Eight weeks ago, I began ballroom dancing, in preparation for a fund raising event to help a children’s cancer organization. In doing so, I’ve discovered just how invigorating ballroom dancing can be. I can’t get it out of my head. You know you’re hooked when you awake at 3:00 a.m. moving and grooving to the rhythm of the Hustle. As I counted the and 1,2,3 beat I came to my senses when I heard my aged dog Cece breathing vigorously at the side of my bed. She is 17 years old, which by my calculations are 119 people years. I could feel the bed jiggling as the sandpaper sound of her paws running sideways over the carpet replaced Abba’s retro classic, Dancing Queen, still playing in my mind. Alarmed at first and fearing the old girl was dying I was relieved when I realized that she, too, was lost somewhere in dreamland perhaps romping and frolicking through sage green grasses and fresh water creeks.
The first time I met my dance teacher, Richard, was in a private studio. It was just him and me and the mirrored walls. There was a moment when I swear I could hear my mother’s voice, “Be careful. Never put yourself in a situation where you are alone with a man you don’t know.” Five minutes later, I was swerving my hips and we were holding hands. This would not have been possible if not for Richard’s professional manner, his gentlemanly approach and my motivation to help a worthy cause.
But as I look back, I think getting old, like my dog, is what attracted me to ballroom dancing in the first place. You see, two of my four children have had cancer. Being exposed to sick children, has taught me the value of time well spent. It isn’t often one finds a physical activity to begin at my age. And having the added bonus of being pretty good at it is feeding the obsession. The last time I felt this kind of intensity was in junior high when I was a gymnast. Prior to dancing, I considered other activities. Golf has looked interesting at times, but golf is boring. Cycling is more exciting, but too risky. Besides, who needs a sore butt? Tennis is fun, but I’ve had difficulty finding a partner. Plus there’s no music or sequins. With ballroom dancing, the venues are plentiful. I have found several local classes offering small group lessons as well as social venues offering ballroom parties weekly or daily.
Dancing can be done anywhere. I recently saw a group of dancers in the middle of the 3rd Street Promenade in Santa Monica doing the Salsa. Snappish men and saucy women swayed and swirled over each other’s arms and legs in perfect rhythm like hot chips and salsa, it was delicious and made me hunger for more. Hurray for them, I thought, and maybe me someday soon.
Each week of practice has exposed another layer of my comfort zone, leaving me with a feeling of vulnerability I don’t always enjoy. “Stay closer when you turn,” Richard said. “Stop running away from me after that cross-body lead.” I felt like I was going to hit him with my elbow or other protruding parts. But as I have learned to follow his lead and recognize his hand directions, a trust has developed. It is like reading sign language, only without the use of my eyes. I can now feel the Cha Cha, Swing, Waltz and even the Hustle. Against my natural desire to take the lead, following has become natural. Last week I even heard myself say, “Can we promenade one more time?”
I find it interesting that with ballroom dancing, a person can have multiple dance partners without offending anybody. Richard, who is straight and single, explains, “When I go dancing, I might have up to twenty different partners. That means I have a three-minute relationship with twenty different women in one night. And the best part is when I am done dancing, there’s no commitment.”
Pretty sweet if you are Richard, but what if you are married like me? Does the same rationale apply? I tested it out the other night at the Granada Pavilion. It was my first time attending a social ballroom event so I dragged my sister along. That’s what sisters are for. Both of us, with our freshly polished wedding rings, joked about the likelihood of being wall flowers. Five minutes into it we were spinning and twirling. After three hours of dancing with different partners, I now see the whole thing as a sort of rhythmic handshake; a friendly gesture, that’s all. Those who truly dance for the enjoyment of dancing, do just that. I enjoyed following the guidance of the short, light-on-his feet guy who reminded me of my Uncle Charlie. His black Fedora hat, red satin vest and black and white saddle shoes were also fun until he decided to lift me off my feet. “That’s a deduction,” I told him and moved on to the 6 foot 3 frame of a towering gentle giant who made me feel like a little ballerina on a jewelry box I had as a child. You know the kind that starts spinning when you open the box? The music tinkles and the unseen magnet below the surface of the pink dancer’s pointed toe makes her spin and twirl.
That’s it! The magnetism, the push and pull of the rhythm, the hand hold lead, the nudge and spin this way and that. The box has been opened. Luckily for me, my husband trusts me. Thus far, he has handled my ballroom adventure with grace. I would not be able to enjoy it if I did not have his full support. His ability to set me free to the floor makes me love him all the more.
All of this comes as a wonderful surprise. I did not expect to be discovering my inner child as I approach fifty years of age. Richard is sixty one and an inspiration.
But, here I am, finding myself stirred to wakefulness in the middle of a good night’s sleep with the warmth of my handsome husband next to me and my old dog chasing fantasies in fields so far away they can only be found in her dreams.