Cleaning my closet the other day (what else are you going to do during the quarantine?) I found a trove of my old writings. It was a tiny bit inspiring and mostly mortifying.
What follows is a vignette I wrote in 2013. It’s about 90% accurate to what actually happened, with just a hint of fictitious flair. I’d been dancing for about 4 months total when this occurred, which is fun to think about over 7 years later. The beginning, while in reference to a long winter break, parallels the current quarantine situation a bit as well, which is fun.
I’ve tried to leave it as intact as possible while fixing a few style and grammar mistakes. Some of it makes me cringe like biting a sour lemon, but on the whole, I think it’s worth finally letting it see the light of an internet audience.
Or don’t. I was 18 when I wrote this, so no promises.
(I’ve also thrown in a few photos of me from 2013 to break up the text!)
Written circa Spring 2013
Why am I here?
I thought as I opened the door. Momentarily I considered stepping back across the threshold and pretending as though I’d never come. I broke through the mental paralysis and continued into the hallway, the question still in my head. I wanted to dance, but that wasn’t quite it. Maybe it was just cabin fever. I hadn’t been out of the house for almost three weeks straight. Contact with humans other than my family seemed strange.
I handed the old lady at the desk my admission and made my way to the seating area. Every table, booth, and chair had a coat or purse marking the owner’s territory. At the back of the room, I found a likely candidate and put my things down.
As I sat, my eyes lit upon a familiar-looking face across the room. I sucked in a quick breath and looked closer. At first glance, she appeared to be my ex’s best friend, but upon further inspection I was relieved. The two could have passed for sisters but not twins; this was clearly not Sara’s friend.
I let out the breath and returned to my things.
Our relationship hadn’t ended badly. In fact, we had been quite adult about the entire thing and there was no reason to feel bad about it. A clean break you might say. Still, I didn’t need to be reminded only two weeks into my newfound single status that I’d been out of the game for nearly two years. Theoretically, I could pursue interests at will, and that scared me a little bit.
The final note faded and the couples left the dance floor. Cinching up the knot on my right shoe, I looked up to realize that I was in somebody’s seat. Nobody said anything, and no overt signals were given, but clearly two of the three people standing in front of me belonged to the seats on my left, and I was invading the third girl’s space. She wore a blue blouse and a black skirt and stood a few inches over average height. I couldn’t see much else in the low light of the table area, but she cut an attractive figure.
“I’m sorry, I’m totally in your seat.”
She smiled, “No, no, you’re fine.”
As the band struck up another foxtrot I said, “Nah, I’m going to go dance now anyways, go ahead.”
“Would you like to dance, then?” she asked offering her hand.
“Of course,” I said, smoothly picking up her hand as we wove towards the floor. Strands of Christmas lights lit the floor in a pale, soft glow that showed her brown hair tied back in a bun, with smiling eyes and full lips.
We got into position as I surveyed the floor; it could barely contain the twenty or so couples already there. To make matters worse, I had overestimated the quality of the song. Not only was it a slow foxtrot, but it was also a weird slow foxtrot. Something about the music made the beat hard to find and too slippery to hold for long.
We danced it well given the circumstances. I hadn’t done a foxtrot in over a month, so muscle memory took over whenever planning failed. The crush of the other couples also made maneuvering difficult.
Running through my set of easy steps, it soon became clear she was no novice. Her frame was exactly as it should be, with neither too much nor too little pressure. She responded to my leads with the experienced grace that only comes from hours spent tracing figures on a finished wood floor. Our feet brushed the boards beneath us as we moved above.
Apparently I exceeded expectations as well, because a few steps later she asked, “Where did you learn to dance? You’ve got a good frame.”
“I’m on the competition team up at the U in the Twin Cities.”
“How long did you dance there?”
I smiled, “Well, I’m freshman, so only about 4 months.”
We dodged around a couple attempting the world’s slowest single-step swing and continued on.
“What about you?” I asked.
“I danced on the comp team at Madison,” she said.
“Oh wow,” I said. That explained the good technique. “What year are you?”
“Actually I’m a med student here at Mayo. I graduated last spring.”
“And you danced all four years?”
“Yes, and I was the president of our social dance club too,” she smiled back.
I felt like a middle schooler again. It was like one of those odd moments when a high school cheerleader would stop and talk to you in the hallway for a few seconds, and you’d be unsure exactly how to respond. Was she actually interested in what you had to say or were you just a way to pass the time? What should I do? Half the time my brain couldn’t wrap itself around the illogical nature of the situation and I just froze in place like a malfunctioning computer. The other half, when they asked, “How are you,” I mumbled something semi-coherent like, “yeah, the weather’s really green today,” then shuffled off to talk to my friends.
Luckily for me, my social skills have advanced since middle school. I respond with: “Oh. Sweet!”
I know, it’s a big step.
