Friday, February 17, 2006

Dancing fool

I had a post all cued up yesterday, but I lost track of time and had to make a mad dash out of the office to meet CK. And that post sucked. Mostly I complained about my brother. Bor-ing. I can get back to complaining about him some other day.

I'd rather write about last night. Last night, I went salsa dancing with CK. Back in the day, maybe six years ago, I used to go salsa dancing pretty often with my friend, ED. ED introduced me to CK. Over the years, my friendship with ED withered, but CK and I stayed in touch and we see each other fairly regularly these days.

CK liked salsa dancing but she didn't like going to the place in Adams Morgan we frequented. We had a hard time finding a new place that was convenient and friendly. Maybe a year ago I suggested that she try swing dancing. I switched to swing dancing maybe three years ago because I couldn't handle the aggressive men at salsa dancing anymore. Last night, I heard CK credit me with introducing her to swing dancing--in fact, she dances much more regularly than I do now. Very cool. I can always count on CK for swing dancing company, but recently she suggested trying our old Adams Morgan haunt for salsa dancing again. We went for the first time in the contemporary age back in January. And we went again last night.

It was great. CK is very friendly and when we went in January, she knew a bunch of people (guys and gals) from the different dance classes she's taking. (I've taken many swing lessons and never met a soul (me=not so friendly, though I have met people at dances.) Some of her guy friends were there last night and I danced with both of them.

Getting on the dance floor early is critical. The guys need to see that you can dance before they will ask you to dance. An unknown quantity is not as likely to get asked to dance as a known quantity (unless she is blonde and showing a lot of cleavage). Also, I don't ask guys to dance. I've done it twice and it didn't go well. CK does it all the time and it works fine for her. Maybe, someday, I'll change, but I doubt it.

I got several other asks after those first two dances, all by nice (enough) guys who could (more or less) dance. It was fun and I was getting quite a work out.

Then something happened that reminded me of the old days.

I'll back up and tell you something about my salsa dancing history. When I lived in Chapel Hill (I was there for grad school), there was a bar that had a salsa night every Wednesday. I'd known about it for a while and I couldn't get anyone to go with me. On a whim, I mentioned it to KJ and she was happy to accompany me. (I think it was 1994--KJ, is that right?)

KJ and I got drinks and sat in the corner, listening to the music and watching the dancers. There was a lesson earlier in the evening, but we'd missed it. I was fascinated. I loved the music. I wanted to dance but I could tell that I didn't know how. After we'd been there for a while, a man, Hector, asked me to dance. I told him that I didn't know how, but he lead me to the dance floor anyway--where he found out hat I really didn't know the steps. He promptly took me back to my seat. I fumed to KJ, "I told him I didn't know the steps!"

KJ agreed, "He's an asshole." I had many run-ins with Hector over the years.

KJ left, but I stuck around, sitting near a group of students and pretending to be with their party. Eventually, another man asked me to dance. I told him I didn't know how. He assured me that he would teach me.

"Are you sure? I really don't know the steps."

"It's easy, I'll show you. I can teach you."

And that's how I learned the merengue, which is a ridiculously easy dance. (The problem I'd had with Hector is that we were trying to salsa, for which there is footwork. For years, Hector would only ask me to dance merengue and he consistently critiqued my salsa, long after I'd mastered it.) Merenge is in march time--the trick is to learn how to move your hips, but my new friend, Fernando, taught me that too. He also told me how to deal with the guys who hold you too tight--straighten out your left elbow to put space between the two of you. He was a sweet guy and didn't speak that much English, but we communicated ok. I danced with him for the rest of the night and got home sweaty and exhausted.

Fernando asked for my number, and I gave it to him. He called me a few times, but he only ever asked if I were going to the next dance. I always was.

I went back the next week and arrived early, a couple of friends in tow, to take the lesson. I took the lessons for months. It was always, more or less, the same material. I can't count the number of beginner lessons I had. When I could get a friend to come with me, I would go to two dances a week--there was a hotel by the airport that had a Saturday night dance. I would see Fernando (and Hector) there too.

A few months after we met, Fernando called and said he was moving to Alaska for work and I wouldn't see him again. I was sad. I told my best dance buddy that he was leaving and she said he was getting deported to Mexico. I prefer to think he went to Alaska.

Not long after that, I met my next regular dance partner, Alberto. He was more aggressive than Fernando and was interested a romantic relationship with me. I never consented to that. But I loved dancing with Alberto. He dated other women while I knew him, and if he brought a girlfriend to the bar, we might not dance at all. He was very short and had tiny hands, but he was strong and knew how to lead. He could get me doing things on that dance floor that I'd never been taught. He guided me through the salsa steps (after I'd learned the basics) and had me spinning like crazy. My friends didn't like dancing with him because they couldn't keep up, but I loved the challenge. I suppose Alberto and I had chemistry on the dance floor, which made it fun to dance together. He thought that chemistry meant I should date him; I disagreed.

Even after I moved to DC and started salsa dancing regularly again (I took a long hiatus in Chapel Hill--the club closed, I had few friends to go to the hotel with), I tended to look for a regular partner. I would often let the night be dominated by one guy, dancing for hours with him.

The last semi-regular partner I had in DC used to drive me home after dancing and after he asked many times, I finally agreed to go out with him. I liked him, but not romantically, and that didn't change after our date. I would still see him at the club and it was awkward. But he seems to have stopped coming around, which is good for me.

I almost found another regular partner last night, but I was trying to follow Diane Mandy's practice of limiting myself to no more than two dances per guy. I like that idea. It keeps you circulating and you don't give anyone the wrong impression.

I was taking a breather, standing in the corner watching the other dancers. A man came for me. He found me, standing behind two other women, and reached for my hand. He led me to a spot far away from my corner. He held me close. He showed me moves that I didn't know and was patient as I learned. When the next song started, we didn't pause in our dance; we went straight though.

While we were dancing, my partner, Peter, asked my name, where I lived and where I worked. Unlike the old days, he did not ask if I had a boyfriend.

When the second song ended, I separated myself from him and said thank you. He looked surprised. "You're going?"

"I need to take a break."

"You don't want to dance again?"

"Later. Ok? Later." I wandered through the crowd and and found CK. I told her, "That man came right over and took me away. He would have kept me all night if I'd let him."

She raised an eyebrow.

"But not tonight," I said, "I'm not doing that tonight."

I wonder why not? I felt a little sad. Later, while I was dancing with someone else, Peter started dancing with a woman right next to me. After the second song, I thanked my partner and walked away, but Peter didn't ask me to dance again.

In the old days, I would have danced with him for the rest of the night. I would have let myself get carried away in the swoony, floaty feeling that I get when I dance close to someone. When you dance with someone all night, you learn their moves, their style and you start to fit together. It's a very satisfying feeling, especially when you don't have regular physical contact in your life (don't feel sorry for me, it's just how it is). But I know that the connection on the dance floor is something that may or may not translate to "real life" (usually not). Dancing with many people satisfies the desire for physical contact just as well as sticking with one guy all night and it's less likely to give the illusion of a relationship.

If Peter had asked me to dance again, I would have said yes. I wasn't sure if I wanted him to ask me, but I still would have said yes. He was cute, we had that dance floor connection and it's nice to not have to wait to be asked to dance.

Then again, maybe I want something else now and I have a better idea how to go about getting it.

Grateful for: all my dance partners.
Drop me a line.

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