My friend Seth recently asked me if I'd like to go to a blues dance. It was a rainy Monday night. I considered my options: "America's Got Talent" or "Criminal Minds" versus getting up close and personal in the arms of strangers. Why the hell not?
I had no idea what blues dancing was, other than steamy recollections of Gene Kelly and Cyd Charisse in "Singing in the Rain" and Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey having sex with their clothes on in "Dirty Dancing." Seth had been taking blues dance lessons and was eager to practice. I, on the other hand, have always been averse to the concept of lessons and figured I could follow any guy's lead. Which is like saying I can climb Everest in flip-flops, as long as I have a Sherpa.
When we arrived, I was startled to discover that most of the dancers were in their twenties. (Aren't these kids supposed to be in a garage somewhere developing multimillion dollar apps?) Attired in T-shirts, shorts, miniskirts and sneakers, they moved around the dance floor with assurance, executing intricate spins, dips and glides to sultry blues standards. "I Got It Bad," "Forbidden Love," "Pussycat Moan." Slow, fluid and incredibly sexy. (Think jitterbugging on Quaaludes.) But this wasn't a pickup scene. They were there to improve their form with the intensity of Olympic athletes.
It was the guy collecting money at the door. His older sister had been one of my close friends in high school
"Barry, what are you doing here?"
He shrugged and volunteered to show me some basic steps. Placing his right hand under my shoulder blade, he instructed me to lean back.
"More," he said until I got it right. Then he started to move his hips and arms in time with the music, keeping his feet still.
"You got it," Barry said, leading me into turns and different variations.
Next, I danced with Seth, who added some low dips. My thoughts? You drop me, you pick me up and drive me to the ER. We were having fun, not worrying whether we were doing it "right" or not, while all around us couples showed off moves as if they were auditioning for "Dancing With the Stars." One guy in particular caught my eye. He was tall, unusually graceful and fluid with a lean muscularity.
"Look at that guy in the black shirt," I said to Seth. "He's got to be a pro. A modern dancer or choreographer."
We debated the possibilities until I got the nerve to approach the young man in question.
"Excuse me, are you a professional dancer?" I asked.
"No," he beamed. "I'm a software engineer."
I was backing away, returning to Seth, when Mr. Black Shirt said, "Would you like to dance?"
"Um. I don't know how to do this," I stammered.
He smiled and took my hand. It reminded me of the childhood game of Trust where you close your eyes and fall backwards, hoping your friend will not allow your head to crack on the pavement. He danced down to my level, swaying more than moving across the floor, keeping the spins and turns rudimentary. Best of all, he smiled the entire time. So did I.
Over the years, I had tried many forms of dance, starting with placing my stockinged feet on top of my father's shoes. Watching "Bandstand," I became adept at Rocking Around the Clock with the stairway banister and learned to do a serviceable mambo in the bar mitzvah circuit. Just when the idea of pressing my body against another human being seemed like a great idea, the entire concept of touch dancing vanished like a cruel joke.
There I was, at my hormonal best, waving my hands in the air ... for over a decade. By the time couples dancing reappeared in the form of the Hustle, I had lost interest. More importantly, the men in my life did not dance. Lessons? Out of the question.
In recent years, I've dabbled in the boomer dance scene. Contra dancing? It makes me dizzy. Zydeco? As much as I love grinding on a man's thigh, the music is too repetitive. Waltz? If I'm immersing myself in Viennese culture, I prefer eating pastry mit schlag to twirling in high heels. Swing is OK until it isn't. As for the Latin dances, I do them only in my dreams with Javier Bardem.
That night, at my first exposure to blues dancing, something clicked. Maybe it was the music's slow pace or the improvisation that allowed each dancer to create their own unique style. I wasn't intimidated by the steep learning curve, the fact that my spine often feels like it's made of Legos, or that most of the dancers were young enough to be my children.
I told Seth, "I can do this. I want to do this."
I signed up for a series of four beginner's classes. You can keep your Pilates, spin classes and downward dog. I'm going to be getting my cardio workout on the dance floor.