I am hooked on tea dances! When I was younger, I never really went to dances. I’m too old for discos… they didn’t really exist when I was the right age, but at school I learnt the waltz, the quickstep, the foxtrot.
Trying to remember those when we went to tea dances put on by Age UK in preparation for Finding Your Feet (in cinemas from Friday 23 February) was really special. You can have tea – or champagne – and cake, a big band plays, and you get up and dance with total strangers in the afternoon.
Older people can get quite lonely and these events give everybody a chance to meet new people, dress up a bit, and exercise their body and their minds. Remembering the steps is good for the brain and the feeling of achievement is wonderful. The human touch of old-fashioned dancing is also good for us – we’ve been guided away from ever touching anybody unless it’s a kind of sexual embrace.
My character in the film, Jackie, has been a divorce lawyer for 30 years – and married five times – and she’s joined the dance group to meet new people.
It’s so inspiring!
I’ve travelled a lot, and I’ll always remember in areas of China, every night on the local games field, everything is cleared away, music blares out and everybody is expected to go and dance – old and young, in groups, pairs or alone – all together.
Those two hours make you feel fit, they make you friendly with people, and they make you make an effort, which is wonderful. We should do that here!
Getting together to learn the dances for this film, taking those first steps, was like a breath of fresh air. I thought, “God, I love doing this.” It’s so nice to make a film about people who aren’t 22 years old and that shows that we still have lives, feelings and emotions when we get older.
Often, the message in films today is that it’s only worth having a go – or trying to change – when you’re young, but this one is all about older people coping with and embracing big, unexpected changes in their lives.
My character Sandra is uptight and locked into her life. When her husband has an affair and she leaves him, she goes to stay with her sister who is much more free-spirited, and her whole life is shaken up. Dancing helps her move forward.
Dancing is about trying, finding friends and the joy in something new. And, crucially, feeling part of something, which is important however old you are. Teenagers can get isolated if they’re not in the gang – it makes them feel wanted.
This dance troupe makes everyone feel like they have another family. It lets them express stuff they couldn’t in their everyday lives. That’s what dance does: when you learn steps, it’s not just about you any more, it’s about the whole. It’s also nice to see people dancing imperfectly on screen because this definitely isn’t Strictly Come Dancing!
I’m the worst dancer in the world. When I was at Rada, we did a production of Lady, Be Good, and I was appalling – I had six left feet. We used to have to do ballet and everyone else could get their legs on the bar; I – a poor arthritic old man at 26 – could only put my leg up on a chair!
I don’t even dance at weddings. I sit and chat to the older people, which is far more fascinating. Luckily, unlike the rest of the cast, I didn’t have to dance for this part and I was ecstatic.
I play Mike, Sandra’s cheating husband: her leaving him is where the story starts.
Imelda and I first met playing Kit Kat girls in Cabaret in Exeter years and years ago. You never know when you’ll meet back up with people – to be dancing with her again is rather thrilling. And it’s lovely playing her older sister.
Bif takes Sandra in, despite not really having seen her in ten years, so they’re getting to know each other again. And what better way than going dancing. It’s a shame people don’t do more dancing.
I hope it’s coming back into fashion a bit. I’ve just learned to do a foxtrot, which is an absolutely gorgeous dance – really elegant and contained.
I love the effect dance has on everybody; I find it terribly moving to see people of a certain age being so lithe on their feet, back doing something they had done years ago. Dancing is the most marvellous thing you can do and I love it… especially Greek dancing with bare feet, which I do on my own in my kitchen!
Before this film, I hadn’t danced since I was last in pantomime 25 years ago. This is very different to that, but great fun. I’ve got new respect for everyone who does Strictly – how do they learn those routines in such a short space of time? It’s phenomenal!
Appropriately, my character, Ted, is the one who always messes up the dances. He has been an engineer all his life, lives on a houseboat and misses his wife, who died a few years ago. So despite not being very good at it, dancing is very important to him. We spent two weeks struggling on a number to the tune of Chantilly Lace.
When we finally did it, we were all cheering, ‘We’ve done it! We’ve done it!’ All the professionals on set burst into applause! The sensation you get when you get a dance right is fantastic.
Finding Your Feet is in cinemas from Friday 23 February