Dancing at Peter Corr’s National Rejoin March in London is an experience I will never forget. A day of challenge, adrenaline, running, jumping, pulling, pushing, puffing and panting, all transformed into inspiration, music, dance, heraldry, camaraderie, fun, laughter … and ultimately, triumph!
Saturday 23 September 2023 continued long into the small hours of Sunday morning for Sam, enthusiastic dancer and SwindonforEurope (S4E) secretary and myself. We were searching, editing and sharing photos, videos, posting, reposting, re-tweeting. Already the massive fight against the right-wing Brexit media had begun. Our whole movement must not pause for breath, but immediately fight to spread the word; smash through a wall of minimising dismissal and drown out the silence of the BBC!
March day started early with my wife, Marisa’s exercise class. She’s S4E Treasurer and our Dance Captain. She teaches morning ‘bootcamp’; the perfect warm up for a strenuous day. Youthful Sam led the way whilst I strapped up multiple injuries with physio tape. I’m 65 now and dancing again on a double hip replacement after 20 years out. Last year I decided that the National Rejoin March MUST include dance. As Marisa and I used to run a professional Folk Ballet company, ‘Romanska’, we created ‘Dance Europa!’ for the Rejoin street campaign.
Much younger, but being ex professional, Marisa also dances on extensive injuries … whereas Sam is our fit young protégé, and learns dance fast!
After weeks of practising (plus recruiting the rest of S4E to the March), we were racing to London, checking on the troops on the Bath/Swindon coach, trains, cars, buses, and praying our other two dancers would arrive in time: Mark, a passionate Rejoin campaigner, disco dancer/jazz funk friend from the 70s, plus my London daughter, Ciara, a professionally trained dancer (and yoga teaching fanatic!).
Hauling our cart and massive new speaker across London, we emerged in bright sunshine at Piccadilly … the gods of weather smiling on our march!
“Oh, so you CAN run on that torn Achilles?” Marisa remarked. “Even pulling that trolley? What about the collapsing knee? No time for that. Come on, hurry up!”
Then we saw them: Mark was already rehearsing with Ciara…”Thank God!” We thought.
Ciara lives between London and Mexico and her work is busy. With Zoom and WhatsApp, quick minded professional dancers can distance learn, but it’s never sure until you’re together in the flesh!
The plan was:
- Do the first dance set where March pauses at the short route start point.
- Hurry to Trafalgar Square, perform 2nd set, then once march catches up we’d been asked to lead it with a processional flag dance down Whitehall to gates of Parliament.
- 3rd set there (if permitted)
- After rally, perform last set by Churchill statue, then free dance with public.
Our stretches, plies and leg swings already attracted attention as a hundreds arrived for the short march. Hungrily we eyed the crowd for possible cart and speaker pullers (we needed to transport our rucksacks too!).
Of course, not all went to plan…
Suddenly a vast throng of blue and yellow appeared up Pall Mall as the march rounded the corner with an oncoming roar…
“Quick, get down to those traffic lights, Ready the music, that’ll be our stage!”
A quick scramble and last frantic knee bends for me (with arthritis, no matter how many times you mobilise you must constantly warm back up).
Marisa fumbling with the new Bluetooth IPod and big Speaker we’d bought especially for today…
“It’s here!” “It’s not halting! … Spread out!” “Stop!”
We shouted, hands out like traffic police.
The marshals gamely tried to stop the March but 100’s flooded on past and a massive crowd packed round us as we launched into our Electro Greek and Balkan number with Cossack and Breakdance. The road surface is hard and sloping:
“Ouch! There goes my ankle! … (Marisa’s knee, Sam’s shoulder …)
“Never mind … More energy! COME ON!”
Cameras, large and small, in front, behind, to the side …
Deafening applause and we’re off …
“Cut the 2nd set. Just get ahead of these people before Whitehall…”
“Out the way!” “Coming through” “Sorry!” “Excuse me!”
…running, pushing, shoving, our big flag poles held aloft. Sam’s wife Lucia (from Italy), and a valiant helper we’d pressganged (whoever you are, you’re a hero!), barrelled through with the gear.
Just before Trafalgar Square we burst into empty space yelling
“Wait people, we’re supposed to lead you!”.
Sudden panic: Sound system won’t work. Now it’s back on. Marisa has miraculously worked it out. Every time you press pause on the Ipod it switches off the Bluetooth speaker. Genius…
On goes the music: two cinematic renditions of ‘Ode to Joy’, one on the bagpipes and the next Game of Thrones-esque.
Marisa had created a spectacular processional walking dance, men swirling and spinning the EU flags and the girls in a sweeping, swooping ballet with giant gold wings.
More media cameras and lots of delighted smiles. No one’s seen anything like it in Whitehall. Especially with the EU colours. The skirl of the bagpipes gives it a martial, Celtic air, which is our intention. Brexit is a peculiarly English, traditionalist obsession, whilst our other nations are ignored.
Suddenly there’s booing and shouting. A whole different march, smaller but very aggressive is converging with ours. The Bully X Bulldog protesters have combined with conspiracist protesters. (Freedom/Antivax/Anti Ulez/anti WEF/QAnon, you name it!). They’ve changed their route and the police don’t seem to know what’s happening.
Mocking and cat calling are hurled our way and I realise our march has been stopped 200 metres back to avoid confrontation and we are on our own, shouts of “Scum, Scum, Scum!” in our ears. These people hate the EU and they certainly don’t like us.
For a moment I think “Damn, Sam and Mark are used to this, but now I’ve got my wife and daughter with me!” (Marisa hates crowds and confrontation). However Marisa hits the Start button, her chin goes up and she raises her wings, commands: “Go again!”
“Well, stroll on, girl!” I think. “Your wife can STILL surprise you!”
On the other side of the road, beer cans are lowered and the shouting subsides. Later I ask daughter Ciara if she’d felt threatened. “Not really Dad”. It was unpleasant but there were loads of cameras on us and we must have looked SO bizarre to them. What self-respecting ‘hard man’ would attack an exotic being, spreading its wings and beckoning: “Come an ‘av a dance if u think yer ‘ard enough!”. Lol!
Indeed, who could object to people campaigning through the harmless medium of Dance?
Well, it seems they do. Clips of us performing in front of Parliament seem to have sent the right wing media into a froth, including a vindictive piece by Michael Deacon in the Telegraph, after which I received serious homophobic accusation on Social Media. Barney Davies’ bemused but complimentary article in the Independent drew approval of us from Nigel Farage, but a ton of abuse on X (formerly Twitter). Then Jeremy Vine sent us up a bit. Whereas, the Mail, Express, Spectator and right wing media in general just seem angry that some Rejoiners had dared to dance. Why? Maybe if we’d been decked in Union Jacks they’d approve? Or does the old adage ‘The English don’t dance’ still hold? At least, in the stuffy old English establishment? Who cares? The courts of Olde England were the ‘Dance Capital’ of all European aristocracy in Tudor times. We were the ‘Dancing English’ then. Now, Dance Europa! are just ordinary people, and as the song says: “We’ll just keep on dancing, my friend!”
Unfortunately we didn’t complete our post rally set, or dance with the public. Before we had the chance to show our Electro Morris and Hornpipe, CanCan, Kraftwerk Robotics etc, the police ordered us to switch off our speaker. It’s part of the new crackdown on protest, they explained. They were very apologetic and said they’d enjoyed our dancing. One remarked: “Next year, Strictly. Strictly European!” Now there’s a thought!
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