I turn up at the Polish Centre for Sherwin Sullivan Tjia’s ‘Slow Dance’ too early. It is in a small sixties hall with a parquet floor, streamers, giant disco ball and a square of empty brown chairs lined up around the edge. There are three people sat in the corner looking much more dressed up than me. There is a barmaid with big hair selling Polish vodka at the back. It is like a school disco and I am the first to arrive. I feel too keen and like I’m wearing too much eyeliner.
Sherwin knows this though. He wants to take the awkwardness and shame of the last dance at the school disco and smother it with acceptance and love. These nights are huge in Montreal and Toronto – and now he is bringing his big heart to Birmingham. Tonight there will be slow dances all night long, and you will never be left in the corner. I have a little pink book with the four hour set list including every love song you can think of. I can use it to book strangers in to slow dance with me. You are encouraged to be brave and kind. There are ‘designated dancers’ wearing little lights above their hearts. They help get the ball rolling. I am a bit cynical though or maybe a bit embarrassed by it all. I stand next to the big hair barmaid drinking vodka as people trickle in. I am the person that stands at the back laughing a bit too loudly but not joining in. The designated dancers are loitering. They are volunteers and they want to make all the loneliness better. But I am avoiding eye contact. But then Seyi comes to ask me to dance. She is confident and graceful and she grabs me by the hand and we start this slightly awkward shuffle. It’s an Otis Reading song. She sings it to me and tells me how she loves it. It’s the start of the night and we are almost the only people on the dance-floor and I am thinking how cheesy this is but I can’t stop smiling. Suddenly she pulls me close – she says “I’m just going to go for it” and we are in this warm embrace, two strangers with our arms wrapped round each other. We stop talking and just listen to the music. It feels nice. It is working. I sit back down feeling bolstered and start flicking through my pink dance book.
‘Slow Dance’ is a slow burner - for it to work you have to shake off any cynicism or desire to dance with an ironic look on your face and let the love and enthusiasm wash over you. Its set up allows an intimacy with strangers that is all the more poignant as you negotiate your awkwardness. Sherwin resides over it all as the MC and DJ in a fabulous satin dress throwing out words of infectious encouragement. As the hall filled up there was this perfect hour of acceptance and gentleness as we all unashamedly swayed along to The Righteous Brothers. It is a long evening though and by the end of the night it does falter a bit. The hall clears. The fire alarm keeps going off. Some people are a bit pissed and dancing really fast. The energy starts feeling less generous. However Sherwin has changed us a bit. The final track of the night comes on and those that are left suddenly swell together in a big group, our arms wrapped around each other, belting out the lyrics “…and I need you now tonight, I need you MORE THAN EVER”. Bonnie Tyler and Sherwin making us all feel a little less lonely.