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Customer Review

on 17 March 2014
Her First Ball. Katherine Mansfield.
This is one of fifteen stories taken from The Garden Party and Other Stories written in 1921 and published the following year.Penguin.ISBN:9780141441801.
I vaguely remember the girlish excitement of applying the warpaint, donning the shortest of minis and the highest of heels to my father's displeasure at my tarty attire, heading down to the Mecca or Cinderella Rockerfellow's (one of Pete Stringfellow's clubs) in Leeds, during the 60s and early 70s.Nostalgia seen in Before You Were Mine by Carol Ann Duffy, poet laureate, replicated.
The connection? Dancing, having fun, being irresponsible. Wasn't it wonderful? Mansfield recaptures that excitement, particularly for Leila a village recluse who has not experienced the pleasure of ballroom dancing before and the old-time professionals who dance on a weekly basis.
I certainly engaged with an 18 year old naive girl with her trepidation, excitement, disappointment and elation at her first ball. Every moment was pure magic for Leila. This was a world of innocence swirling around on the dance floor reaching dizzy heights of breathlessness. No wonder my parents' generations loved dancing. They knew how to have fun in spite of the war or rationing.
Experiencing something magical for the first time will always be powerful and memorable so it's not surprising that Leila is overawed. The atmosphere is electric, the scene pretty and colourful, the ladies' room overflowing with the belles of the ball applying last minute touches to their beautiful attire and unblemished make-up. Vanity at its best or worst? You decide.
These were the days of chaperones and programmes with men having to book dances with the girls. This was about gliding and swirling with elegance not your modern Dirty Dancing, provocative and sexually gratifying. Elegance with lots of fun thrown in.
After all the excitement, a fat bald man who had been carrying his partners away on a whirlpool of dances for over thirty years, destroyed Leila's illusion; her bubble burst and she was overcome by sadness and misery. She wanted to go home.
"Was this first ball only the beginning of her last ball?
Even the music seemed plaintive and a disappointed 18 year old turns philosopher with " Why didn't happiness last forever? " Transitory ,Leila. We knew that didn't we? It's all a part of growing up, isn't it? Leaving childhood and fun behind.
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