conflict Archive on the Internet – CAIN)