Tuesday, August 27, 2013
My Dancing Life
On long car trips, Joyce and I sometimes ask each other "playful" questions--just to see. I've learned, over our four decades together, that it's sometimes very wise not to answer her questions, which tend to reside firmly in the damned-if-you-do-damned-if-you-don't category. Though, of course, not answering at all is sometimes worse than a yes or a no or a mumble I hope will sound like distraction--or a clue that I'm deep into a very important thought that, for purposes of national security and for the continuation of human life as we know it on our planet, ought not be interrupted.
But the other day, I asked one, playfully, that caused some sleeping dragons to emerge from the mountain. Here we go:
Dan: "What do you think of me as a dancer?"
Joyce: "I don't know what I think." [This, by the way, she said sweetly--no rancor, no disgust, no bitterness, no patent disrespect whatsoever, just sort of flat and ... disturbingly honest.]
Still, what that answer told me was that she knew perfectly well what she thought but was trying to coax the dragons back inside. Too late. They'd taken wing and were looking for lakeside towns to incinerate.
I played a major trump card: "And what kind of dancer was ****?" (Her college BF.)
And her response--which came far too quickly for my comfort: "Oh, he was a very good dancer!"
What bothered me there--the very. The italics.
Okay, so I'm not a good dancer. Back in Enid, Oklahoma, in the 1950s, my mother signed me up for some dance lessons down at the old Convention Hall with a bunch of other kids whose mothers were worried about their future social lives, I guess. I met some guys from other schools and found out that they, too, liked to spit and throw rocks. I learned some new words, too. But what I didn't learn was how to dance very well. We "learned" the waltz, the fox trot, the rumba--and the jitterbug. We did some square dancing--and I liked the Mexican Hat Dance. Overall, though, the class was a failure.
In junior high and high school there were dances all the time, but I mostly did just the slow dances--i.e., the ones requiring me pretty much to just stand there and hug the girl. I did some jitterbugging in junior high and even won a little contest one night when the competition was particularly thin--were the other boys outside smoking? The last popular dance I learned (sort of) was The Twist, but I am more than grateful that there were no smart phones in those days that could post evidence of my skill on Facebook. I was pretty bad. And as subsequent dances came along--The Pony, The Watusi, etc.--I sat and watched and waited for the slow ones.
I didn't go to many dances in college--there weren't many. Just informal things down at the Student Union, which I ignored--or waited for the slow songs. My senior year, a horror: I realized I still needed a physical education credit in order to graduate, so I signed up for ... Ballroom Dancing, held down in what was then called the "women's gym," a site now gone, converted into office spaces. (Though some floorboards, beneath the tile or carpet or whatever is there, are probably still conversing among themselves about the Ballroom Dancing class in 1966. Did you notice that Dyer guy? That guy was lame!) We went through some of the same old steps I'd not learned back in Enid--with a Tango added (don't ask) and some others I have mercifully forgotten. Still, I think I got a B. (I showed up, tried.)
RETURN TO PRESENT.
Joyce, on the other hand, is an excellent dancer. She'd taken lessons--tap, etc.--all through girlhood, had performed in recitals and shows. Fortunately, she did not discover the dimensions of her marriage error until it was too late--at our wedding reception--at the dancing part. Her college friends, who didn't know me, stood and watched in dismay and probably swept her aside later and mentioned the a word (annulment), but she was too fine a person for that.
Her parents had been excellent dancers, too, had gone out dancing for fun all the time, even very late in their lives. I'm sure they, too, were ... alarmed ... at the choice she'd made, a choice whose failings were evident at the reception--and elsewhere.
So ... Joyce and I have not danced very often. We danced at our son's marriage in 1999 (I'd not improved), and every now and then (once a decade or so), I will swoop her in my arms and say "Let's dance!" It doesn't last long.
Anyway, our car-conversation about dancing bounced along a little longer, then faded as we, mercifully, changed the subject--the subject, of course, that I had introduced.
Joyce's final comment is a sort of mixed blessing/message, isn't it? Here it is: "You're not a terrible dancer."