Dancing Fool

I’ve loved to dance for as long as I can remember. When I was little, I’d dance on the Maslagan, disappearing into movement, convinced I was as graceful as the ballerinas I’d watch on TV with my mother and for a while, I alternated future career goals between dancer and fire fighter. That is, until I dropped both in favour of horse trainer in a circus, then later working with Jacques Cousteau and I’m getting off track. I was talking about dancing. And last week's finale of The Best Show on Television has made me think not just of how much I love ballroom dancing, but of my own experience therein.

I
was nine, or maybe eight, the year I decided I wanted to take ballroom dancing. This idea had come to me from my best friend AB who'd been doing it for a few years - it was a fairly common thing for children to do in Denmark around the early 70s. So my parents got me lessons at the same dance studio that AB went to, run by a married couple, Mr. and Mrs. G. I don't remember what he looked like, as he was usually accompanying the class, hidden in a corner behind an ancient, asthmatic piano. Mrs. G. is vague to me, but I remember fancy, slightly old-fashioned clothes and bleached cotton candy hair in a complicated up-do, likely lacquered to within an inch of its life. She used to dance professionally and the air of remembered glory still clung to her.

Their basement had been converted to the dance studio, one big room containing only an area for coats and outside shoes, aforementioned piano and two supporting pillars in the middle. One wall was entirely mirrored and the floor was covered in a blonde parquet that echoed every step, whether awkward and shuffling or expert and precise. At the start of the class, the girls would line up in front of the mirror, the boys by the opposing wall and when Mrs. G. gave the signal, the boys would rush across the floor, trying to reach their favourite (and conversely, avoid certain of the girls). It was my first real experience with the structured passivity of being female and it was terrifying
.

There was a boy there named Peter who almost always reached me first and when he did, he would bow to ask me to dance, I would indicate my acceptance by curtsying and then we’d assumed the position: my hands on his shoulders, his on mine and Mrs. G. would start to teach the class to dance. I still remember how to waltz - you go up the mirror and over, then down the mirror and over again to make a rectangle, all set to the slightly atonal plinking of the piano and it was exactly that mechanical and bereft of joy.

Except, not entirely
.

And the reason it was not joyless was because of Peter. Once, when someone else reached me first, we spent the entire class circling the room with our undesired partners, looking over their shoulders at each other, fraught with frustration. But mostly, as he ran across the floor and I stood nervously by the mirrors, the thunder of running boys vibrating in the parquet, he reached me first and we would dance. I still remember him once gently moving my left pigtail before putting his warm and slightly clammy hand on my shoulder, us looking into each other's eyes and it was one of the most romantic moments of my life. We would dance, trembling with prepubescent longing for something we didn't know and in my heart, I can still remember how the shuffling of inexperienced feet and Mrs. G.'s instructions chanting over the piano receded a little, the world shrinking to my eyes in his and the warmth of his hands bridging the wordless space between u
s.

I didn't go there for long - I forget whether I lost interest (even then, I had the attention span of a gnat) or maybe I got sick. I think it was the latter, which would make it the year I was nine, because that's when I was finally diagnosed with juvenile rheumatoid arthritis and spent five weeks in the hospital. Although I'd spent some time in the hospital before when I was four, this was the first time the disease achieved capital D status by requiring me to stop what I was doing (school, playing, friends, dancing) and focus on the bloody thing. So the dance lessons stopped. In retrospect, I don't think I missed it much, mainly due to Mrs. G. sucking all the fun out of it
.

But every now and again, all these years later, the memory of clammy hands and pigtails still makes me smile.

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