Yes, I’m familiar with the latest craze, “Dancing with the Stars”. Somehow, I’ve managed to miss this new season. Excuse me if I pass. I think it has to do with my own indoctrination.
Ballroom dancing – what a way to stay fit and meet men. I had a colleague who began dancing in her sixties and ended up with partners who looked like Antonio Bandera and loads of sequined costumes in her closet. College professor by day; Juliet Prowse at night and on the weekend circuit. Her dance card was always filled. She mastered the Latin rhythms and had the trophies to prove it. The glamour, the excitement, the fun! Sign me up! At least that’s what I think in the early days of my transition to the single life. Heck, the nuns at the local convent were probably seeing more action than I was getting. I had to do something.
As if sensing my desperation, another friend, recently divorced, phones me. Would I like to attend a dancing lesson with her and then stay overnight? Delightful! I can do this. I have just climbed mountains in the Canadian Rockies (and have a bruised toe to show for it). Ballroom dancing will be my new challenge. Nothing like a girlfriend at your side to provide the right impetus and support system. I have not seen this friend for a couple years and am really psyched about catching up, plus learning a few steps on the dance floor.
The week drags on. Finally, TGIF! I feel like a teenager again, going to a sleepover. I drive up to her house after work. I over pack because I don't have a clue about what one wears to a dance lesson and a mixer. I throw three pairs of shoes into my car trunk and a selection of outfits that I grab from my closet, literally. I pull into the winding driveway of her beautiful suburban home (some divorces fare better than others). My friend comes running out to greet me.
Now you have to understand about Julie - she is a perpetual Size 2 and a yoga/aerobics instructor. Tall and thin and lithe and graceful, she also enters tennis competitions. All feelings of empowerment and competence that I have just gained climbing mountains slide off the cliff as my Size 14 frame gets out of the car. I arrive in blue jeans and sport top. Julie is standing there in a leather miniskirt and tight black sweater. She promptly says, “Oh, you’re going in jeans – that’s okay”. I promptly think “over your dead body” and haul my 200-lb. suitcase into her house.
The evening continues to go downhill from there. We are not going to the dance alone. She introduces me to Bob. I give the gal credit. She’s 52; he just turned 40. And this was before Demi and Ashton. The new boyfriend is quite a hunk. The man has "bedroom eyes". Big and beefy guy, kind of a Cliff Robertson face wrapped in a vintage John Wayne body. I discover later that his moves on the dance floor are quite good. They make a very sexy couple. But, I'm running ahead of my story ….
My anxiety rises as I unpack. I discover that, aside from focusing on red and black, I have managed to completely mismatch all my jewelry. You could say I am on the cutting edge, a veritable trend setter - fashionably eclectic. Hell, they will put the lights out eventually but it's not going to be pretty until I'm in the dark. I settle for a long black dress with a slit, for those Ginger Roger moments when I kick out my leg. The dress has red roses as its design. They go quite well with my Victorian bracelet and earrings but the blue ring and mod silver choker seem to be making another statement. My friend is no help at all – she is hot to foxtrot and already focusing on John Wayne.
We drive a short distance and arrive at a storefront Academy of Dance in a strip mall. This is where Julie and Bob and several other suburban couples spend their time and mucho money learning how to ballroom dance. Pick your specialty. Julie and Bob are into the tango right now. I try to keep a low profile and blend in with the dance regulars (I already know this isn't American Bandstand). I’m concentrating on which shoes will get me through the night without some jerk stepping on my bruised toe. I initially settle for a demure pair of dressy flats, figuring I won't fall on my bum and make a fool of myself during the group dance lesson. However, as soon as I walk into the downstairs studio, I sense my flats will just not cut the mustard. This room has a sleazy guy with a moustache who is actually selling shoes, ballroom shoes - boxes lined up and a catalog on a chair. Julie is quite excited. Obviously, the serious ballroom dancer must have the perfect shoe.
Have I mentioned the mirrors yet? If I don't already know that my jewelry doesn't match and my flats are not exactly making a confidant and sexy statement to the public, I can now figure it all out. While Julie tries on pairs and pairs of dancing slippers, I get to stand idly by and assess myself in the 17 mirrors that completely surround me. Bright fluorescent lights add to the humiliation. I look around at the other ballroom regulars and realize that I'm probably the only full-figured lady in the place. At this point, I decide to take control of my life. I walk back to the car and pull out my Nine West black heels with the red insets. Hell, if I'm gonna fall on my ass, I might as well look elegant doing it. Meanwhile, girlfriend and her Prince Charming have both been fitted with their magic slippers (to the tune of $120 apiece).
