It’s Monday, but it’s a Monday without Dancing with the Stars. The season is over and the television is turned off. Sigh. My friends occasionally ask me why a relatively normal, red-blooded male enjoys watching ballroom dancing so much. When they do, I cock my head, give them my patented scrunched eyebrow look and say, “Have you seen the girls that dance on that show?”
They laugh and give me a knowing wink. Then the subject moves on to something else. The truth is, I do like watching the girls dance, but I also like watching the dance itself. Not many people know this, but I have a long and storied dance past of my own. Well, it isn’t that long, but there is a story that began shortly before my daughter, Kristin, was married.
Kristin and Anthony had decided that they wanted a two part wedding—a destination wedding in Mexico and a reception after they got back from the honeymoon. Since the dress code for both parts was a Hawaiian shirt and Dockers, I was good with that plan. However, there was a hitch. Despite being a relatively laid back wedding, I still had to do a traditional father-daughter dance at the reception. Since I had absolutely no dancing skills, this was a problem. Fortunately I have a relatively short attention span when the topic is something that doesn’t immediately affect me, so I just pushed the whole father-daughter dance thing out of my mind and let the ladies plan the wedding details.
Time ticked by until, on a Sunday afternoon three weeks before the wedding, I suddenly realized that the immediacy of the problem was getting ready to change. In less than a month, I was going to be standing on a dance floor in front of a large crowd of people with my daughter on the biggest day of her life. If nothing changed, the best I could hope for was to shuffle my feet around and wobble like a weeble while praying that I didn’t fall down. I needed to learn how to dance and time was running out. Complacency was being replaced by panic.
Monday morning, I made it a priority to find the nearest dance studio and I was relieved when I found that there was one less than ten minutes from our house in Elkhart, IN. The panic started to ease; I was three lessons away from becoming Fred Astaire. The studio was called “That’s Dancing” and I stopped by on my way home from work to schedule those three lessons.
As I was going in the front door of the studio, a young guy was coming out. He looked like he was in pretty good shape, but he also looked tired and he was sweating—a lot. As we passed, I could see he noticed that I wasn’t in the best of shape. He paused for a second and looked at me with pity in his eyes. That was an important clue that I should have caught.
Once inside I was met by a young lady named Sally whom I later came to know as “The Enforcer.” She greeted me with a pretty smile and said, “Hi, how can I help you?”
“I need to learn how to dance.” I replied.
“That’s why we’re here. Is there something special that you want to learn or do you just want to learn how to dance for fun?”
“Oh this is an easy one. I just need to learn how to dance for my daughter’s wedding.”
“That’s sweet!” Sally said. “When’s the wedding?”
“In three weeks.”
Sally’s friendly face turned ice cold and fiery daggers shot from her eyes. “You waited until three weeks before the wedding to start dance lessons?”
“Sure, I only have to do one dance.”
“Men are such idiots. Alright, this is the way it’s going to work. For the next two weeks you’re mine for an hour every afternoon. When you get home in the evening, you’re going to practice for four hours—every night.”
“There are no buts! You’re the one who waited until the last minute. I’m the one who’s going to pull your rear end out of the fire. Go in that door; we start now.”
She glared and I hung my head and shuffled into the den of pain.
That lesson was actually the easiest one. The first thing she did was ask me walk to the wall and back while she observed. “You’re favoring your right leg. Do you have a knee problem?”
“A little one.”
“Well, suck it up mister. We don’t have time for bad knees.”
The pain began. Over the next two weeks I lived and breathed the waltz, learning and practicing box steps, turns and frames more than I ever thought I would or could. At home, my wife wondered why I locked myself into my workshop for four hours every night. I told her I was building a coffee table and every once in a while I turned my table saw on for a few minutes to support my cover story.
Towards the end of the two weeks, the lessons started to click and I was feeling good about the prospect of not embarrassing myself on the dance floor. That ended on my next to last lesson when Sally walked in to the studio with an intense look of determination on her face. As I stood in the center on the floor, she circled and scanned me from my head to my feet. Finally, I couldn’t hold back. “What? Why are you looking at me like that?”
She stopped and locked her eyes onto mine in a stare I’ll never forget. “It’s not enough,” she said.
“What’s not enough?”
“Why? I think I’m doing pretty well.”
“Oh, you have the steps down alright and everyone there will smile and say, ‘Isn’t that a sweet dance.’ But it’s not enough. This is your daughter’s only wedding dance with her father and we’re going to make it memorable. We’re going to end the dance with a ‘Sweetheart roll’.”
“What’s a Sweetheart Roll?”
“It’s your life for the next two days. You’re going to learn the Sweetheart Roll and if you’re ever going to tell anyone that I taught you, you’re going to do it perfectly.”
I re-live the next two days occasionally. It usually ends with me waking up in a cold sweat. But, when Sally was done with me, I could dance a waltz with proper frame, proper steps, proper turns and complete it with a Sweetheart Roll. I was ready for the reception.
As the last lesson ended, Sally circled me again. Then she stepped back and told me to walk to the wall just like I did the first day. When I stopped she circled me one last time and gave me the highest praise I think I’ve ever had. She said simply, “You’ll do.” Then she turned, walked out of the studio and greeted the customer who just walked in with a friendly, “Hi, how can I help you?”
As I left, I looked at next student. He was a young man and appeared to be in good shape. He looked at me quizzically when I gave him a look of pity and his eyes widened as I walked past him and whispered, “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.”
That’s not the end of the story of course; there’s still the wedding and reception. But, I’ll tell you about that another time. For now, all of this talk about dancing has given me an itch that I need to scratch. “Linda, have you seen my ‘Best of Cheryl Burke’ mix DVD?”