Because life is one big ballroom – and all we can do is dance… Former UK dance champion Caroline Elliott has two burning passions in her life: her sexy, young Spanish lover Antonio, and the weekly Ballroom dance class she teaches to a diverse group of enthusiastic locals in the small English town of Castleham where she lives. But Caroline has a problem. The numbers attending her class have dwindled, and unless she can somehow breathe new life into it, she will have no choice but to close it down. A dance display at the local Arts Festival might just be the perfect opportunity to showcase her students and pull in those much-needed new members. How difficult could it be? With the date of the display approaching, however, illness, affairs and relationship break-ups threaten to crush Caroline’s hopes. As she battles to keep rehearsals on track and soothe her students’ rampant nerves, she must also conquer the demons of a long-ago tragedy in her own life. Will she be able to let go of her fears and step into the spotlight once again? Heel Lead is an emotional, passionate and poignant story that entertains while it tugs at your heartstrings. In this short yet compelling novel, author Dawn K. Henderson presents a captivating tale of the power of love, dance and the ties that bind us.
The Dance Class
Two, three, cha-cha-cha. The music chirruped gaily, pumping out the familiar notes of an old pop song.
‘Ouch! For God’s sake, you clumsy idiot.’ Stuart had trodden on his wife’s toe again – the third time that evening already – and she was laying into him big time. Caroline winced in sympathy. Poor Stuart, she felt sorry for him. Angela could be a right harpy at times and was no elegant swan on the dance floor herself. And while it painfully true that her feet were often subjected to Stuart’s abuse, to be fair it wasn’t always his fault. Angela needed to move more quickly. Caroline shook her head. Angela and Stuart loved their dance classes, they had told her so often; it just never seemed like it with all the conflict it created between them. If only Angela would replace those open-toed sandals with a closed-in shoe, her feet wouldn’t suffer half as much from Stuart’s mis-steps. But she had pointedly ignored Caroline’s frequent suggestions that she do so, claiming she didn’t like the full shoe, and eventually Caroline had given up trying.
Angela! Caroline had tried hard to like her, really she had. But, to be blunt, the woman really wasn’t very likeable. She was sharp-tongued, critical, and quick to take offence, with a physical appearance to match her character. Although she wasn’t old, only in her late thirties, her severe hairstyle – always pulled back into a tight bun – and permanently cheerless expression made her look considerably older. Caroline did her best not to judge; she had heard rumours of a tragedy in Angela’s past that the woman had been unable to move on from, and in an unguarded moment, Stuart had hinted at it too, a haunted look momentarily darkening his features. What the tragedy had been remained a mystery.
Stuart bore the brunt of his wife’s constant ill-humour with endless tolerance, letting the verbal blows fall, rarely retaliating, and then only with the gentlest of reproaches. He was popular with the rest of the class, friendly and approachable with a smile for everyone in his warm eyes, and yet… In their depths drifted the unmistakeable shadow of an enduring sadness.
Who knows what really lies beneath the faces and façades of anyone, even those we think we know well, Caroline pondered, watching them across the room. Angela’s complaining had fallen into a grumpy silence, though she was still looking daggers at her husband and limping exaggeratedly.
The other couples were still cha-cha-ing around the room – four tonight, even less than usual. While at first sight, they seemed an unlikely bunch to be Ballroom dancing, after years of teaching, Caroline had learned not to judge by appearances. Take Trash and his wife Donna for instance. Of course, Trash wasn’t his real name but Reginald, the one given on his birth certificate, really didn’t suit the huge bulk of a man and he had been known as Trash for as long as he could remember. When he had first registered for her class, he had sworn Caroline to secrecy to never reveal his true identity.
Of all the couples that came along to her class, Trash and Donna were perhaps the most incongruous and unlikely. Built like – to put it politely – the proverbial brick outhouse, Trash was a biker to his bones. Unruly sandy hair, now fading to the colour of washed-out nicotine and decidedly thin on top, reached below his shoulders, and had been pulled back into a rough ponytail for class. His face sported a beard of the same colour and length. He invariably wore tatty, faded blue jeans and an equally well-worn black T-shirt with the slogan ‘Ride or Die’ emblazoned across the front, the blood-dripping words entwined around a garish image of a scarlet skull from whose eye sockets heavily-fanged snakes stretched to breaking point over his impressive belly.
His wife, Donna, barely reached his shoulder. Her dyed raven-black hair was chopped short, revealing heavily studded earlobes, and matching studs graced her eyebrows, nose and top lip. Caroline had never seen her in anything other than unrelieved black, usually jeans, T-shirt and a hefty leather belt. She was pretty, a little plump with curves that any woman would envy, in all the right places.
The last bars of the Cha-cha faded. Next came a Waltz. Caroline revised the latest steps she had been teaching and started the music, returning to her study of Trash and Donna. She smiled as she watched them. They were probably the best dancers in the class. Despite his size, Trash was unexpectedly light-footed, and he floated across the floor, his huge bulk seemingly weightless as he guided Donna with a gentle but firm touch. Both of them felt, rather than heard, the music and its rhythm, and lost themselves in its magic; it was the secret ingredient essential to becoming a really good dancer that they both naturally possessed. Caroline had lost count of the times that technically able pupils of hers had failed to progress simply because they had been unable to get out of their heads and dance with their hearts. And of course, she thought with a touch of unwelcome envy, as she watched the couple glide around the room’s perimeter into a graceful Whisk, Wing and Telemark, Trash and Donna adored each other. The connection between them created a spark that was wonderful to watch, and forged an almost telepathic bond as they danced.
Dawn K. Henderson: Storyteller, poet & author
Goddess in training and ballroom diva (at least in her imagination)
12 years ago, Dawn walked into her first Ballroom dance class and the love affair began. Since then she has tango’d and quickstepped, waltzed and rumba’d through life. Although at the time of writing Heel Lead, she is without a permanent dance partner, she is fortunate enough to have good friends who lend her their men occasionally – she usually hands them back undamaged.
As D. K. Henderson, she is the author of The Skull Chronicles series of metaphysical adventure novels .
She lives and writes in the mystical, magical county of Wiltshire, England surrounded by crop circles, the ancient & mysterious stone monuments of Stonehenge and Avebury, and her own family of crystal skulls. When she isn’t wandering the ancient downlands that inspire her novels and poetry, you’ll probably find her pottering in the garden, foraging in the hedgerows or attempting a nifty Cha cha or elegant Waltz on the dance