As part of a pledge to try new things, I signed up for a night of dance lessons, and for good measure I talked my friend Kristy into accompanying me. Kristy was in her early 30’s, and still young enough to be excused for a lapse in judgement, but I was old enough to know better. The lesson was supposed to last three hours, from 8:00 pm until 11:00 pm, and I thought it a good value for the ten dollar admission charge. I filled in the online registration form and pictured myself back in junior high school, lined up in a gymnasium while I listened to a scratchy record player broadcasting the hokey pokey.
The night of the class Kristy and I were greeted at the door by a woman wearing a floor length, strapless black dress and high heels. This did not look like an outfit you would wear to dance the hokey pokey. Her hair was piled on top of her head in the sort of style that I could never manage without using buckets of gel and pins that insert directly into my scalp.
She held out a perfectly manicured hand as she introduced herself, “I’ll be your instructor tonight, you can call me Miss Cindy.”
I glanced past her at the dance floor. The dim lights reflected off the polished surface, and there were full length mirrors along three of the walls, the better to magnify your embarrassment. Miss Cindy took our money for the class, and told us to fill out name badges. I looked over the lesson plan for the evening. It turned out we had enrolled in a ballroom dancing class, and I regretted my clothing choice of comfortable blue jeans and flat soled loafers.
As I peeled off the paper backing and stuck the name tag to my t-shirt, Miss Cindy pointed out that I had my name tag on the wrong side, and she told me to move it over to my right shoulder. She mentioned she had an etiquette book we could look at if we wanted. I glanced at Karen. She quickly switched her name tag to the correct shoulder. I knew I was in trouble. I couldn’t even manage to attach a sticky paper name tag without violating some rule of proper conduct, how would I ever navigate a dance floor?
We headed over to a safe spot at a table pushed against the far wall and near the exit. The bright red exit sign would be a handy landmark in case there was a disaster like a fire or someone asking me to dance. Several couples twirled along effortlessly on the floor, smiling as they watched their reflections.
I pointed out the happy couples to Kristy. “Do you think smiling is a requirement in ballroom dancing?” I asked.
“You better practice a pleasant expression,” she replied.
Miss Cindy had the women line up on one side of the room, as though we were preparing for a firing squad. She matched each of us up to an unattached man. My partner was an older gentlemen with a military haircut and sharply pressed pants. He must have wandered into the dance class by mistake, and thought he would be leading boot camp exercises. Our first conflict came when he informed me that dancing the waltz involved more than just stepping in place. You are expected to move around the dance floor, without forging through the other dancers like a snow plow. Apparently I am not a good follower. I tend to lose focus and wander off on my own.
The lesson ended and Miss Cindy ordered us back to the main ballroom. I was glad to leave my drill instructor behind. I haven’t heard the words “No, no, no” so many times since I was the one saying them to my son, who was trying to eat a cricket at the time.
I found my familiar seat against the wall and beneath the exit sign. Just as Kristy joined me, Miss Cindy announced that she wanted to show us something new, and told the group that we would learn the “Merengue.” This sounded suspiciously to me like “Meringue”, a complicated pie thingy that I have never been able to make. I looked wistfully at the exit sign.
“What if we left early?” I asked Kristy.
“No! I paid ten dollars for this class, I’m not missing any of it,” she answered.
My next dance partner’s cologne arrived thirty seconds before he did. It wasn’t bad once my nose became numb. He held me so close during the dance that I felt he at least owed me a cigarette afterwards. The steps to the Merengue were complicated and Miss Cindy had to break the lesson down into sections. We went back to the beginning and repeated each section once we learned the next one. This resulted in a never ending dance circle of hell. My partner was more intent on getting my phone number than he was in learning the steps to the dance, and I wound up twirling off into the other dancers as I tried to both count and distract him with idle conversation. Maybe he thought my phone number started with “1, 2, 3…”
Finally Miss Cindy paused to take a breath, and I took that opportunity to escape. I raced across the floor to gather up Kristy, who was dancing with a man who had more in common with her grandmother. He had a weak grip, and she was able to detach herself quickly. Once we were safely outside I mentioned that maybe next time we should try something less exciting, perhaps skydiving.