We all trot upstairs for the group dance lesson. Tonight's theme is latin music. We begin with the merengue. Funny, I always thought that was a pie. I'm so excited - there is one other full-figured female in the room. Vivien is the hostess and dance instructor. Her partner is a guy named Joe, some computer geek, who seems slightly autistic. I watch him the entire night and this man does not smile nor make eye contact. People pay him money for private instructions. Go figure.
We all line up in front of those damn mirrors again. There is just no escaping; women on one side, men on the other. Vivien, who now reminds me of a recycled Dorothy Lamour, holds court: telling and showing us the basic steps of the merengue. Having taught a class or two, I must reveal that I do know that there are all kinds of learning styles. Some people are visual, hands-on; some are verbal. Quite frankly, I never did figure out where I belong. This will not serve me well tonight.
In the meantime, Vivien (who has probably been dancing since she left the womb) is rambling ahead, telling us which foot goes where and when but reminding the ladies that what she is saying has to do with the men who will be leading the dance. It slowly dawns on me that when Vivien says "left foot", I have to think "right foot" because I'm not a guy. I am also kinesthetically challenged. I only learned to roller skate on one skate (only-child syndrome) and that took me awhile. Now I'm expected to incorporate entire dance patterns within my post-menopausal brain and translate the message instantaneously to my dancing feet. Whoa!
When the music starts, we are to choose a partner. I do a quick count - more gals than guys, many of whom know each other. I'm in trouble. Sure enough, everyone pairs off. Vivien glances around at the dancing pairs and promptly walks over to me, the lone misfit with the mismatched jewelry. She grabs me and makes me her partner. Mortification. I want to scream at Dorothy Lamour and tell her that I don't have a clue about which foot goes where. And, right now, I'd like to put my foot right up her …. She's "the guy" and the music starts to play and I follow her lead as best I can. What do I remember most about my first dancing partner? She hasn't used deodorant.
Somehow I survive. As we move on to the waltz, more my pace, John and I choose each other as partners (only because everyone else has already been taken). Double mortification. John is the oldest male in the room; just shoot me now. The guy is in his late eighties and shorter than me. Sound familiar? I continue to smile as "Moon River" wafts out of the CD player. One-two-three, one-two-three ... if this guy drops over, I'll have to do CPR. I won't panic - it's like the waltz and the merengue combined. I just have to add two more beats. Breathe into the body. One-two-three-FOUR-FIVE, pump, pump. Thank God I'm a musician.
The beat goes on. We move from the waltz to the foxtrot to the salsa and the rhumba. Oh momma, I'm flying now! I’ve even caught the attention of autistic Joe, the male instructor, who leads me through some of the paces. Not a flicker of a smile nor any type of emotion on his face, like dancing with a stone. This is my Friday night out on the town! It doesn't get much better than this unless I have elective surgery or root canal.
After one of the longest periods of time in my mortal life, Vivien announces that the lessons are over and the lights are lowered. It's time to party and put all those dance steps into action. Julie and her boyfriend are in heat. They can't wait to get on the dance floor and do it. I mean the tango. They've been taking private lessons with Joe. By now, Vivien is looking pretty good to me as a dance partner. Instead, I find myself dancing with Mike, who could be my son and is about 7 feet tall, and later with Dan whose "wife is in Cape May". Dan weighs about 300 lbs. and is not my type. And why the hell, Dan, are you coming to these dance parties while your wife's away?!
Julie decides to share Bob with me. I think it’s an act of compassion. "Bedroom eyes" whisks me out onto the floor and we hustle, and salsa, and foxtrot, and waltz and he even shows me some tango steps. Throughout the night, whenever they feel sorry for me, Julie dances off with one of the other regulars, and Bob becomes my partner. This is getting to be fun. He is quite sexy and very intense. Dancing with Bob puts me into such a benevolent mood, that I, in turn, take pity on geriatric John and ask him to cha cha. We cut a mean figure. My best performance, however, comes at the end of the night when Joe, the catatonic dance instructor, extends his hand and takes me out for the merengue. Wow, I think I’m in some movie! I follow Fred Astaire’s lead and get to strut my stuff.
Later I realize that Vivien probably sent Joe over on a rescue mission. After all, if I'm the only "new kid on the block", they want to make sure I come back and spend more money. Select a slipper or two. They probably split the commission with the shoe salesman.
The houselights come up and a dynamic couple in their early 20s conclude the evening with a guest performance. They are announced as “fifth-ranked amateur-youth latin-dance couple”, a whirling combination of testosterone and purple spandex.
Next morning, I get up early enough to attend Julie's yoga class. As instructor, she performs back bends, pilates moves, and all sorts of contortions that my body just laughs at. Mission impossible. I am one of only two attendees in the class. The other is a double-jointed Size 2 who manages to follow all of Julie's yoga postures to perfection. In keeping with the weekend's theme of self-mortification and humiliation, I squat forlornly, bending and breathing and praying that I don't fall forward out of my down-dog position and land on my nose ….