The Hollow in the Cliff

Shelia McCourt

This hour feels like two this morning. What we put our bodies through in the name of art, so my thoughts ran on as I tried to remain pleasantly responsive to my teacher’s encouragement and criticism. The room which served as a dance studio was a dusty and cobweb festooned loft, over the old stable, disused now but part of the local pub The Cobweb Inn. I struggled with my glissé, trying to slide my feet gracefully over the rough and chipped boards without gathering up too many splinters in my ballet shoes. I had been satisfied with my relevés sur les pointes at the end of the exercises at the barre, although my upright stance may have been partly due to the condition of the crumbling window sill, which doubled as a barre, and my fear of being catapulted into space if the whole structure gave way.

‘Right that will do for this morning. Reverence.’ The command was given in French. I executed two deep curtsies, not just an exercise in how to curtsy or a salutation in gratitude to my long suffering teacher, but also a ritual part of the long tradition of the history of ballet. As I changed my shoes and gathered up my tights and tunic, I thought of the old master Enrico Cecchetti and would like to have blamed him for the painful hour in which my teacher and I had been struggling to do justice to his technique. A technique which he formulated after a life dedicated to the theatre and teaching ballet. He died at the age of seventy eight, whilst giving a lesson at La Scala in Milan. The dusty loft in Boscastle was far removed from the grandeur of the performance of Classical Ballet, but it was in its way a small memento of that great man. My teacher who had learned her art from a pupil of Cecchetti was devoted in passing on his method in as pure a form as was possible to the next generation of teachers of dance.

My friend had been a dance teacher at the Art’s Educational School at Tring. She had moved to Boscastle several years earlier to nurse her sick husband and after his death she had turned her home into a small guest house. We had a working relationship in return for dancing lessons I helped her in the guest house during the holiday periods. After escaping from the loft the rest of the day was mine until five o’clock when my duties were to help with the evening meal. I called at the house to pick up my picnic and made my way up to the hollow in the cliff.

It took me about ten minutes to walk there, I passed the Old Forge which was now a café, and waved to Mary as she was setting the tables outside ready for the first customers of the day. There were one or two visitors looking into the window of the Pixie Shop with the three grotesque statues of goblins outside. They were modelled on the true Cornish idea of the old and menacing hobgoblin and not the comical, fanciful figures that filled the shop shelves and which the tourists loved to buy. On dull days I always hurried by the towering hillside with its cold granite rocks that appeared as menacing and grey as the goblins themselves. High above the harbour were the six fishermen’s’ cottages with their fresh light paint shining brightly in the sunlight, but sadly now being turned into holiday cottages.

Shelia Congdon (nee McCourt)

Miss Williamson