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Friday, January 23, 2015

My Dancing Debut

For the benefit of those who may not have read them before, I thought of posting some of my old articles that were published elsewhere.  Today, I want to tell viewers how I made my dancing debut.


My Dancing Debut 

More than five decades ago when we were young schoolboys, we didn't give much thought to ballroom dancing. But on leaving school and entering medical college, we soon discovered that learning to dance is a must, if one were to advance socially. At least that is what was drilled into us by our all-knowing seniors. I remember the day in the early sixties when one evening, I myself walked in gingerly with three of my medical student buddies, to Vivil de Kauwe’s Dance Studios in Kollupitiya. The urgent desire to grasp the fundamentals was that the biggest social event in a medical student's calendar, the annual Block Dance, was just around the corner.   

As tradition goes, our seniors had given us a thorough orientation as to what goes on and what is to be expected at social gatherings such as the Block Dance. “You will not be able to make any headway with any of the girls if you are unable to get on the floor with them”. To us juniors, that was the Gospel Truth. The vision of great things to come made us part with our scarce pocket money to acquire the much needed skills. 

Thanks to Vivil de Kauwe (and his pretty assistant), we learnt the basics. Oozing with confidence, we were ready for the Block Dance, which usually followed the Block Concert where the Block Juniors like us were to take centre stage. The effect of liberal doses of alcohol imbibed during our concert performance had not completely worn off when it was time for us to shower and change into our kits for the Dance. Transport was at hand and it was just a quick trip to the "Bloem" for a bath and scrub.

But we still needed booster doses of the same stuff (I cannot remember now whether it was "Gal" or "Pol" arrack) to gather sufficient courage to “approach” a girl of our choice. So the binge continued. On that night of nights, equipped as I was with my newly acquired dancing skills and fortified by the fiery liquid refreshment, I was brimming with courage (Dutch or Sri Lankan) and much needed confidence. I had no difficulty in extending my hand and asking the girl I was eyeing that evening “May I have this dance with you?” I was thrilled beyond belief when she readily obliged. So began a night of fun, floating around on the floor of King George’s Hall, with a girl in my arms in the semi darkness, whispering sweet nothings in her ear.
Anti climax

It was only the next morning that I found to my utter dismay, that I had not been able to make it to the Dance after all. Some time after our great block concert performance, I had “passed out”. The rest of it was only a dream.

Author's note: What I have written above is partly fiction. I remember very well that I did make it to the Dance after all. To put the record straight, I must confess that in my lifetime, it was only on one occasion that I had “passed out” after overstepping the mark. Or to give it straight, drinking excessively. More about that memorable drinking episode later.

Lakshman Abeyagunawardene


  1. That was a good read Lucky. We all went through this phase. I was lucky as my cousin Sidath (Cigar) was an accomplished dancer and his father threw a lot of parties where we got the chance to dance. My trick to "get in" with the girls was to build a reputation as an expert in Palmistry! I held many a pretty girl's hand that way.Being a Wodehouse fan, I am also reminded of a character in "Dr Sally".- " Bruce Carmyle was one of these men who do not attempt anything which they cannot accomplish to perfection. Dancing, he had decided early in his life, was a part of a gentleman's education, and he had seen to it that he was educated thoroughly". So there Lucky, you are in good company!.

  2. Lucky
    Those were memorable dances at Reid Avenue. It is hard to dance with two left feet as I found out. Alcohol erased from memory the dance steps I had learnt at great cost. Sidath was gliding past me on the dance floor with consummate ease. Harold Seneviratne Combo continued to play those Beatles numbers. "Hard days night" reflected my own sentiments.
    Where have all those flowers gone?

  3. Lucky,That was a good read- and amusing! it makes me laugh as I read the "troubles" the guys have had to overcome in those med school days!!
    While as girls we were cocooned and pampered and felt so secure ,you guys seem to have had "hard days"!However you seem to have had a lot more fun!
    Secondly- did you know that Vivil de Kauwe went on to do medicine and was working in Oz the time we were working there briefly as well.
    I only once had the privilege of dancing with this guy and I felt as if I was dancing on air as he whirled me all around the dance floor -The best ballroom experience I have ever had -He might still be practicing in Oz
    Rohini Ana

  4. Lucky
    I think you should write more articles for the Blog. That was hilarious. Rohini's comment is interesting that Vivil De Kauwe went on to study medicine. With time more batchmates will join the network. It will never be a torrent but a trickle. Meanwhile let us make the best use of our time to be part of the community.

  5. This is a post by Melinda Hettiarchchi in the Thomian's Old Boys Forum which might interest our readers as Vevil De Kauwe has been mentioned.

    "I was pleased to meet our former teacher at STC Mr Vivil de Kauwe at the Thomian Sing - a - long at the Galadari Hotel last night .
    The event was a packed house and was a superb evening of entertainment , in aid of the new Commerce building @ STCML .
    He was also a award winning dance teacher of repute as you will recall , driving the yankee model Ford Anglia .
    I brought a lot of memories back to him and he was surprised that we still remember him so well .
    He was seated at our table though I did not recognize him at all , till Vijaya Corea MC called him on stage to judge the baila competition .
    Many old boys rushed to greet him at that stage and thereafter .
    He has lost a lot of hair but looks fit as a fiddle still with his brisk walk .
    I met his wife too and they both look in good shape".
    He is a doctor practicing in Perth, Western Australia. If I remember right, his dance classes were held on the top floor of the Creme House building in Kollupitya. Sadly, I never went for his classes, may be I should have.

  6. Rohini is right in saying that Vivil had gone on to do Medicine rather belatedly. I too heard this some years ago. From the Kreme House building, he later moved to Sumanarama Road, Mount Lavinia where he continued his dancing classes. His full time job at that time would have been teaching at St. Thomas' College. I think he taught Zoology. Like most Burghers at that time, he emigrated to Australia around that time.

  7. Fact or fiction, this is a truly wonderful recount of our first block dance. You danced in your dream, but I didn't at all.

  8. The University Dances were a happy reminder of Claude Bernard and his then G/F Ranganee. They came to the event with her parents (Mr and Mrs Wijetunge of Kelaniya) who chaperoned her and brought with them a canteen of food, a bar of booze. and a flask of soup. The old couple loved the fox trot, tango and quick-step and the younger couple the more rhythmical Cha Cha, jive and the baila. They happily danced the night away until dawn sharing their food and drink with stragglers like me. That foursome are no more having crossed the vale and may be dancing to the music of the great Band Leaders Victor Sylvester and Joe loss who went there before them. RIP

  9. Yes, Lucky that was a very funny account of your attempts at mastering the art of ballroom dancing. It made me chuckle. I also remember my brothers talking about Vevil de Kauwe who taught them at STC. I didn't take any formal lessons when I was in Medical College, but I did learn from some of my "batch mates" who were accomplished dancers. Sometimes we had "practice sessions" while helping to decorate the venue. (Somehow, I got roped in to help at Block night and Colors night.) Those were good times! Later in life I joined some friends in CT and took lessons at a dance studio, but realized sadly that it was a complete waste of money. A woman is supposed to "follow" the guy, and if he dances badly he complains that you are trying to lead. If he is a good dancer you really didn't need those lessons anyway. There are too many bad dancers in the USA!