I Can't Dance

When it comes to 'tripping the light fantastic,' I'm more tripping, less light and nowhere near fantastic

When I was 3 years old, my mother enrolled me in a tap dance class. I was a musical child who loved to sing and listen to records, with a somewhat unique—for a 3-year-old—interest in Broadway musical soundtracks, which my mother played over and over in our little apartment in Flushing, New York. I could belt out "Don't Rain on My Parade" and "Tradition" with the best of them. How adorable everyone thought I was, singing along to Streisand and Zero Mostel.

I had teeny-tiny tap shoes, a pale pink leotard, tights and a tutu. I was beyond excited about those tap shoes. They made such a delightful noise on the kitchen floor, and they were shiny patent leather. Not to mention the tutu—itchy and scratchy as it was, I felt wonderful twirling around in it.

Unfortunately, I was a terrible dancer. Even my mother, who thought I was perfect, had to admit that light on my feet I was not.

"Brush, brush, stamp! Brush, brush, stamp!"

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The dance teacher taught us this simple step as our shoes banged on the wooden floors of the dance studio, tiny girls making lots of noise. That was all I had to learn to do: front, back, down. Brush, brush, stamp. But no matter how hard I tried, I couldn't do it. This is still a joke in my family—"brush, brush, stamp."

The poor dance instructor finally told my mother I might be better off in a different class. Mercifully, I never returned to tap dancing classes, though I did put those tap shoes on every so often until they didn't fit anymore. I liked the sound of the taps on the floor, even if I wasn't talented.

Later, when I was in college, everyone was going to aerobics classes, so I did too. Again, there were tights and a leotard, and now there were leg warmers. We all wanted to look like Jane Fonda. We wore sweatbands and headbands and followed the instructor as the mirrors reflected our skill, or lack thereof.

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Of course, I couldn't do it. Couldn't follow the directions, couldn't stay in rhythm, couldn't turn and touch and stretch along with the others. I struggled. How I envied the other women who could follow the beat and do the movements while keeping time to the beat and just be so ... coordinated. Sadly, I gave up on Jane and her videos, on aerobics and jazzercise. It was treadmills and stair climbers for me.

Many years later, when my kids began the bar/bat mitzvah circuit, we spent many Saturday evenings at these celebrations. And once again, despite my best efforts, I had to face the fact that I cannot dance. Line dancing was an especially tortuous endeavor for me. The DJ would call out directions, and somehow everyone else could do it so easily—step front to back, move to the left, jump in the air, etc. From the little kids to Grandma and Grandpa, they all followed along, having a great time. Not me. Though I tried. I really tried.

Now we've moved on to weddings. And there I am again, confronted with my inability to follow a lead or do the electric slide. My husband loves to cut a rug, especially swing dancing. He's really pretty good at it, but I'm ... well, you know. I watch him as he dances with other women—with my blessing—and think I've cheated him out of 27 years of dancing. What kind of wife am I?

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When my daughter was in high school, she was in show choir, which involved a ton of dancing—though to be fair, most of it was arm movements. I was worried she'd be like me, but thankfully she wasn't. Though she's no Beyoncé, and was never front and center like the best dancers in the group, she did fine. Thank goodness she didn't have to wear tap shoes.

I love all kinds of music, and particularly love watching people dance. I think my not dancing is a sign of respect to all of those who are so good at it. I'll get up and move when it's rock and roll, but if it's time for the chicken dance, I'm out. There's only so much humiliation one can take, and I forever hear those words in my head: "Brush, brush, stamp!"

Tags: memoirs