When I was very little, in the mid 1970’s, one of the first songs I recall liking was Leo Sayer’s Long Tall Glasses (I Can Dance). Like many songs from that era embedded behind the catchy tune was a story:
A young hobo is out in the world, cold and hungry and what should he see but a sign advertising free food. It’s an attractive offer under any circumstance but for him it was nearly a matter of life and death. My five year old mind conjured up images of a suburban boulevard in the rain, strip malls separated from him by oceans of parking lots filled with massive cars. And then, like a beacon in the night, a hotel whose marquee offers him the holy grail: food and warmth. That image has stuck with me for literally decades.
When the hobo walks in, he finds a sad surprise. Sure, he can get free food – but he has to dance beautifully – something he claims to be unable to do. But then, hooray! Thanks to the magic of hunger and desperation he surprises himself by being able to dance wonderfully. Having proven himself he can now take advantage of the feast before him.
And so with the image of hidden talents in my mind Sage and I leave for an event my friend Annie mine has invited us to: Swing Dancing. There’s a social dance later in the evening but before that are classes. There, I will learn. No, I’ll be reminded of the hidden talent I’ve always had for dance.
Hey, don’t be so discouraging. A 70’s song said it so it must be true.
Sage and I leave early and grab a big meal around the corner. Sage has a delicious-looking butter chicken roti and I have an eggplant and potato one. It is delicious and spicy and tastes so good I continue to eat long after my stomach is full.
We head off to the venue, meeting a third friend, Pallavi, there. When we get there I’m surprised to see the crowd. There are close to twenty people including the three of us and soon Annie and her son arrive.
Everyone partners up. Those who came with a partner stay with them but there are enough people so that nobody is alone.
We’re told to stand in a circle and two women go to the centre – our instructor and her partner. They tell us we’re going to learn a simple eight step sequence. The instructors make it look really easy though Sage and I both struggle. You can actually see that step in the first minute or so of this:
We laugh and practice it – a few times just listening to the instructor and then music is added. It seems to help me a bit to have some music but still it’s tough.
I’d love to be able to use the transition “And just as we started to get the hang of it…” but I can’t use that there. In the midst of the struggle, the music stops and then the instructor adds another move – similar to the first one but this time including our kicking across in front. It looks really cool when the instructors do it. When I do it I lose track of where my feet are. Later a friend on Instagram emails me about her experiences in a dance class saying “I felt like I just learned my body has limbs.” Yes, that’s exactly it. For decades my legs carried me where I needed to go, operated my bike, and even propelled me on roller and ice skates. But as far as I was concerned now, it was like the language my brain tried to speak to my legs was completely foreign. Sure, they picked up some things, or the gist of what I was trying to say but most of it was lost in translation from mind to movement.
And then the instructors throw in a new twist: “Followers go to the right.” And now Pallavi and I were working together and Sage has moved on to working with Annie’s son.
And so the evening goes, a few more new moves piled on well before I even had the first one down. After forty minutes or so I have a basic idea of that one, though. I make several cycles through every partner and it’s interesting to see the differences.
Sage and I or Pallavi and I always laugh about how we are doing. We are all very new at this and struggling to keep up. When I work with Annie or one other woman who was associated with the group offering the classes, they are so confident and do so well that I can follow a little bit. And that helps me understand more about what I am doing. I’m convinced that that is what is helping me me make the little progress I am – and likely why design of the class includes changing partners.
It isn’t all fun and games, though. As I make the rounds I dread working with one person. She is impatient and humourless. There is no room for mistakes with her. I am always glad when we would move on at that point.
In the end we don’t stay for the dance – none of us really felt competent enough to do it and Sage was ready to go. Here are her impressions:
I’m terrified of the dentist. And given a choice, I’d almost rather go to the dentist than dance. I don’t even dance when I’m alone in the apartment. So this was a MASSIVE challenge for me.
There were humans of all ages! The instructors, dancing together, were both women! People made eye contact! There were no smartphones in sight!
Like Todd, I dreaded one well-intentioned dance partner, who kept telling me not to look at the instructor and instead just “feel the steps” – which made me laugh very much because that was as likely as me being able to fly a jet plane by just “feeling the vibes”.
When I’m in a class that involves my brain, I am very used to understanding the lesson, applying it, and excelling. But my body? I was going to say I felt like I was trying to make a cat dance, but a cat would have been better than I was. I struggled not to cry from the moment the class began to the moment it ended. I had to force myself to stay. (But I did! So, there’s that.)
But I was always thrilled when Young Man With Suspenders came around. A tremendous dancer, he was humble and kind, and though I didn’t dance any better with him as my partner I certainly FELT like I could. There’s a lot of fear right now centering around young people’s lack of emotional empathy, but this kid? He was the goddamn cat’s meow.
As for me – Looking back it is interesting to see how I felt there. Normally when I am bad at something I feel bad about it. Being incompetent is not something I’m used to or happy being. But somehow this was different. I think it has to do with my expectations of myself. Other than 1-2 dances in high school which were just bouncing and limb-flailing, the only ‘dancing’ I did was square dancing in elementary school and waltzing in Grade 9. As a result I entered this experience with no preconceptions as to how good I would be. I knew I would be bad at it, and went in planning only to have fun and learn something new – and in that sense I was 100% successful.
So maybe Leo Sayer was an anomaly. Or perhaps I just wasn’t hungry enough to dance well.
When we do these adventures we share them as Instagram Stories. You can see the video, including our reactions, here.
By the way – my apologies for the delay in posting. I’ve been sick with a chest cold for a few weeks and doing little more than resting. I’m fully recovered now so these will be happening regularly once again.