29: Dance Lessons

29: Dance Lessons

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Find Your Happiness

Dance Lessons

There are shortcuts to happiness, and dancing is one of them.

~Vicki Baum

The feel of gliding around a dance floor gracefully performing a waltz or romantically moving in a samba is one of my greatest delights. In fact, dance has been a significant part of my entire life, and I have committed considerable time, money, energy, frustration and glowing success to mastering all different types of dance.

Would this passion have been ignited if not for the sacrifice of my mother? I doubt it. I grew up on the other side of the tracks in a very affluent town. What I mean is that while classmates were flying to Vail for the weekend to go skiing, my brothers and sister and I would get cafeteria trays to use as sleds on local golf courses. However, in our community, which is a suburb of a major metropolitan area, there were many benefits even us “townies” could enjoy. We attended outstanding schools and securely patrolled parks and streets and participated in extravagant town-directed summer activities.

But one activity that we could not enjoy by simply living in this town was dance lessons. In the early 1960s, my mother thought that dance lessons, table manners, polite behavior, and etiquette were important skills that her children needed to prepare themselves for their futures.

Her attempts at teaching us herself left her with bruised feet and left us frustrated and discouraged. Then one evening after dinner she presented us with our “church” clothes all freshly ironed and informed us that we were going to the dance school for lessons. There was such joy on her face that no one grumbled about putting on our Sunday best in the middle of the week.

For several weeks, each Thursday night we endured the sneers from our dance partners who commented on the fact that we always wore the same clothes. Their comments brushed right over me because within the first week of dance, I was hooked. The lights, the music and the intricate dance steps captivated me. For that one brief hour, I was transported to a life of gaiety that my wealthy neighbors took for granted.

At the end of the hour, my mother, who had been reading a book in the car during the lesson, would bring us home. There, she would clean up the house, make lunches for each of us for the next day, fold laundry, and review our homework. After we were tucked into bed, she would say, “I’ll be back in a bit. Don’t forget your prayers, and know that I love you.”

This routine went on for weeks until one evening I realized that I had left my sneakers at the dance studio. Since I had gym the next day at school, I had to go back to get my sneakers. My father reluctantly drove me to the studio and just as I was about to knock on the door, I saw my mother on her hands and knees shining the hardwood floor. I was devastated; I banged on the door and my mother approached with a huge smile on her face. “Mama, what in the world…” I stammered, but before I could finish my sentence, she laughed and said, “Don’t worry my precious girl, I saw your sneakers here and I was going to bring them home.”

“But Mama, that is not what is upsetting me, I’m upset that you are working so hard so late at night,” I wailed. She pulled me into her soft arms for a big hug and explained that the dance instructor was giving us the lessons in exchange for my mother cleaning the studio. “This is a wonderful solution, my baby girl,” she stated firmly as she held me at arm’s length. Looking me straight in the eye, she said, “Don’t let anything take away the joy you have for dance. In fact, darling daughter of mine, never let anyone take joy away from you for anything.”

As we walked arm and arm back to the car, I vowed then and there that I would honor my mother, I would honor my joy, and I would keep dancing — and I have.

~Judith Fitzsimmons

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