You may note that I've elected to categorize the following in "Ballroom Dance." I chose that category simply because I lack one called "Personal Disasters of Epic Proportions."
At 5:55 p.m. last Friday evening, we were full of enthusiasm and hope, eager to conquer the romantic and brave new world of ballroom dancing.
Two hours later we were shambling, twitching, sweating (well, MLB was merely glowing) step-counting robots whose fantasies were as shattered as our dance "moves." My wife later confessed that her dreams were filled with the mantra, "itty-bitty step...itty-bitty step..." For my part, all I managed to retain was that I, being the man, always start with my left foot. Everything thereafter is a blur; may God have mercy on my partner.
We arrived at the dance studio precisely on time, only to discover that everyone else was early. It reminded me of a junior high function (except for the male-female pairings); each couple stood in their own circle of personal space, sizing up the others ("yeah, I think I take him in the waltz; not sure about the mambo, however"), hoping to find someone who looked klutzy enough to divert attention from themselves. The demographic was pretty consistent...middle-aged WASPish, like us, with a single GenX couple who seemed to be second-guessing their Friday evening plans. There were about ten couples in all, plus two women without partners (and I gave them extra credit for their courage). MLB and I were fortunate in that we were friends with one of the couples; they had, in fact, provided us with the motivation to sign up for the class, and it remains to be seen whether forgiveness will be forthcoming.
After a five minute introduction by our instructor, a tall brunette named Bernadette, the guys were told to line up across the room and we launched immediately into the first steps of our dancing careers. We started with the foxtrot, and I encountered my first humiliation of the evening (I got used to them, by the way).
Apparently, in ballroom dancing it's considered to be the suave and gentlemenly thing to keep your knees together with feet pointed straight ahead ("pretend you're wearing corduroy pants, and the ribbing rubs with each step," Bernadette helpfully suggested). Well, that ain't happenin' with yours truly. I'm 6' 1" but I'd be 6' 4" if I weren't bowlegged, and one foot pretty much refuses to point straight ahead, if given a choice. We all had a big laugh over that, and I'm sure the others were still laughing later after I sneaked out and let the air out of their tires.
Despite my apparent physical shortcoming, I managed to get through the evening with a minimal amount of damage to either my partner or the other students. The least comfortable moment of the class was the one time we had to switch partners and I ended up with the GenX girl, who was about 4' 11" and had that deer-in-the-headlights look as she contemplated my size 10s next to her (very fashionable) size 2s. That encounter is now, thankfully, a blur; all I remember is her saying at the end, "you take really big steps, don't you?"
As this class is entitled "An Introduction to Ballroom Dancing," we went wide but not deep. We covered the foxtrot, waltz, cha-cha, rumba, mambo, tango and merengue. My personal favorite is the merengue, as it was the last one we tried and thus the only one I remember. Also, the merengue seems to consist basically of walking, and while my carriage is not a thing of beauty*, I mastered that skill a number of years ago and it's finally coming in handy.
Lessons learned? First, ballroom dancing isn't for wimps. Those who do it well are working harder than I ever imagined, especially with the latin steps. We used muscles that apparently lay back on a chaise lounge and sip iced tea during cycling and running workouts. Second, it's fun, even if you're really bad at it. In fact, for a while anyway, I think being bad at it is part of the fun. Expectations are low; everyone's messing up. I'm not sure how long I'll be able to capitalize on that situation, but it's the best plan I've got at this point.
We're facing three more lessons, one each Friday evening in May. But the only light at the end of this tunnel is an oncoming freight train, as the ladies have discovered that Midland has, of all things, a Ballroom Dance Society, where members get all gussied up once a month and go to the Petroleum Club for a couple of hours of gliding across the floor to the accompaniment of live music. The ladies think it all sounds very romantic and cultured. I can't repeat what the guys think.
*Extra credit to anyone who can identify the culturally iconic source of that phrase.