38: Stepping Out

38: Stepping Out

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Empowered Woman

Stepping Out

Dance for yourself. If someone understands, good. If not, no matter. Go right on doing what interests you, and do it until it stops interesting you.

~Louis Horst

Though it was only 6:30 a.m., Charles, the health club’s informal early-morning deejay, was already working the CD player. As I dragged in, readying myself for my workout, “I Heard It Through the Grapevine” filled the room. Instantly, I perked up.

“Great music, Charles,” I said, and swiveled my hips. Charles bopped over and took me in his arms for a quick spin. He was a great dancer, smooth and easy to follow, with just the right mixture of sassy rhythm and classy style. I could have danced all morning with him.

“You’re good,” he said when the song ended.

I grinned at the compliment and floated to the nearest treadmill. I love music and felt I could be an excellent dancer if only I had the right partner. But I had always fallen for the kind of intellectual guy who would rather make a move on the chessboard than the dance floor. Even my beloved partner Ron got an uncomfortable look when I mentioned any musical movement other than folk dancing. While I was happy to occasionally fit into a square or circle with seven other people and bounce around to Celtic music, I still fantasized about gliding onto the floor wearing an elegant black gown and being swept away by a suave man with a Fred Astaire style. In my fantasy, I followed him effortlessly, myself a vision of grace and glamour, gazing into his eyes, one with him and with the music.

And although this morning I was in a health club instead of in a ballroom, and I was wearing a T-shirt and sweats rather than a gown, I felt a portion of my fantasy had just been realized.

All day that dance stayed with me, and I wondered how I could bring more such moments into my life.

“Want to take dancing lessons?” I asked Ron that night at dinner.

“There’s a Scandinavian folk dance class starting next month,” he said.

“No, I mean swing or waltzing.”

He paused and stared at his uneaten broccoli. “Well, if it’s really important to you, I guess I could take a lesson.”

Throughout the next week, I analyzed how important it was. I realized Ron was in an impossible situation: It would take him years of lessons to capture the élan, mastery and style of my imaginary dance partner.

Days later at the health club, I heard a different kind of music and noticed two women practicing line dancing steps. I stopped to watch, wondering if I could match the moves. They looked complicated but fun.

“Come practice with us next Tuesday,” one of the women said, smiling warmly. “I’ll teach you.”

So, four days later, instead of dutifully walking two miles on the treadmill, I stood behind Pat and tried to learn the Funky Chicken and the Wobble. I stumbled and stepped on my own feet, missing the turns, unable to follow the constant “right” and “left” directions. At the end of the hour, my face was red with embarrassment and exertion.

But Pat reassured me. “You’re doing great. Come again next Tuesday.”

I felt as though I’d been given a blue ribbon. The dancing was exhilarating, and I returned the next week. Slowly, I caught on as Pat patiently repeated the Grapevine, Booty Shake, Cha Cha Cha, Right-Hand Turn, and Two-Step.

As we practiced the Cajun Bounce, people dropped by to watch, and Pat invited them to join us. But everyone demurred, saying, “It’s too hard” or “I can’t dance.” As I practiced the song yet again, I felt proud I’d been willing to try something new. The steps were getting easier, and I thought I’d found a form Ron and I could do together. Since he loved circles and squares, perhaps he could happily move straight into lines.

After my sixth lesson, I told Ron, “You should come to the gym and join us. It’s so much fun.”

“Well, I will if it’s important to you,” he answered.

I pressed my lips together so I wouldn’t blurt out my frustration. Why did I have to spell out again and again what I wanted? Why couldn’t Ron just smile, take me in his arms and dance me across the living room?

During the next week, I asked myself, How important is this? But I couldn’t come up with a concrete answer.

At my next lesson, we started on the movements for the Twist, and soon it was just me and the music. That’s when I finally understood: I needed to take responsibility for my dance fantasies. Pat had shown me the way. As we swiveled around, counting our steps, I visualized myself on a dance floor, wearing my usual jeans, T-shirt and tennis shoes, happily Grapevining and Two-Stepping, part of a glowing group of strangers, all moving in sync. No longer did I yearn to be guided around an elegant dance floor; I was becoming my own perfect partner.

~Deborah Shouse

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