It is July 1971 Balatonföldvár, Hungary. I am 15 and I am in love. No, not with a girl. I fell in love, almost literally, head over heels, with a new dance craze called the Twist.
It is the heat of the summer, in the height of the holiday season in Hungary’s most popular and international tourist location, our glorious Balaton, a huge lake, which we affectionately call our own Hungarian inland sea.
Each summer, tourists descend on Balaton, like thick flocks of migrating birds, or swarming moths, unable to resist the glittering light. This year we have a glut of French young guys and hot girls.
I do not yet know that on a magic night soon, they will thoroughly mesmerise me. So, on that night I go to the Keringõ, the ‘must’ nightly hangout joint for all young nightclub lovers.
Our beloved jazz pianist, Gyula Turbuc, croons like a bon vivant, whispering songs into the microphone with contagious passion, his mouth nearly swallowing the microphone. But now, he does something atypical of him. He bursts into a song with loud volume, while his drummer claps his hands above his hands:
“Come on let’s twist again, like we did last summer! …”
At this point, those French tourists jump up together, as on a cue, invading the dance floor, and break into a dance – if it can be called a dance, rather than jaw dropping athletics.
They perform these seemingly impossible movements: their hands and arms wiggling in one direction while their legs wiggle in the other. So when the hands are out to the extreme right, much of the rest of their bodies swing out to the other side. But this is only for starters! There is total co-ordination among these movements, as well as one arm swinging forward while the other swinging back.
The two dancers twist in sync, but while one goes to the right, the other moves to the left. Then the guy pulls his left knee right up to the right side of his chest and then lowers his heel to the floor in rapid alternation as well as twisting the heal from right to left.
He begins to dance around the girl on one leg while continuing this movement with the other leg. Now he comes very close to the girl while she bends backward and he leans over her while they twist, remaining in total sync. Then they look like two snakes as they nearly touch each other, while they perform all sorts of contortionist tricks.
Oh, what grace and skill! I am enchanted. These inimitable French! I could never dance like them! Or, could I? My body wants to twist with them.
My mind says, “Forget it! You’ll never master this.”
But I have caught the twist bug! Although I just cannot get my head around how to twist in different directions with my arms and legs, sure I want to imitate them. So, I stand gingerly behind the dancers and try to twist like they do.
Total disaster. It is everything but a twist! How do they do it? I do not know, but I try over and over again.
I look like an awkward flat-footed duck trying to move like graceful swans.
At least people cannot see me as I stand outside in the semi dark space, away from the limelight. Yet my heart yearns to be right in there with them in the middle of the floor. But I do not dare to go there. I do not want to be laughed off the floor.
I go home and stand in front of the mirror, attempting the opposing twists. No co-ordination!
“It’s impossible,” I curse.
Well, impossible or not, it is too late to give up now! I am hooked! I am back night after night with the French, trying to copy them. But I just cannot get the synchronisation right- a necessity for doing their amazingly graceful twist.
Then one night, I almost make it. Now I move closer to the dancers.
And, ‘click’! At last, I begin to move in sync with them! I cannot believe the magic of the experience! And these generously smiling French accept me as one of their own! The guys and the hot girls dance around me and show me their amazing tricks.
I cannot wait to get home and plead with my sister to practice with me, so that we can dance together.
After a few days we go back to the nightclub, swinging together. I sing the ‘Twist’ and ‘Come On Let’s Twist Again’ songs right through the summer and I keep twisting to the melody even as I walk.
Dancing myself into exhaustion with the French during that magic summer of 1971 was not to be the last time that I danced twist. Since then, I have kept it up and I still mimic the movements automatically, whenever I hear the tune:
“Come On Let’s Twist Again!”