By C A Crossman
Oh Please, Don’t Make Me Dance…
(Confessions of a Closet Dancer)
I am not a dancer. Oh I’ve dreamed of dancing, longed for dancing, but more often than not, I have found myself clinging to a table leg and saying in an agonized voice to a confused escort: Don’t make me dance! Oh Please, don’t make me dance…
So how did I find myself on my 43rd birthday, in the arms of a tall, handsome, professional dancer (who also happens to be my brother, Steven); doing the fox-trot at a Ballroom Dance Competition?
Well, somehow, my galloping case of hoof and mouth disease had reared it’s ugly head. Months before, I had found myself bragging to a friend, “When Steven comes out on vacation, I’m going to learn to dance at last and maybe even compete in a ballroom competition!” (At the time, I stated this more for effect than truth).
My mistake was in repeating the conversation to little brother. He seized the chance to make me live up to my words! “You can’t spend the rest of your life just dancing in the living room with the cats!” he declared. (I’m still not quite sure why I couldn’t…)
Before I knew it, helpful friends were mailing me eyelashes and fingernails. Green velvet and rhinestones were purchased. From my brothers suitcase emerged a pair of rhinestone covered dancing pumps, which looked especially lovely with the blue jeans I wore to my first lesson. (Big mistake! Mirrors are everywhere in a dance studio, so wear something slimming. Of course if I could design such a transforming outfit I’d be rich and famous.)
At the start of my lesson, I was told that the only obligation I really had was to stand up straight and look to the left. This sounded easy! The part I didn’t realize, was not only did I have to do this while moving backwards, I had to follow some man and trust him not to run me into a wall. (Definitely a challenge for a type A control freak like me!)
This was only the beginning! One is expected to do this in time to non-existent music, to hold one’s frame, follow where led, not talk back and smile!!! I’m not even going to mention the hip action required by the rumba. (I don’t recall actually requesting to learn the rumba, but I believe the statement made was : “If you’re going to dance swing, you might as well dance another rhythm class.”)
I have come to believe in life, that one should be careful what one asks for; the universe having a surprisingly quirky way of granting our requests. Just as I was feeling that dancing might not be so bad; I mentioned a broken leg would save me from the hated rumba (The rumba a dance I’m convinced is the official Dance of Hell.) Bingo! I fell down a small hill while walking my dog and ripped the ligaments in my ankle to shreds.
I will admit that Steven was the only one who did not hint that there was a method to my madness. He did announce however, to all and sundry, that I “Had tripped whilst putting my foot in my mouth.”
I spent the remainder of my brother’s visit, lying on my back with my leg in the air and an ankle the size and color of an eggplant. The dance competition was six weeks away. (So what if I only knew three steps?! The weekend was to be about FUN not trophies!)
I progressed from walking cast to ace bandages and neoprene. Steven returned from California for a day and a half. I still couldn’t get on my dance pumps. I went brain-dead for the first few dances, but stumbled around the floor adequately enough to practice all four of my entries.
My ballgown was ready for it’s final fitting. Viewing myself in the mirror, I suddenly felt like Cinderella! Ensconced in an outfit that at least made me look tall thin and graceful, I began to think the whole thing just might work. Having a Fairy God-Brother helped!
I arrived in Denver, determined to dance or die. Because Steven and I share my birthday, The rumba I announced was to be my birthday present to him! He contained his joy… (After all, I was disappointed on my second birthday to get a brother instead of a pony!)
The very first lesson about Ballroom Dance Competitions is: Put on your hose, before you put on your fingernails! Steven glued three inch, hot pink nails with silver spangles on my fingers and rendered me completely helpless for the next four hours… Luckily there was willing help at hand!
Janice, wise in the ways and methods of turning ducklings into swans, took me under her wing. With only an occasional spill of eyelash glue (I can’t see without my glasses anyway, so why did I need to open my eyes?), a sweep of eye shadow and a lacquer of hair spray, I was pronounced “done”. All that remained was my ballgown and hose…
Luckily as a dress designer, Steven has dressed more ladies more times than I’ve dressed myself. Because I can assure you, there is no way, even with gloves on, that anyone can get the crotch of her dance tights any higher than her knees, while wearing three inch nails. Steven and I have always been close, but we reached new heights that day when he pulled my tights into place! (I was the hit of the elevator, giving several men the chance to be gallant in the button pushing department. You never really appreciate all the things your fingers do for you until they are rendered useless.) One last suggestion: Go to the bathroom before you put on your nails and for heavens sake, don’t drink anything!
My fellow dancers hooked me into my bra, dress and shoes. Steven put on my jewelry and fixed my skirt. (It wasn’t quite backward nor forward; I wasn’t sure where the ruffle belonged…) I slipped into a catatonic state and off to the dance floor we went.
I wish I could tell you my impressions of that climactic moment, our first dance. But all I remember is realizing that I really couldn’t see without my glasses, that my left leg was not with the program and that my hips were frozen. Oh and I couldn’t remember what a rumba was! Was I supposed to bake it or dance it?
I have no recollection of any dance that night. My only thought as we began the swing was, “This is my reward dance!? I like this dance?!” The wonderful people from my home town were lovely and supportive. They kept saying things like, “Oh now, was that sooo bad?” ( I’m afraid most of me wanted to scream “YES!”) I do confess, my Swiss army knife came out and the nails came off as soon as the last dance ended.
The following day, I danced fox-trot and waltz. Again I found my left leg somehow didn’t think it was included in the proceedings, but I almost remembered not to duck during my underarm turns; I only stopped four times, and I only said a bad word (at least audibly) once. The video shows me holding my frame, remembering to pick up my skirt, laughing with another dancer when he reminded me it was my last dance and saying THANK-YOU GOD! as I walked off the floor!
Was it fun? More so in retrospect than actuality.
Did I set the world on fire, sweep all the dances, wow the crowds and take home an armful of trophies? Not even Steven could have pulled that off after only four lessons and a sprained ankle. (I actually did place higher than someone, and one judge even placed me third in a class of seven.)
Will I still climb under the table at social functions? Probably.
Did I achieve what I set out to do? I think so, I danced with my brother, on our birthday and he says I did well.
Would I do it again? You Bet! I’ve got a gorgeous dress, those long white gloves and I’ve always wanted to learn the quickstep…
C A Crossman copyright 2000
This article has been published previously in Dancing USA magazine.
C A Crossman is a writer and artist. Her most recent accomplishment has been brushing up her waltz for her wedding last September.