“We’re taking ballroom dancing lessons.” my mother-in-law tells me on the phone. The words ballroom dancing take me straight from the conversation to my long gloves, silver shoes and crinolines. William’s Ballroom studio was my secret home away from home for many of my younger years; secret from my school, secret from my friends. It was a place where I found magic and beauty. It was a place filled with young people, infused into a different era. Perhaps the reason I was so enthralled at the time was because the onus for success was not singular; a great deal depended on your partner and the synergy between two people.
Instruction was in groups and between couples and I found the moves easy to master from the beginning. Group classes consisted of the boys and girls being taught in lines, eventually crossing the room to “take a partner.” It was fun to mix it up and dance with different people, but the real good stuff happened when paired with my regular dancing partner.
Getting into position with my partner was like slipping on a favorite pair of soft, faded jeans that knew every curve of my body and fit as a second skin. This kind of dancing is not two people moving simultaneously, but one smooth and graceful unit that needs no eye contact, no words; only music and the rhythm of each others bodies. I was not required to think or decide, but to follow and that, for me, was easy.
Private lessons were my favorite, as they met us where we were and took us higher. Our ‘routine’ was unique to us and we perfected our routines to in order to compete. I adored the long bus rides with our dancers and families to other states for weekends of camaraderie and competition.
It was elegant, sleeveless, fitted dresses that circled out at the waist over layered crinolines; long gloves, very high-heeled silver shoes, hair in a classic up-dos or long cascading curls.
It was tuxedos with shirts that matched the dresses, cuff links and highly polished black shoes.
It was competitors from flashy cities; couples with numbers on their backs and winning in their smiles.
It was hearing just the right swing song or favorite tango begin to play in the ballroom, putting the ease into my head tilted back and to the left and allowing a smile to creep onto my face.
It was hearing the winners called in order of 4th to 1st and standing in that one blazing moment of glory to accept a trophy.
“We’re learning the Rumba.” Dianne tells me and my knees immediately bend as I step into rhythm, hips responding in kind. The Rumba was my favorite dance. I chuckle to myself as I picture my in-laws in tuxedo and crinoline.
“That’s one of the hardest to get right.” I tell her, quite surprised that a teacher would pick that as a first dance. I think of watching beginning Rumba dancers, who find it near impossible to bend the knee of the foot that they are stepping on; quite opposite our natural instinct.
“Well, I can hear the beat and that’s the most important thing. Bob’s still looking for the beat.” She tells me. I picture my sweet, quiet, reserved father- in- law digging out the steps of the sexy Rumba with a sparkle in his eye and a grin on his face.
“I decided to get some CDs for us to practice,” she continued, “so I went to Wal-Mart to the music section.” I am not surprised because Dianne does not do anything half-way and the excitement in her voice tells me that this is going to be a passion to rival golf!
“I asked the boy that worked there to direct me to the Rumba section and he said ‘What’s that’?”
I picture in my head a spiky haired young man with several facial piercing who knows two different dances, the mosh and the cherry picker.
“He told me they have a machine where I could place the bar code beneath and it would play the songs. What a fantastic thing that is!” She continues. “So I found a section that said ‘Mexican Music’ and I spent at least forty-five minutes pushing those CDs under and counting out my steps to try to find the beat.”
I hold in a laugh, picturing my mother-in-law doing the Rumba to Mariachi music in Wal-Mart for forty-five minutes, most likely unaware of the security cameras or the potential crowd gathering.
“You know I have to blog about this.” I tell her. She surrenders immediately.
The vision greets me several times through the day and brings a warm smile. I am envious in a funny way; not just of the dance classes but of the unbridled boldness that it would take to dance alone in Wal-Mart.
And then I wonder; would it really be so weird? There’s a Wal-Mart not far from here.
I really do miss dancing the Rumba…