At this point, the music stopped me from saying anything uniquely stupid by ending. I walked her off the floor and back to our mutual seat. I thanked her for the dance, grabbed my jacket, and made my way to the bar to get a bottle of water.
The night continued in a blur of dances, conversations, and music. I happened across an old friend from summer camp in the crowd, and she and I talked during another foxtrot, catching up and reminiscing.
I met a former president of the U of M Ballroom Dance Team that night as well, purely by chance. Still, every three or four dances by some means or another the girl whose chair I shared would dance with me. As the night wore on both conversation and dance flowed more easily.
We talked about families, interests, foods, and of course above all else, dances. She told me how she could go social dancing every night of the week in Madison without paying a dime, a feat I marveled at. I learned that she mainly danced international, but knew most American styles pretty well (though I’d still say her swing looked like a jive). On and on we danced.
Once, while taking a break from the floor, she asked, “So what kind of Latin or Rhythm dances do you know?”
“I’ve danced chacha, rumba, and swing, but that’s about it,” I said.
“A little Salsa I guess.”
“What about bachata”
“Bachata? Never heard of it.”
At this point, the previous song ended and before we could continue a distinctively Latin beat began drifting through the air. “Would you like to learn?”
“I mean, yeah, I guess!” I said as she grabbed my hand.
“So, it’s a pretty simple four-count basic,” she said, completing a sideways shuffle capped off with a raise of the hip and a hooking action with the knee. “Try it.”
I tried it out and immediately the hip-pop gave me problems. It probably looked like I was trying to get up on a small horse. The image almost made me quit, but I kept at it and after a few more runs I had the basic step down–more or less.
“Okay, good, now let’s try it together.”
We connected in classic ballroom hold with about a foot between us. After a few measures, I figured out how to time and place my knee without hitting her and I began to feel comfortable with the beat of the dance.
“Try to spin me” she said. “The lead comes off the one.”
I attempted the lead but, as is normal when learning a new dance, I didn’t quite get the timing right. The third time was the charm, and soon I had the underarm turn.
“Okay,” she said, “Now we can try actually dancing bachata.”
“Isn’t that what we’ve been doing?”
“Well… technically this is bachata, but you should really dance it like this.” She said with a smile. She shortened the gap between our bodies to less than an inch.
“O-oh-okay.” I said, not quite sure what to make of this.
She laughed, “Yeah, some people are uncomfortable with dancing it this way. We don’t have to.”
“I mean, I’ll try it I guess,” I said, my initial shock quickly subsiding.
I found the beat and started up the basic step. Since our legs were occupying the same plane, the hip-pop was at once both easier and far more suggestive than it had been before. I lead a turn and she responded. When we got back into partnership however, our knees knocked like sailboats in a hurricane. We laughed, reset, and started anew. The song came to an end a few measures later.
“So that’s bachata?” I said.
She laughed again, motioning with her hands, “That’s bachata!”
I shook my head, took my seat, and noticed that the crowd was beginning to thin out. My phone read 10:15. We’d been dancing for nearly two hours already, though It hadn’t seemed like that long at all. Another few songs flew by in quick succession.
It was now 10:32, and half the people there before had already left. We returned to the table and began to pack up our things. I stole a glance at her as I grabbed my shoe bag and caught a profile of her face backlit by the bar. I returned my eyes to the bag, but my mind didn’t follow.
For an indefinite moment, time slowed. I think we were both wondering if we’d see each other again. It was, perhaps, because we knew we danced well together, and it seemed a shame to let that go to waste. Maybe it was just wishful thinking on my part. I do not know. Those awkward few seconds stretched on until somebody made the decision to turn away. I can’t remember who did it. Perhaps I put my shoes in my bag, or maybe she found her phone in her purse. It doesn’t really matter.
We parted ways with a smile, a “goodbye,” and a wave. I got into my car and she entered hers. Engines came to life, gears were engaged, and off we went in different directions. I turned right towards my hometown, and I’ll assume she turned left to go deeper into the city.
As I approached the highway that would take me home, a familiar melody drifted into my consciousness. It was Lionel Richie’s ‘My Tender Heart,’ one of my favorite rumbas. The lyrics came to me as I merged left, leaving the back streets and side roads of the city for good.
“We don’t stand a chance, in this wild romance, my tender heart. Maybe it’s wiser to walk away, and love again, with my tender heart.”
I smiled. In one sense, this song encompassed my recently ended relationship perfectly. I could (and can) still feel the sting of finally putting to rest nearly two years of my life. But in another, these lyrics had just played out before my eyes and in my hands. I spent a wonderful night of dancing with a great person, and thoroughly enjoyed all of it. At the end of the night, we went in different directions, and importantly, it didn’t feel like a failure. I went in with nothing to lose and came out with nothing more than a smile on my face. Its ending, I decided, was how I needed it to be. To this day, I haven’t seen her since.
And I’m okay with that.