Keeping Our Feet off the Ground


My husband and I are learning to dance.
Every Tuesday night we tromp through the snow in our boots and woolen hats, carrying our new dancing shoes in cardboard shoeboxes through the cold night.  Class begins at 8:30 and the field house at the community college is virtually empty by then. We stamp off the snow and slip down the muddy halls, nodding to the night watchman who is sleeping peacefully at his post.
Our teacher is Nora, a curvaceous senior of about seventy perched on the middle of the floor in rubber soled pumps.  She has a thing for Rod Stewart and thus, we drift in—couples and singles, mothers and sons—to the soft, lilting sounds of Rod the Bod singing American Standards.  “The way you look tonight…”
There are two dozen of us learning to dance.
There’s Donovan, a boy of 17 and his mother Rosetta.  Norris is single, with broad, thick shoulders and a big wide toothed smile.  There’s several couples about our parents age. The two grown sons that come with their mother, Terry.  A few single ladies in their mid-forties who giggle and dance with one another.
We are not the youngest couple in the class, but we are the only newlyweds. Seven months into our second marriages, Michael and I mean to do everything different this time around.  It’s scary. “It’s a new dawn, it’s a new day, it’s a new life”.
To learn how to dance seems like an extension of this.  Marriage, like dancing, can be very hard to do well.  It’s terrifying when you are doing something you thought you knew how to do—only to find you might actually know nothing at all.
On this night, a few weeks into the class, we are learning to foxtrot.  Four beats, first position ballroom.  One step, two step, boxes in several patterns. We try hard.
And in the beginning, we aren’t so much as taking it in, but rather, we are letting go. With every beat we cast off our broken things—promises, vows, hearts.
We struggle with the patterns, a complicated rhythm of a new union between two bodies with bruised toes and egos.  I forget that I am supposed to let him lead and I try to move the chaser into a box step.  He doesn’t give me enough time, the right sign, that he is ready to turn to the left.  He doesn’t hold me close enough, firm enough.  I lean into him too much and forget to hold my head up.  We get frustrated and let go.  I glare at him. I expect him to be perfect, I expect myself to be the best in the room.  I want to be the best at all of it, there’s so much at stake. Doesn’t he see? 
People are watching. He walks away for a minute, turns around in a circle with his eyes closed as though he is choreographing a routine in his mind.
There are mirrors all along the wall, I see my angry face in them and I am scared of my own expression.
Is this worth it?  Is this who I want to be? 
And if this is who I want to be, am I willing to be alone?
My husband is more timid when the next song plays. He is afraid to let me down. I have made him afraid.
“Take her hand. Let her come in to you” Nora shouts into her headset, her brown stretch pants a blur over my left shoulder.  “Do not go to her, gentlemen”.
He wraps his arm around the small of my back and I put my left thumb on the little divot in his arm where muscle meets bone.
“Embrace me, my sweet embraceable you
Embrace me, you irreplaceable you
just one look at you my heart grew tipsy in me
You and you alone bring out the gypsy in me”
He takes my right hand.  I watch the buttons of his shirt rise and fall with every breath.
I come to him.
And little by little, side step by side step, we find a tempo that feels right.  Nora says you learn to sense these things.
That when a man takes a woman in his arms, they are promising each other something for as long as the music plays.  Something special, a commitment.
When the song is over, I don’t let go of Michael’s hand.  I come into him closer and he turns me around and around in front of the tall mirrors.
Maybe people are watching.  I don’t see them.
All I see is his long body and my short one, reflected back to us.
We are dancing to a brand new cadence now and hoping, with all our might, that the music never ends.




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