Sunday, October 17, 2004

Shall We Dance?

Quick, quick, slow, step, step.

1-2-3, left, right, 1-2-3.

Backwards on the balls of my feet . . . forward slide.

Whew, there's way more thinking to this dance stuff than I ever imagined! Still, I absolutely love the feeling of a hand in the middle of my back, practically steering me from one twirl to the next. When it's right . . . and with my dear friend B at the wheel the only reason it's not is when I try to "drive", it's an out-of-body experience.

There are few times in life when I want desperately to lose control, to let go and see where the moment takes me. Too much seems to be at stake . . . my reputation, my professionalism, my confidence, my fragile psyche (that was a joke) . . . but on the dance floor, I long for it. Because it's only in the letting go that you find the right-ness of it all.

In Ecuador my salsa teacher only spoke Spanish and while I was going to classes four hours each morning I still needed a translator when he told me to leave my dance partner and friend and join him for the evening. No, he was not amazed at my dancing ability. He told our translator, "Tell her that while it is good to have a strong personality, on the dance floor, the man takes the lead." Ouch!

While I wanted to let my friend lead, he was new to the dance and less than confident. We had chatted about it and I thought that I was following, but obviously our instructor thought otherwise. So I spent the evening in his arms and out as he instructed each couple with details on what they were doing wrong but somehow not so wrong that they needed him to take them on as his new partner. I waited and watched and followed. And finally, at the close of the class when he added several steps, turns, twirls and squeezes that I attentively followed to the max and that he had not given instruction for, he grabbed me even tighter at the waist and said in my ear, "Muy bien!"

Damn right, muy bien!

When I trust that the leader will truly lead, that it's not a matter of lack of knowledge, or confidence, or insecurity or whatever, then I can follow. But I'm sad to say, I rarely sense that.

Except with B. He's got almost 30 years on me and he's filled it with learning square dance, clogging, Texas two steps and line dances, and, I hear most recently, he's added Mexican dance to his repertoire. He's so dear that he counts for me and with a smile on his face every time, reminds me that "you have to keep the count even if you're not moving forward or backward," "you're in no hurry, don't race through it," and "now you just keep going while I do the turning." After about three dances last night, I remembered the hours of bike riding I'd done this weekend and the recent late nights and wondered if I was going to physically keep up with him. After the fourth dance when he twirled me around the dance floor for two full cycles and I swear I thought my soul might be looking down on my body, I didn't care if my legs fell off and my lungs exploded out of my chest, I was staying until he said stop!

I still remember the first time I danced with someone who knew how to lead. It was a dance in my church gym and only a few years ago. (I should probably note here that my era of teenage dancing never included partners actually touching one another.) We went out on the floor and as usual, I went left when he wanted to go right, I stepped when I should have slid, I couldn't count, etc. But for some reason I took a breath and finally felt that hand in my back . . . that strong hand . . . that hand that I somehow knew would guide me in the way that I should go. And I let go.

My God, what a rush. I had no idea what was coming next and it didn't matter. I had no sense of self and it was inconsequential. I had no claim to the minutes passing, and I gave it up willingly. I was gliding. I don't know if it looked that way to anyone watching but as far as I was concerned, I was Cinderella (in the cartoon version where her feet really never move, but she and her dress truly float across the ballroom) and magic was happening. And then I saw something all too real out of the corner of my eye and it was over. Might have been the basketball goal, the table near the dance floor or a friend, I don't know but suddenly reality returned and I was painfully aware of my foot as it stepped on his and then rushed to correct it by overcorrecting it and . . . well, you get the idea. The moment was gone.

But that moment, and moments like this weekend, are enough of a drug to keep me coming back, keep me learning, keep me longing to let go just one more time and . . . truly . . . dance.

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