YOU MAY BE A LOVER BUT YOU AIN'T NO DANCER (part 1...?)
"They say you are what you eat, you look like a fruit when you walk down the street." - Travis, "The Day To Day"
I'm not a "you have to try everything once" kind of guy. As at least one person who reads this blog (Plas!) knows, if you tell me I should try everything once, my canned response is, "Like get shot? Because I feel pretty confident in knowing that I won't like it." If you've been to a restaurant with me, chances are you know from that one visit what I order every time I go to that restaurant. I've written books based around the idea that I still have cruses on girls I knew in high school. I tend to think I'm pretty boring. I like my consistency, I do what I do, that's that.
So, when I go out and do something I've never done before, it means something.
For a while, I've been thinking it would be neat to take some dance lessons. I've always liked dancing, and I'll go out on a limb and say I'm actually pretty good at it--but I've never been disciplined about it. I'm a club dancer. I taught myself in my bedroom and then worked out my style at raves and night clubs and I've pretty much stuck to that rhythm. It's not that I haven't been fascinated by other kinds of dancing. I'm impressed when I see people who can perform routines. I watch Moulin Rouge and get all envious during the "Roxanne Tango." Athletics don't generally impress me, but something about dancing does. Seeing my first ballet years ago, my mind was completely blown. These dancers had power, they had precision, they had strength.
When I dance, I can work up some power. If the music is good, I'll be a regular carbine engine out there on the floor. I might even get some strength, because Lord knows I've pushed myself to keep going for just one more song when I thought for sure I'd collapse if the DJ played another jam for me. Precision--eh, not so much. For me, the dancefloor has always been a solitary environment. I work best alone. Part of it is just a mental state. I like to disappear in the music, let it move me and tell me which steps to take. I'm communing with the sounds, and in that space, I can be free. My thoughts turn off, my body loosens, and for as tiring as it can be, it relaxes me. When I start to think about it, I lose everything. So, if I come up with a step and try to repeat it, I'll end up tripping over my own feet. Same goes with predetermined moves. The macarena is too complicated for me. Put me together with a partner who wants to somehow work in tandem, and it's never going to work. Hell, there was a group of guys who I used to go out with, and one of them liked to sit on the sidelines and watch. He wasn't being lascivious about it (okay, maybe a little), he just liked how I moved, apparently. If I ever caught him staring, however, I'd immediately fall off the beat. The night I realized he was pointing at me and telling other people to look, he's lucky we didn't end up as a "Law & Order" episode. You just don't fuck with my dance space!
My theory on this is that in some ways, dance employs my two worst subjects from school: gym and math. It's being athletic while following a prescribed formula. You have to count the beats, add and subtract and multiply in all the right places. Music is measured in time (a 3/4 waltz!), or even in beats per minute. I can't do numbers. I mean, I really can't. For a couple of weeks, I was in charge of the accounting at Oni when Joe Nozemack was in the hospital. When he got out, he asked me if I had used a calculator, and I told him I had. "And you still got your figures wrong? I'd hate to see how you'd be without help!" Numbers are my curse. They are my Achilles Heel. Tell me a number, and I'm sure to forget it. Ask me to repeat that number, and even when I think I remember it, I will inflate or deflate it. I'm not to be trusted.
Thus, imagine my anxiety when I found myself finally standing in a dance studio plunking down $40 for a four-week "Intro to Swing" class.
The moment I walked through the door, I wanted to get the hell out of there. The class that was finishing up as I entered was Cha Cha for Beginners, and everyone in there was doing so good. I knew this was there first night, too. How did they already know to swivel their hips like that? I was doomed!
The gym class comparison is actually apt. I felt like I was in gym class all over again. As my fellow students started rolling in, I noticed some of them dressed for the occasion. A few started pulling out their performance shoes, including one woman who had a pair with special soles she had to clean off with a lint brush. It was like going to P.E. and all the other boys knew it was baseball season and they had brought their own gloves, and not only did I know I couldn't catch, but I realized I was that far behind the pack because I didn't even own a glove. (I really didn't.) Thank goodness they weren't picking teams for this, or I'd easily be the last dancer chosen.
Except, in a way, there would be teams. Swing dancing requires a partner. I noticed most everyone else was coming in as couples or were girls coming to class on their own. Was I to be the only single guy? Were I a suave bastard, that might be good, as tossing one lone male dancer into the mix would be like throwing a single raw steak into a tiger cage. The ladies could fight over me, despite my assurance that there was enough of Jamie S. Rich to go around. Only that wasn't going to happen. More like I was the mystery meat they might end up with because the cafeteria was one hamburger short. The odd girl out would probably just order a salad.
I began to calm as the other men started to show up. Okay, that guy there, he brought his tennis shoes in a plastic shopping bag. Tacky! And that other guy is going from woman to woman asking if they want to do some warm-up dancing before class starts. No one was taking him up on it, so he was definitely winning the creep award. Still, I was rethinking my cover story that "my doctor had told me I should get out and mingle with other people." Thought I purposely crafted it to leave it ambiguous enough that their imagination could run wild, it was starting to seem like the wrong gambit for this particular situation.
