1..2..3..*pause* 5 ..6..7.
The thing about dancing is the steps. There’s this pattern that your feet need to know in order to do the dance. The main pattern is always the Basic Step.
At first, it’s simply rote memorization. Right foot back ( 1) left foot forward (2) right foot even (3) and so on. Because I learned to dance salsa in Germany, this was the metronome that played on repeat in my head:
Soon the instructor turns on the music and you try to match the rehearsed rhythm of your feet to the beat. You can always spot beginners by the way they mouth the count aloud or repeat it quietly under their breath, like a mantra.
Eventually, muscle memory kicks in and your feet move naturally to the basics steps synced in time to the music in the background. You no longer consciously count – your right foot simply knows to be back on the 1 and the rest of your body moves to the beat.
I had reached this stage when I lived in Virginia. On that dance scene, I was a pretty solid intermediate-level dancer. Except for with this one guy.
He was a dancer too and had been dancing in the city for years. He was well-known and liked and, in many ways, that scene was his home turf. We started to hang out and see each other outside of dancing — I even nicknamed him the Mayor at one point and gleefully blogged about our not dating adventures
You’d think that dating another dancer would be fun…. and it was. Except I couldn’t dance with him. He would lead me with an einz..zwei..drei, but my feet would do a funf..sechs..seben. He’d touch my shoulder and I’d lose my count — my feet completely out of sync with him and the music. I reverted to counting aloud again:
Einz…zwei…drei…good lord what comes next
But it didn’t help.
I tried avoiding eye contact. I tried staring at my feet, willing them to stick with the music. I even tried the simple 1..2..3..tap beat of Bachata. But to no avail. One time he grabbed my arm for a Cha-Cha, but I forgot how to count. Like literally, my brain said: what are numbers? And I just stood there while he stared at me because I couldn’t even provide neurons to my brain that it would comprehend. I think I said something almost as stupid as “I carried a Watermelon” like ummm..I don’t remember how to number?
Consider Baby in her first dance with Johnny Castle a visual representation of what I looked like when dancing with him (only I looked like this EVERY time):
My body would follow my feet out of sync and none of that would follow him. Instead of rhythmic dancers, we often looked like we were playing a game of Mortal Kombat on the dance floor.But then the song would end and we would find new partners.
And my feet would pick up the rhythm just fine again.
It was as if my whole body turned into a flare gun every time we danced, signaling: Hey, dude, I really like you *giggles furiously and hides face in shame*. I imagine it’s the exact same feeling as turning bright red and blushing every time a guy you have a crush on speaks to you. Only in my case, I lost complete control of my motor functions for 3-5 minutes at a time. This was super embarrassing at first, but because it happened every time, it eventually became a joke. Our joke.
But then there was no longer an our to refer to; we weren’t enemies, but neither were we friends. And I moved on to the NorCal salsa scene.
I went back to Virginia last week for the first time in a year. It was like holding a séance due to all of the ghosts of my past that live there -the Mayor being one of those. I ran into him at the Tuesday salsa place.
He had the distinct home court advantage, Virginia being his turf and all. But I had the element of surprise which afforded me a surreptitious glimpse of his reaction (surprised/confused/frowny brow)the first time he noted my presence. With smiles, we said things in the way that couples outside of PTA meetings do to the other parents- all cheery congeniality with no real depth: oh hi, yes so good to see you, oh yes, do save me a dance.
And we danced at some point much later in the night.
Just one dance.
He took my hand; my pulse remained steady.
I didn’t forget my count this dance. I didn’t miss any steps. My feet followed easily the well-worn pattern with which they are familiar. My brain continued to compute numbers and even managed to speak Spanish while we danced. We didn’t look like combatants anymore. I looked up into his eyes and smiled.
I don’t know what he said to me at the end of the dance — I couldn’t hear him anymore. But I said: that was fun.
And I meant it.
How easily spells are cast and broken.