I am an “older” woman. A year ago I started taking ballroom dance lessons — not for fun, but to compete. It may seem ridiculous. But start I did and fell in love with the process, the physicality, the pushing of your brain and body beyond limits you even knew existed until it’s all you do or want to do. It’s addictive, but that works for me. Considering all the other possible addictions, other than the financial aspect, I could have chosen something worse. It is the most difficult, challenging, artistic and exhilarating thing I have ever attempted. You’re getting the picture … I dance — a lot.
People, mostly women around my age, ask me many questions. Many, like me, have been alone for a very long time. This in particular, in my opinion, is the greatest stumbling block. Let me explain.
In the beginning, the training is formal, you dance a foot apart. You concentrate on the fox trot, the waltz, the swing, the tango, the cha cha and the rumba. As you progress, the distance closes; I am assuming this is by design. I’ll never forget the first time my dance partner was explaining an advanced tango move. He said, “You have to put your leg between my legs.” I apparently looked appalled, because he repeated it. All I could say as I stared back at him blankly was, “What?” But I got it. Hurdle overcome, free to proceed. But many never make it over that first hurdle.
So, the process continues, familiarity deepens, you get to know each other on a personal level that you don’t expect. What’s happening in your life is reflected by what your body does or does not do, and my partner knows when something is going on the minute I walk through the studio doors.
In my case, there is a great deal of conversation going on, before we dance, while we dance, after we dance, while we’re sitting around at a competition and during practice. I know his life; he knows mine, probably better than most. He knows my strengths and weaknesses, my frustrations, how I learn, what scares me, what challenges me, and when to push hard and when to back off.
On the physical side lies a good deal of what I find amusing. Because of what you are learning and the repetitive nature of dance — 250 repeats of a step or sequence of steps before they become muscle memory — when you get something wrong, you will do it wrong over and over again until you get it right. In these moments humor is required.
I have said many times that serious ballroom dance is the most intimate, non-sexual relationship you’ll ever have.
I have found myself with my face in my partner’s armpit. I have come out of a spin thrusting my arms out and found my hand in his front pocket. He has dipped me without warning and since I wasn’t wearing appropriate dance underwear, I was upside down with my entire chest was exposed to those watching. I have stepped on the hem of my palazzo pants just before he did the same causing a major wardrobe malfunction, but he managed to pull them back up, eliminate the fall, and continue dancing. He has untangled my earring from my necklace, fixed my hair, and tells me when my bra needs adjustment. After my leg surgery he examined my legs so as not to hurt me, and to understand what could and could not be attempted. When I have tricky, crazy shoes, he buckles them. We dry each other off when we’re sweating — sorry, as we’re in the south, it is called “glistening.” When I can’t get something and am on the verge of tears, he holds me. When we have just performed very well, we hold each other. We know each other better than most, and there is no explanation. It is not a brother-sister, mother-son relationship. It defies a name.
Every once in a while, when your timing is perfect and you’re at the top of your game, things look and feel different — familiar and unfamiliar at the same time. With just the right timing and speed, the dance ends and your eyes lock with your partner’s in a gaze. Words aren’t spoken, but that gaze expels “YES!” It’s white hot. It is, after all, what the audience expects.