Sunday, August 16, 2009

The Dance Nazi

I was not allowed to dance growing up. By the time my parents relaxed their belief in this doctrine, I had already grown into an adult who felt she had no ability to dance; so whenever the situation presented itself, I always shied away.

My first realization that I had at least a limited ability to dance came in my Jazzercise classes. Later, I took some line dancing classes and was told I was a natural. Eventually I took up Belly Dancing via an instructional video. The Belly Dancing prepared me for Zumba, a Latin dance workout at the gym where I met the challenges of more complicated foot and hip work. I do most of Zumba with confidence now, always as attentive to style and flair as I am technical precision. I was thrilled when a recent observer at Zumba told me I was the best she saw in the class. While Zumba may not be all that difficult, I’ve still come a long way and have figured my shy days are over.

However, my newfound confidence failed to prepare me for what I would face at a church benefit last night. Since my husband is out of town, I asked my cousin to go along, telling him there would be, among other things, wine tasting and line dancing. When the dance instructor brought us out to the floor, I expected line dancing instruction. Instead, she paired us off by gender and started teaching us basic ballroom dancing. When I realized I was going to learn this kind of dancing in front of a room full of people (most of them watching instead of dancing), I almost panicked. I always eventually get a new dance move down, but rarely while someone is watching. Oh well, at least I would be dancing with my cousin whom I don’t mind making a fool of myself in front of.

But that wasn’t the case either. My first partner was my priest. So putting the obvious irony aside with regards to my upbringing, the situation was made more complicated (in my mind) by the fact that he is already an expert ballroom dancer. I have never in my life danced with a partner. I went into a physical state resembling rigor mortis. Nobody but God knew the trepidation I felt, but I was flashing back to my fencing days when I would get hammered by the superior opponent with a roomful of other fencers watching.

But, as with fencing, I stuck it out and tried to learn. I made it through the Texas Two-step, but my nervousness prevented me from going beyond the most basic move. I realized how much more comfortable I am doing semi-striptease moves at Zumba. Go figure. Next came the East Coast Swing. I was dancing with my cousin by this time, and had relaxed somewhat, when suddenly some old lady I don’t even know came out of the dining area to speak into my ear. “Honey, don’t lift your feet so high. Just shift your weight from foot to foot and you won’t stand out so much.”

I mean, seriously, had somebody hired her? Was this blatant preying on my insecurity divine retribution for disregarding the doctrine of my youth? I thanked her and did exactly as she had said. I continued to dance, but every cell in my body was screaming at me to just sit down. After all, apparently I was “standing out.” I remembered the fencing strip, and I told myself I would get through this too and I would LIKE it.

However, at another point another woman whose face I can’t even place right now physically grabbed me out of the blue and got right in my face, saying: “If you would stop watching other people’s feet…” and proceeded to lecture me on my technique. By now I was aghast. Had I stepped into a parallel world where doctrine was to dance and dance correctly if you wished to enter the kingdom?

After the instruction was over, I went to hide against the wall and have a drink. When finished with my drink, I put the bottle in the trashcan. Right then, the first old lady, the one apparently hired by God to keep an eye on me, walked over to the trashcan, removed my bottle, looked directly at me as she lowered the bottle into a recycle box, and said, “The bottles go in here.”

Unfortunately, it doesn’t end there. A few minute later, the dance instructor and one of the men in the church were doing some fancy swing dancing, and everybody was watching. I was filming it on my phone, and just as it ended, this same old lady made her way over to me. “Honey, did you watch their feet while they were dancing?”

“No,” I said, my tone implying I had neither wished to watch their feet nor did I now wish to hear about their feet.

“Well,” she said, “They were not lifting them very high – they were just shifting their weight from side to side.”

“Yes,” I said, not bothering to hide my growing irritation, “I quit doing that when you told me to the first time.”

“Because when people do that,” she went on, “All it does is bounce their boobies.”

“Oh, is that what I was doing?” I asked wryly.

“No,” she said, then finished her commentary on the important of footwork and walked away.

“Thank you!” I called after her, assured by her obvious lack of perception that my sarcasm went undetected.

Matt was already doubled in laughter, his head having been turned away from her.

I won’t even go into the jokes we shared the rest of the evening, most of them about bouncing boobies, which Matt said should be the name of the dance studio she really ought to open one day, with all her knowledge.

I think the greatest feat I accomplished last night was just sticking with it and trying to have fun, despite the busy bodies that harassed me. I am certain they meant well, but I suspect that the first person to declare dancing a sin must have had an experience similar to mine.