Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Taking the lead

"Gentlemen, it doesn't matter whether the music is cha-cha, rumba, meringue or salsa. There are two things you must learn for any Latin dance: how to get you and your partner IN IT, and how to get the two of you back OUT." Our instructor Jeanne spent the next section of class teaching us the proper way to 'introduce' our female partner to a new change in direction and how to begin an entirely different dance altogether.

I had been on the run all day, and had arrived at class still in my suit that I had put on twelve hours earlier. Even after the jacket and tie had come off, work was still very much on my mind for the first part of the lesson, along with a list of a half-dozen other things that would need my attention once I eventually got home. I had to force myself to concentrate on each of the particular steps that we were being taught and tried to push the other thoughts off to the side.

Before long I settled down and just focused on the music. Soon my legs, hips, and shoulders began to follow right along with the driving tempo. Without really being aware of it, I was no longer thinking about each individual step and had stopped counting out the beats in my head. Sandi, the assistant instructor who was my partner, flashed an encouraging smile as we started to move naturally through each of the dances that we had learned up to that point.

Her smile was soon replaced by a frown as she caught a glimpse of a husband and wife struggling to keep up with the rest of the class. Sandi assured me that I already had all of the steps down, and cocked her head over in the direction of the floundering couple. "I'm needed over there," she said with a wink. She cut in and started dancing with the husband to try to fix the problem at the source. His wife was sent over to become my new partner.

Her name was Marie and she was a very friendly woman in her mid-fifties. Things started off fine, but it turned out that there was one slight problem: Marie was a little too friendly. She meant well, but she was more concerned about making small talk than paying attention to the actual music. She chatted about everything from her children’s hobbies to their recent family vacation to a quick recap of the latest episode of ‘Dancing with the Stars.’ Her body kept trying to move in the opposite direction from where we needed to go for each step. That, in turn, was throwing me off of the rhythm, and I had to quickly shuffle my feet to get back in step with the music. It wasn’t long before I was counting off the beats to myself again.

I didn’t want to be rude to this woman who was a complete stranger, so at first I just smiled back at her and tried to listen with one ear. As she continued to talk I could feel my frustration growing, the easy movements from my dancing with Sandi all but forgotten. Marie and I became locked in a subtle tug of war, each of us trying to pull the other in opposing directions. She and I were definitely IN it. I recalled our instructor’s comments at the top of class, and realized that it was my job to get us both back out.

I took over with a sudden surge and changed my entire posture, locking my arms into place and tightening my grip on her hand and rear shoulder. The next time that the two of us needed to move forward for a particular step, I pushed off with my legs and drove Marie back on her heels while holding her firmly around the upper body. When it was time for us to go backwards, I pulled her in towards me with steady direction. When we needed to turn, I dropped one arm and placed my hand on her hip, spinning her off to the left with a firm push. Then I quickly twirled her back into position to start the next step.

Marie was naturally startled by the abrupt change in tone, and she quickly stopped talking as her eyes searched my face to gauge my mood. I smiled and gave her a look letting her know that everything was in control. I could see her shoulders relax slightly, and she stopped resisting whenever I began to lead her in a particular direction. Soon she was smiling as well as we moved easily along with the music from one dance into another.

Our teacher walked into the center of the floor as class came to an end. "Latin dancing is not for the feint of heart," she told us. American ballroom was about grace and poise, with the dancers gliding across the dance floor up on the balls of their feet. Latin dance was rhythmic and down low, with the body’s weight centered back over the heels. ”Stick with me and come to every class ready to work, and I promise you that by the end of ten weeks, you WILL know how to dance to any kind of Latin music."

I headed out of the high school gym towards my car, feeling completely refreshed and already looking foward to next week's class. I was going to enjoy moving to another rhythm for a change.