Sunday, September 24, 2006

(oh, Lord) of the Dance

"Before we begin let me make one thing clear right at the start," the instructor declared as class got underway. She began to pace the floor in front of myself and 50 other beginning students with her hands clasped behind her back, in a manner that called to mind General George S. Patton addressing a company of raw recruits.

"This is NOT ballroom dancing--if you are here to learn the waltz or foxtrot, you are in the wrong room..." Of course her similarity to the 4-star general pretty much ended with the tone of voice and body language. I've seen the movie 'Patton' over a dozen times, and this woman in her late sixties with bright orange hair standing before us in a flared skirt and 2" rhinestone heels looked practically nothing like actor George C. Scott.

"In this class you will learn Latin Dancing. We have a lot of ground to cover in ten weeks and we'll be working hard over the next hour without a break. Many of you will wake up tomorrow morning with sore muscles that you never even knew you had." Around this time I began to wonder what in the hell I was doing in a high school gymnasium at 8:30 on a weeknight, and what had ever possessed me to enlist for salsa boot camp in the first place. I tried to remember if desertion was still punishable by firing squad these days...
* * * * * * * *
Actually, I had reported for these lessons voluntarily. They were offered though a non-profit group that provided dozens of evening courses in language, cooking, fitness, and the arts to adults at several suburban high schools. Our class was being held in the gym, and the men and women had been told to form up in two seperate lines facing each other twenty feet apart.

Jeanne, our instructor, slowly turned and fixed her gaze intently on us guys. "Gentlemen, in Latin dancing there is ONE rule that you must never, ever forget. While you are out there on the dance floor, YOU are the one in complete command--the lord of the dance. It is your job to lead your partner at all times--the woman should never have control over what the two of you are doing." She paused, and qualified that last statement with a raised finger. "ONLY while you are out there on the dance floor..."
She got right to work teaching the male half of the class the basic steps of the Cha-Cha. Our weight would need to start over on the right side of the body as the move began with the left foot. We were instructed to just watch her first as she demonstrated it for us. "And its Forward...Step--Cha, Cha, Cha." Okay, that seemed easy enough. We ran through it a half-dozen times as a group. Our line lumbered forward rather stiffly as Jeanne counted out the steps aloud, with many of the men (myself included) looking straight down at our feet as we shuffled along the floor trying to keep up with her tempo.

Then she added the second part of the move. "Now its Backwards...Step--Cha, Cha, Cha." Uh-oh, suddenly this took some more thought. But after another six or more run-throughs, the majority of us pretty much had it down. After she had us combine the two moves together for another dozen repetitions, Jeanne was satisfied that most of us were safely on board with the program. She turned to the teach the same steps (in reverse) to the ladies.

During this entire period the women had been forced to stand still and just watch the men, their bodies poised in eager anticipation. A few had been swaying in place the whole time. Judging from the keyed-up looks on all of their faces, they probably would have broken into dance at the first notes of a Verizon ringtone. They put the men to shame by getting both moves down cold on the second try, with a touch of hip action thrown in as they gracefully cha-cha'd backwards and forwards. I'm sure in another turn or two they could have completely rubbed it in and finished up with a fully synchronized can-can routine.

Now that the men and women had learned the basic Cha-Cha step separately, it was time to bring both groups together. Jeanne called out, "All right, everyone grab a partner and we're going to try that to some music." She turned to walk over towards a CD player that she had set up on a folding card table.

A distinct feeling of deja vu came over me as I found myself standing in a high school gym watching members of the opposite sex move right past me to pair up with each other to dance. My premonition became fully realized after everyone had reunited with their spouse, fiance, or significant other and exchanged nervous laughter. I was the only one left all by myself out there in the middle of the floor. Jeanne was still flipping through her CD collection when her assistant Sandi hurried over to the table and whispered in her ear.

"What? We have an extra BOY?? This the first time that's ever happened in all my years....!!" I forgot to mention previously that Jeanne was wearing a wireless microphone to amplify her voice, and her cries of disbelief echoed throughout the gym. Several heads over in the Mommy & Me Bellydancing class turned in our direction to see what all of the commotion was about. I wouldn't have been surprised if the Conversational French instructor had later poked his head into the room to ask, "Excusez-moi. Permettez -nous arriver a regarder le solitaire garcon sans une fille?" ("Pardon me. May my students come to look at the lonely boy without a girl?")

Sandi, a short, zaftig, fifty-ish platinum blonde, hurried over to be my partner as the music began to play. She shook her head and commented that there had always been a greater number of women than men that signed up for these classes. She nodded over in the direction of several nicely dressed, white-haired gentlemen that were patiently sitting around the card table--male stand-ins that Jeanne had obviously pressed into service to pair up with an expected female overflow. She patted me on the shoulder and said with a wink, "That's okay, sweetie--a single guy who knows how to dance? There's a whole new world waiting ahead for you..."

At least I think that's what she said. At the time I was too busy concentrating: And its Forward...Step--Cha, Cha, Cha. There were still another thirty minutes left in class, with plenty more moves ahead yet to come.