Symonds Yat dance weekend – the (very) bad

The dancing weekend had some great highs, and one sad, horrible low, when on Saturday night the other group’s teacher collapsed on the dancefloor. Despite strenuous efforts from dancers with medical training, he died shortly afterwards. The following isn’t particularly pleasant reading and I’ll hide it from the front page.

Every few months my dance group visit a hotel with a ballroom and spend a weekend learning new steps and practising existing routines. Three of the last four events have seen us join up with a Stafford group run by a professional couple who are old friends of my teachers. There’s been some rivalry between the two groups, but although we seem to end up seated on opposite sides of the dancefloor it’s always friendly and there’s a good atmosphere.

Saturday night’s event was black tie, and after an impressive meal we headed into the ballroom. The dancefloor became busier as the sky darkened and food settled. The teacher of the other group, Harry, played music for an hour or so, then our teacher took over. Harry didn’t stay still for long, soon whisking his group’s prettiest girls around in waltzes, quicksteps and rumbas. I was, as ever, dancing half the time and taking pictures the rest – I remember planning angles and techniques to try for the rest of the evening. At around 2130 a samba beat started, and Lynsey and I stepped onto the floor, along with much of the other group.

The samba involves much more travelling than the other Latin dances, and various couples hurtled up and down the floor. Lynsey and I stepped carefully to avoid the traffic, and quickly had to make way for Harry and his partner, who were twirling and lifting in impressive form. Our samba was a little rusty, but after half a minute or so we’d got the rhythm, and then there came a horrible crack from my right. I turned and saw somebody lying on the dancefloor, people rushing to his side. Our dance group contains two police officers and a fireman, who were up and moving in an instant.

I’ve seen people fall on the dancefloor before, but it quickly became obvious this was very different. The tone of the voices was immediately urgent and within a few seconds they shouted for somebody to call an ambulance. People snapped back into focus, and the music stopped as half the group reached for their phones. I couldn’t tell who it was – I asked somebody nearby and was told it was Harry. I saw my teacher whisking Harry’s wife out of the room – in hindsight a very fast, rational reaction – and when I looked back the small group were performing mouth-to-mouth and CPR.

We all hung back. It was obviously a serious situation, but my immediate reaction was to assume it would turn out ok. Most of the time, things do. But the emergency methods triggered a new level in me and the group as the situation sunk in, and I couldn’t help but notice people’s reactions1. Some were crying, some needed to sit down, but most stood and looked on, moving close to their partners. CPR continued. I remembered being told that real-life CPR is very different from TV CPR as you have to press incredibly hard to physically pump the heart, and (whether I should admit this I don’t know, but it’s how I reacted) I looked to see whether this was the case, wondering whether I should feel guilty about doing so. We hovered in small groups, checking everybody was ok or being looked after. After a few minutes I noticed a couple of smiles from people around me. Obviously these were not in any way relative to the situation, and I thought of what I’ve read of the psychology of laughter and how it can be a reaction to tragedy.

The ambulance arrived in under fifteen minutes, and we were asked to clear the room. This was surprisingly unexpected – there’d been no concept of feeling in the way, or wondering what we should do. Maybe we were all just waiting, still expecting it to turn out all right. It was clear, though, that the situation was grim: CPR and mouth-to-mouth were continuing, but a lot of time had passed. We cleared out to the lounge. Harry’s dance group were more shocked than ours, as you’d expect, and huddled together. We chatted in small groups for a while, empty conversations about holidays etc. that made unexpected turns towards death, and after a little while were asked to empty the lounge. I’m not sure of the reasoning for this, but possibly because of other guests. Everybody headed back to their rooms, and Lynsey and I joined a small group, one of whom had stayed behind until all hope had gone. I suppose it was expected, but until then there’d still been the possibility he’d at least been rushed to hospital.

I was later told he’d been seen to collapse rather than fall, although whether it was this or the head injury that…I don’t know. Hopefully the former. While extremely sad, at least there’s no reason to think he suffered, and he died doing what he loved. The tragedy is his poor wife, and our thoughts were and are with her.

I doubt many people slept well that night, and breakfast the next morning was sombre. Most, I think, said quiet goodbyes and left early. A group of us took in a few local sights and did have some fun, but our thoughts were rarely far from the previous night.

There’s not much more to say. Before Saturday night the weekend had been good, and I want to mention that too, but I’ll put it in a separate post.

  1. probably, in hindsight, as a way of dealing with the event []