Dancing   Leave a comment


    How can something that looks so effortless and easy be so hard? The couples glided around the spotless wooden floor with the men leading masterfully and the women doing graceful spins and twirls, and I knew that I was going to disgrace myself before the night was over.

     Tuesday night, March 16, I went dancing for the first time in many, many years. Sure, I had tripped through a few Regency pavanes at science-fiction conventions over the years–the key word there being tripped. I’m about as graceful as a brick in motion. Yes, I can bow, and smile, and walk forward–don’t ask me to walk backwards in time to music, but that’s about all, and I don’t even do that very often. The two-step is my favorite dance. Let me inhale the perfume of her hair, and sway back and forth to slow romantic music with my lady in my arms, and I’m a happy guy. Ask for anything requiring grace and coordination, and you’re asking for trouble.

     So, why would a clumsy old guy–I think I was the oldest man in the room, but not the oldest person–go to the Fatcat ballroom at 32nd Street and Thunderbird, about 15 miles from home to try swing dancing when he has absolutely no interest in swing dancing?  I did it for my18 year-old son, Corencio. He’s a freshman at Arizona State University, and is taking a class in salsa dancing. He is required to attend at least 4 dance events outside of the classroom. Considering his parents, Corencio is a surprisingly good dancer. Slim, graceful,  young, coordinated–for him dancing is a delight, and he looks good, too.

     But sometimes it’s up to Dad to provide the initiative to get things going. One of my friends is Michael A. Stackpole, sometime Star Wars novelist, fantasist, game designer and critic, and all-around good guy. I hope to get Mike to help me transition into electronic publishing later this year (and we talked about that a little at the ballroom), but he has mentioned from time to time that he goes to dances. I called him last week and asked if he knew of anything that Corencio and I could get in on, and he told me about this time and place.  The dancing was really for Corencio’s benefit–he needs to write a short report about it–though this blog will probably be much longer than anything he does. [I challenge you, Corencio, if you read this, to write a better account of the dancing session.]

     The Fatcat ballroom is a large trapezoidal room with full-length mirrors on the long walls that make the place appear even bigger. The place was very well-lighted when we walked in and paid our $7 each for the class, but it dimmed to a merciful twilight when the class actually started. Our instructor was a large handsome guy named Steve Conrad, and he had a lovely partner named Noel. He did his best to teach me how to swing dance. If they gave me a written test on swing dancing, I believe I could pass it. Here’s a little picture of the place and ad for it. I believe the guy in the black shirt with his back to the camera is my friend Mike Stackpole–the build and clothing seem just about right for him.

    Swing is built on two simple steps. The triple step consists of a large step by the leading foot followed by two half steps by the trailing feet to bring the feet back together. The bounce step is simply rocking back onto the toes of the left foot, and then stepping forward again. The basic dance then is triple step left, triple step right, bounce step and repeat until the music stops. You also get to hold your partner while doing this in what is basically a waltz position–her right hand in my left  hand, my right hand in the small of her back. her left hand on my shoulder.

     We practiced that for twenty minutes or so. I never got it right more than twice in a row. It seemed like I couldn’t keep up with the music, lost the tempo, bounced when I should be triple stepping, triple stepped when I should be bouncing, stepped on my right foot with my left foot, which may be why my right big toe hurt the following day. It got to the point where I would introduce myself to my new partner–the ladies moved around the circle about once every four minutes–where I would tell each new lady that I met that this was her chance to rest, although I admit that I gamely tried to keep up with the music.


     And then Steve started introducing complications.  To make the dance more intereting, the lady gets to spin away from her partner, and then spin back to him. This is supposed to happen either on the bounce step or between the bounce step and the next triple stop–I’m not quite sure.  It was up to me to lift my left hand while still holding hers, let her spin away from me, and then reverse spin back.

      After ten or fifteen minutes of practicing, I sort of got this. Sometimes I even got through a whole sequence without making a mistake, although it seemed like I always lost a tempo, and was out of time with the rest of the ballroom.

      And then he made it more complicated. During the spin, I had to change hands with my partner, so that when she spun back, my right hand now held her right hand and she pulled in beside me in a promenade position.  On the next spin, both hands had to go up above her head, and we switched hands back to the beginning. This was complex enough that we went through it without any foot motions. Then they turned the music on–we triple-stepped, we bounced, we spun her out, we lost her and saw her crash into the mirror, we pulled her back, we stepped on our own feet, and we stopped cold. I wasn’t the only person having problems, but I was probably the worst. Such is my fate in life. I will stand out–on one end of the spectrum or the other.

     By this time we had been practicing for over an hour. My calves burned, my feet were numb, my shoulders had a strange weak feeling (they still do more than a day later), and I was soaked in sweat. My throat was dry–I was on the point of collapse. I finally decided that was all the dancing I could take for one night. I apologized to my partner, who now found herself without a man to practice with at that point in line, and staggered out of line to find my hat and water bottle.

     Either lots more people had arrived, or a lot of people gave up before I did, because the chairs where I had left my hat were all full. I found it though–battered old fedora that it is–found my water–Ahhh, water is the gift of God–and went out the back door to cool off. Low sixties fahrenheit outside–a clear beautiful night–Arizona is having its finest weather of the year right now. Went back inside, gave my son his bottle of water during a short break. Young and strong as he is, he appreciated that. Other dancers in line looked envious.

     The instructional part of the evening ended soon afterwards. Music began to play, and dancers went back on the floor to show off, or practice what they had learned. That was enough for me. It was 9:o0, and we had been there about two hours, more than an hour of it spent trying to learn to dance. Ouch. I have never felt so clumsy in my life.

     The women were beautiful, gracious, nimble, and kind. It was so nice to meet them, hold them, spin them (no matter how badly), and just feel them in my arms again. Such occasions are few and far between for me these days. For that alone, I might be tempted to go back again. Mike told me that it takes men about ten hours to really learn the dance. Women learn it in about four hours. The idea of going back 9 more times before I’m any good at it is frightening, but on the other hand, I hate to give up, and it’s good exercise. Mike was very good at it–smooth; I admired the people who could dance. Maybe I will go back. After all, I was born to have adventure.


Posted March 18, 2010 by atroll in Uncategorized

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