Saturday, October 18, 2008

More PTSD Joy, Or: The Night I Realized I Wanted to Learn to Partner Dance

There are four of them approaching the dance floor, two women and two men, all dressed in black. One woman is lithe and petite. She wears a black skirt about calf-length and a black tank top. The other woman is taller, a little plump. She wears an unflattering black wrap dress and a basic black pair of shoes that are round-toed, low-heeled and have a T-strap across the ankle. The men both sport black pants and black button down shirts. One couple looks American; the other looks Latino. All four look unremarkable and uninspiring and self-contained; they do not blend with the crowd, which is chic and self-conscious and needy.

I see this little group, these four people, come to the edge of the dance floor. They do not, as most people do, stand and survey the crowd. They do not study the geography of the floor as if looking for where they might slip in unnoticed, or noticed, depending on some personal agenda. They do not appear to have any agenda that includes those of us already dancing. Instead, they advance to the edge of the floor like a small battalion, sure-footed and disciplined. Then the women turn toward the men, and the men hold out a hand, and the women place their palms inside the offered hands and the four of them step onto a corner of the dance floor and begin to dance – not like any of the rest of us are dancing, but really dance. The song is a disco which, in the world of dance, translates to a hustle.

Based on older dances such as mambo, the hustle originated in Hispanic communities in New York City and Florida in the 1970s. Originally, it was a line dance, but after a fusion with swing and some alteration of the count, it became a ballroom and club dance. Think, Saturday Night Fever and you’ll have a clear idea of how this partner dance looks. There is an ease and flow. There are simple turns and windmill arms and the steps are just that – steps. On the most basic level hustle is really just a matter of a syncopated stepping to the &,1,2,3 beat, and making it look cool.

These two women syncopate and turn and hip-swivel. The men lead them through their moves with a simple rotation of the arm, a soft caress of the shoulder and the women spin around and around. These couples glide over their small corner of the floor with grace and uninhibited restraint. While the rest of us are stomping and shoulder-shifting and wiggling in place these couples move around each other with the energy of tightly coiled springs. They are units of precise and fluid and unpredictable mechanisms. I am mesmerized. All of the longing I’ve ever had for dance, for freedom, for that high I always feel when I dance – for joy – wells up and says, This is how you can possess me!

The men are styling, their hands and arms perfectly placed, but it is the women I can’t stop watching. Both of them are incredibly light on their feet. The illusion is that they are skating over the wooden floor following an undetectable lead. There is no obvious communication between the partners, yet they dance flawlessly. They are a synchronized extension of the music. Each pair is the ebb of the music’s flow.

Bret and I take a break. We sit at our table, faces flushed and moist with sweat.

“Watch them,” I say, pointing to the two couples.

Bret turns and observes. The Latino leads his partner into a series of five successive, individual spins. She comes out perfectly on the beat into a back break without looking the slightest bit dizzy.

A small voice in me whispers, I want

“Cool,” Bret says, nodding his head.

The man leads her into a dip and then out into a diva walk. She is wonderful and fluid and beautiful. As we continue watching them, the small voice becomes louder and louder until it unexpectedly erupts from my lips.

“I want to dance like that!” I shout over the music.

“You could!” Bret answers.

“I want to be that good!”

Juliette laughs.

“I want to look like her,” I say, pointing to the taller, plumper dancer. She moves with an unusual ease in her body. Her face is focused but at peace. There is a genuine softness to her movements, as if she sinks into each step as an afterthought and expects to land against a feather pillow. A small smile plays at the edges of her lips as if she harbors a secret only her partner might guess.

“I want to look like that,” I say aloud to myself. “I want to be able to dance like that.”

We watch the dancers for a while and then Bret and I get back on the floor. Suddenly, freestyling seems amateur. How difficult is it, really, to flail your arms about or gyrate your hips or shift your weight? How difficult is it to stand opposite someone and do your own thing? There’s no finesse, no style, no communication. Freestlying suddenly feels lonely and disconnected and boring. I am still high on the music and movement, but suddenly, not high enough. Somewhere in the pit of my stomach a small coil of joy has begun to stand up like a snake being charmed in a basket. It hums and thrums and writhes. It is a very small sensation, but I sense its great desire and potential to grow. I steal a peek at the two couples again and again while we dance. Each time I do, the coil in my stomach tightens and springs. Each time I watch them spin and wrap and lollipop something in me reaches out to touch their image on the floor.

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