Hens Wearing Dancing Shoes

I was invited to my first-ever hen night recently. It was all very exciting, and I tried to be calm about it, but I got the email in bed just before sleep, so I rapped on my partner’s shoulder until he looked up from his laptop (yes, we really are that geeky) and said, “What?” and I got to say, with great, burgeoning pride (bordering on the excessive, really): “I’ve been invited to Sophie’s hen night!!!!” (You really could hear all those exclamation points.)

But later, I reread the invite and anxiety (as it does) crawled out of its dusty corner and started to gnaw and snarl. There was going to be dancing involved, said the email. An old East Oxford building had gotten a facelift and was reopening its doors and the words “a spot of retro disco” were flashing in my face, very loud, very clear, very, well, bright.

I’m not much of a dancer, you see. It’s not that I don’t want to be—or even that, a few cocktails later, I don’t try to be. I just don’t have it in me to understand intuitively how to move my body alongside a rhythm and a melody. I thought about that spot of retro disco, and very nearly decided not to go. Images of awkward teenage moments relived rose before me: a jangling of limbs, some shuffling, the question of what do to with your hands, and everyone else around me looking either like they had attended the Royal Bloody Ballet School or like they were actually quite literally having sex. I am physically unable to dance ballet, and I am morally unable to have sex in the midst of a teeming mass of other people.

But excitement, and the fact that I was frankly honored to be included, and fondness for the Royal Hen herself, all won out, and I acquiesced to my desire to participate, and found myself on a Thursday night having cocktails with a group of lovely women, and the first thing that occurred to me was, “I haven’t been with a group of all women in a very, very long time,” and the second thing that occurred to me was, “it’s really actually kind of nice!”

Something else soon became apparent to me, too. Like me, everyone else appeared to be more interested in ordering bottles of champagne and chatting than in scuttling down the road to shake booties and wave arms. It was only after we’d had enough champagne and snacks to bolster our confidence that someone tentatively suggested that we think about moving on; I was heartened, at this point. So we plunged out into the chill night and swam through the neon lights of the Cowley Road, past kebab houses and churches, to The Regal (neé the Bingo Hall).

It was shiny. And everything smelled of new paint. The bartender looked a little nervous, as if he wasn’t sure everything would hold together, and a suitably surly woman with enormous breasts and substantial thighs guarded the door, dressed in a suit and tie with a neon green armband. So this is a hen night, I thought. It occurred to me that it’s not a bad way to spend an evening, really. We ordered more prosecco and curled up in big plush leather couches.

Upstairs the disco ball was spinning and a DJ was playing music very, very loudly. There was a smattering of people on the dancefloor, but I was relieved to see that most of them didn’t appear to really know what they were doing, either. It was a strange group and we tried to puzzle out who they were, why they were here. The incongruity of a swanky shiny dance club nuzzling the edges of a churchyard and a string of seedy-looking barbershops really hit us, then. I wondered: will it last? Will it stay like this, sparkling and artificial? And thought: no. More likely it will acquire, as things do here, a flavor all its own, and the paint will start to peel and then it will stop being a sore thumb and start being a real place.

Then we forgot to keep worrying and danced. We had a corner all to ourselves and it didn’t seem to matter to anyone that my version of dancing is essentially to sway my hips and run my hands through my hair (a solution I finally came up with one night after years of having no sense of where to put them). We moved our way choppily through a series of bright but only vaguely disco tunes. Our cheeks got flushed (at least, I think they did, but it was hard to tell in the murky dark upstairs). And then I forgot to be stilted and danced. And that was nice.

We got tired, after awhile. We went back downstairs and felt woozy and all the shiny colors blurred together. At the bar they had run out of prosecco, and the card reader was broken, or maybe it was that it hadn’t been delivered yet--I couldn't quite catch everything over the din of an evening. So we drank white wine paid for entirely with one-pound-coins.

The night moved slowly; swaying, sashaying, a happy blur of hair and hands and bubbles; and when the edges of our vision had turned completely into a glitter of disco-ball colors and our heads were light and our tapping feet very tired, we headed home--one quick step out of the glitz and into the gentle quiet of residential Cowley where midnight winds silked our skin.