The partner conundrum could wait for a while anyway. For our first steps, the teacher lined us all up in rows so we could watch ourselves in the mirror. How I let myself be front and center,I have no idea. Talk about conspicuous. When you're the Gay Johnny Cash of the group ("I'm the Man in Black, and I'm faaaaabulous!"), stand in the back, dummy. Next time just hang a bell around your neck so they can hear you coming! Luckily, I realized pretty quickly that I could position myself directly behind the teacher so that not only could I not see myself, but it was that much easier to convince myself that she couldn't see me either, and if she couldn't see me, maybe no one else could. I realize that's childish, like I was playing Dance Class Peek-a-Boo and if I was blocked in the mirror it didn't really mean I disappeared, but when you're desperate, you can convince yourself of just about anything. Besides, I was already screwing up the simple one-two step. It was only going to go downhill from there.
One thing I realized almost right away was that the way you're supposed to step in swing is completely counterintuitive to how I want to step. Since allegedly I am a man, I was being taught to be in the lead position, and in the lead position you begin moving with your left foot, and for some reason, I always want to start with my right. Similarly, though the steps should have a simple repeat rhythm, I for some reason want to keep changing direction. I go rock left, step right, triple-step left, triple-step right, and instead of doing it the same, the next time I try to rock right, step left, etc. Add to this that you have to remember to push the girl away when you step back and bring her in when you step forward, and it's like I'm in Opposite Day.
This is where maybe the partnering system worked in my favor. Instead of choosing one partner, we got in a circle--boy, girl, boy, girl all the way around--and we rotated partners every dance. This meant any woman unlucky enough to be paired with me just had to wait five minutes and she'd be done with me. Being who I am, I tried the self-deprecating route and apologized in advance, and unlike most instances in life, this actually worked in my favor. The best partners either acknowledged their own foibles and wanted to find a way to make us both better, or they were a little better already and weren't afraid to subtly take the lead. A couple of girls even tried to help by suggesting different ways I could think about what I was doing, which was awesome of them and set me at ease. There were other partners, however, who weren't having any of that. Even if they laughed off my introduction, as soon as they saw my clumsy stepping, I could see their eyes glaze over and face go blank. One girl, I swear, actually pretty much just stood still and waited the song out. It's not a very productive tactic, because it just made me worse. This just left me to my own devices and trust me, if I couldn't find the sweet spot with your help, I wasn't going to do it fumbling around on my own. (Yes, I know that sounds dirty. You should read the metaphors I rejected.)
The hour seemed to go pretty quickly, thankfully. As I imagined the women were doing with me, I just kept taking it one song at a time, get through this five minutes and then you can get the hell out of there. A dark cloud settled, however, when we hit the hour mark and the teacher announced that she's known for going over her time limit, and since we were the last class of the night, she was willing to keep going. Had their been a mass exodus at that point, I might have joined it, but I wasn't going to single myself out in that way for everyone to notice that I sucked. Oh, no, the teacher was going to do that for me! Completely ignoring the fact that I couldn't get three basic steps down, she decided to add a twist to the routine. A literal twist. As in, spin your partner around. My new partner and I worked on it, thought we had it, until the instructor stopped everything and announced, "You two over there, you're spinning in the wrong direction." Granted, I wasn't alone in this shame, as my partner looked at me with the same lost dog face that I had, thinking, "There's another way to spin?" with the big duh being, "Yes, in the other direction." Even so, I felt like this must somehow be my fault, because I was the lead, so thus I must have spun her improperly. How unfair is that? Maybe the designation of leads and follows should be based on experience and comfort, not gender. At least in the classroom.
Thankfully, there was only one more number after that, and that was with one of my helpful partners. Actually, she was my first partner, we had come full circle. I don't know if I could have handled it if we had kept turning. I don't want to know what kind of look would have flashed on some of the women's faces had they saw me coming again. In fact, that was probably why they groaned inside when the class was announced to be going overtime. "Oh, shit, I may have to walk the line with Gay Johnny Cash again!"
Needless to say, I survived the experience. I was even good and didn't spoil the exercise I had gotten and my snack for the journey home was a bottle of water and some crackers rather than a soda and a big peanut butter cup, though those both sounded oh so appealing as post-trauma comfort food. Knowing what I'm in for now, I have a feeling it's going to be even harder to go back next week. I'm pretty confident that I will, since I prepaid and if there is one other thing I am consistent about it's being a cheapskate, but you never know. At some point my unstoppable miserliness will meet the immovable object, and I might let some coins trickle away. Could this be the time? I don't know, but to double up the pressure, I wrote this entry, realizing that if there is no part 2 to this, I'll be a chump for reals. I'm trying to shame myself into not being a wuss. I must once more jump into that ring of fire, whether it burns burns burns in a good way or a bad way, or you'll all know.
Then again, fuck you. Not like I care what you think anyway. Nyahhhhh!
Current Soundtrack: Manic Street Preachers, Send Away the Tigers; Travis, The Boy With No Name (see? same ol' bands! consistency!)
Current Mood: embarrassed
All text (c) 2007 Jamie S. Rich