Our theme for the month of July is “stunt journalism.” Writers were asked to try something new, take on a challenge, or perform some other interesting feat strictly for the purpose of writing about it.
I’ve always been mesmerized by dancers. Maybe it was all those movie musicals I watched as a kid. Who can forget Danny Kaye singing, “The best things, happen while you’re dancing, when you hold a girl in your arms that you’ve never held before,” as he and his pink-frocked, pixie-waisted damsel trip across conveniently upturned boats on a marina straight from a back-lot in LA?
Sadly, I come from a long line of bad dancers. My dad had to get a dance tutor when he was in grad school studying vocal performance (opera singers do, on occasion, have to move a bit).
My sophomore year at college, I participated in a memorable floor dance for a dorm retreat. A guy from my building remarked, “I loved watching Julia the most, because she was like three moves behind the whole time, but she was super into it.” Yeah, what a charmer.
But I have enjoyed my few dance lessons here and there. And going swing dancing in downtown GR has been on my bucket list for a while, which I need to start checking off before I move away in a few weeks. It was on my friend Amy’s bucket list too, and she got the ball rolling: “I’ve got a partner, so find someone so we can go together!”
Easier said than done. First, only a small segment of my guy friends would even want to go swing dancing. Second, those I did ask came up with a variety of excuses—some valid and others not so much. Two hours before we were set to go, I found a partner.
“So this is what one hundred percent humidity feels like,” said Andrew as we climbed out of the car. The night was steaming. The crowd was already organizing itself into parallel lines—guys on the left, girls on the right. We hopped in and began fumbling through a five-minute lesson. For each skill, we moved down the line to practice with a new partner, often a complete stranger. I learned the basic step with Chan, my partner, and a girl-spin with Andrew (Amy’s partner), a boy-spin with some forty-year-old guy in blue shirt, and how to dip with a septuagenarian (at least! Let’s just say I didn’t dip all the way).
Moves are all well and good, but music is what makes dancing real. I’m the biggest sucker for oldies (and I mean oldies). The best of Lawrence Welk and the Andrews Sisters—I’m talking great-grandma old. The trumpets blared, the trombones energetically slouched into song, and the singers burst into upbeat harmonies.
It was glorious. We started slow, but accelerated into more and more swings and twirls. The best dances are the ones with strange guys who happened to be very good dancers. Then it was just a matter of watching and guessing what would come next and playing along.
Everyone was dripping, sweaty hands (mine, mostly) slipping off each other. Despite my lack of skill, I went all out. I had spent the day madly writing to beat an impending deadline and looking for houses in Cleveland; I had nervous energy to burn.
I pranced and giggled—a sweat-soaked debutante, my hair frizzing into an 80s perm. My speed peaked during a dance with an averagely tall, mop-headed guy in red pants and a mint-green striped shirt. We whipped into the basic, going at a breakneck pace.
“I go pretty fast and do a lot of spins,” he shouted over the music.
No joke! I thought as we started spinning like those teacup rides at carnivals. I was concentrating on keeping up.
“So, this is my first time here.”
He wants to have a conversation?!
Me: (pant, gasp) “Really? Where are you from?
Detroit. Shawn had come just for the dancing.
The dance went on and on, and so did Shawn’s nausea-inducing signature move. Afterward, I staggered outside the plaza to catch a gust of fresh air.
But I went back and kept dancing. And then had a drink with my friends. And then went home and hung out with my housemates.
AND THEN I threw up—in a plastic bag in my bedroom, because someone was in the bathroom. I think it was a combination of the heat and the alcohol consumed after completely burning my dinner calories.
I woozily curled up my bedroom floor. Things are less spinny down here.
I thought about my writing project, I thought about moving, saying goodbye to my friends, and dancing. And about how I had to get off the floor eventually.
I have been waltzing through life at pretty pace, trying to keep up with friends while we still live near each other. Trying to date. Trying to hold onto long-distance relationships. Trying to be a friend to some of the younger people in my life because it’s my turn to do some leading now. It’s tiring, but so exciting, to have a life made rich and wide through so many relationships.
Can I do this again—find community in a new town, in a new chapter of my life? Probably. But, ugh. It will be work. Maybe, I hope, it will be as easy as asking a stranger to dance. At least I can do that.
After a trial-by-fire year as public school substitute teacher and fly-by-night freelancer, Julia will shed the tribulations of the work-world to embark on a MA in art history and museum studies at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, OH. If you are in town, she’ll gladly take you to a local museum. She enjoys walks, leopard print, and good conversation.