Monday, January 16, 2012

Marriage 401, Lecture 951: Backwards and in high heels

SH promised me a few years ago that he would take dance lessons with me. He has tried to fulfill the promise, but we have encountered obstacles. The first salsa class we took in Madrid several years ago was allegedly 1. a beginners class 2. starting at 10:00 and 3.taught by Peladito, the short, bald guy who spoke English.

At 10:30, a tall, not-bald man showed up and started barking instructions in Spanish to the very advanced class.

SH freaked out. "I don't speak Spanish!" he said. "This is not a beginners class!"

I was annoyed but not freaking out because when someone tells me 10:00, I expect 10:00, not 10:30. You would think I would have known better after living in South America for two years. And I did, which is why I was merely annoyed instead of freaking out.

I asked the bartender for our money back. He looked confused. I explained patiently that we had been told that the class was a beginners class with an English-speaking instructor and that this was an advanced class in Spanish. He summoned the manager, who looked equally confused as I calmly repeated my statement and asked for our money back. He seemed disinclined, but I was firm. Polite but firm. We had been promised X and delivered Y.

I didn't mention the late start. What was the point of that?

He eventually returned our 20 euros to us and we were on our way.

The next time we tried taking dance classes was at a Saturday workshop at the community center. Mike and Betsy were teaching the three-hour beginner salsa class. The next Saturday would build on the beginner class.

If you've ever taken a dance class, you know that you can't go to just one. That you have to go to a few in a short time to really get it and for it to stick.

SH and I were both frustrated with Mike and Betsy because they spent way too much time talking about salsa theory instead of actually teaching us the steps. Then, at the end of the class, when I still had SH convinced that one more Saturday session would do it, Betsy announced they were cancelling the class the next week so they could go to a salsa competition in Chicago.

Leaving aside the professionalism of cancelling something that has been on the calendar for three months and for which two dozen people have enrolled and paid - OK, I won't leave it. That was horribly unprofessional. Cancel a professional obligation because you want to go to a contest? So so wrong.

Where was I? Oh. The class was cancelled. SH and I couldn't make the class held a few months later. I gave up for then.

It was a year later before I could get SH to go to another dance class. That was when we stumbled on the polka class at Polish Fest, the class where the old polka guy smiled and said, "Youse are generally doing pretty nice today."

SH was still convinced he couldn't dance and would never dance, but then groupon sold a coupon for two swing dance classes and Friday night dance at the Knights of Columbus hall in West Allis.

The groupon was about to expire, so we went to the class the other night.

The hall was rearranged from the fish fry set up and readied for dancing, with tables pushed against the wall and chairs placed facing the dance floor. The band was setting up in front.

We knew we were in trouble when other dancers walked in carrying bags with their dancing shoes. We had brought the shoes on our feet, me in cowboy boots because they are usually good for dancing and SH in his old leather-soled shoes that look like they belong on the feet of a man wearing a smoking jacket and an ascot. We thought our shoes would be fine. But we were already behind.

Some of these people were in serious swing dance mode, the men in suits and spectator wingtips, the women in dancing heels and twirly skirts. They looked great.

We were in jeans and t-shirts.

We were so behind.

The class started.

The teachers were two women, although it wasn't until the one of them introduced herself as Susan that we realized she was a woman. They were very careful to identify the dance roles as "leader" and "follower" instead of man and woman. Which I suppose is fine. I don't care. But I had never heard such a reference before, especially in a class of 30 male/female couples. Although I have seen women dancing with women at many weddings, so maybe it's not so far fetched. Sometimes you're the follower, sometimes you're the leader.

Their dancing and their speech were perfectly choreographed, just like the Sweeney sisters on Saturday Night Live. Susan would say, "The leader steps to the right" and Pam would say smoothly, "And the follower steps to the left."

SH started to panic when the teachers ordered the men to go to one side of the hall and the women to the other. Pam and Susan debated for a minute over whether the men were going to the west side or the south side. "Why not just say 'men over there, where the other men are'" I thought, but I didn't say it out loud because I am trying to leave my smart aleck days behind.

After we practiced a few basic steps, the teachers ordered us to partner up. Much to SH's relief, we were reunited.

We practiced for a minute, then the teachers ordered us to change partners.

"Followers, step one person to the left. Leaders, stay where you are."

SH's eyes flew open and his jaw dropped. Horror crossed his face. He shook his head as the next woman stepped up to him, then he apologized profusely to her for what he perceived to be his complete inability to dance. At a DANCE CLASS. As I moved further down the line to new partners and SH got new partners, he continued to apologize. Instead of dancing.

"Some of them actually knew how to dance!" he told me later. "And I was dragging them down!"

After half an hour, the class ended and the general dance began. I found SH.

"This is so stressful!" he moaned. "I can't do this!"

He sat down and had a sip of his beer.

Of course there is a bar at the K of C hall. Catholics, not Baptists. Plus this is Wisconsin. In the winter. What else is there to do?

I tried to encourage him. He really is better than he thinks. He has a strong sense of rhythm and has a lot of natural athletic ability.

"But I don't know how to lead! How do you know what step to do next? Why isn't there a formula for this?"

I tried some more to convince him that dancing was fun! and he could learn!

"If I can't do it right, I don't want to do it at all," he said firmly.

"But for you to be able to do it right, you have to learn and practice!" I said. "It's OK not to be perfect!"

"But I don't like not being perfect," he said.

"If you were perfect, I wouldn't be able to stand you," I said. "An imperfect dancer is fine with me."

He shook his head. "I don't know how to do this!"

Perhaps I could write a program in BASIC that choreographs a dance routine for engineers.


Joy said...

The odd thing is that in my experience, engineers often LIKE dancing (swing, tango, etc) because there are clear steps and instructions, and if you follow the instructions, you begin to dance. It's programmed social interaction. Maybe dancing doesn't work for SH because he seems to have innate social ability to a much greater extent than many engineers.

Joy said...

in other words, he doesn't NEED the dancing in order to interact with people.

Class factotum said...

Joy, SH is claiming that there are not enough instructions - that he needs to know how to put the steps together. Perhaps he is beyond help.

Although he does just fine socializing in other aspects, so he is maybe not as motivated to learn to dance!

Beryl said...

In Seattle, there was a group called Living Traditions that had lots of Swing Dance classes. My husband and I found the right fit for us and another couple and really enjoyed learning. He did not like the changing partners thing, but since we were doing it with friends, he didn't complain. When we tried Tango lessons, we refused to change partners. (It's not a dance we were ever going to do with a stranger.) Didn't ever get very good, but he was much happier.
Now that we live in Tulsa, I take a free Line Dance class while he's at work. That's where you should have cowboy boots.

sharon said...

Oh my! Can you hear me laughing?!

We had a similar dancing adventure, ending our beginner class discouraged knowing this will never be anything we do well together (much like hanging wallpaper, or selecting a new car).

Hoever, we could hold our heads high, because we didn't resort to name calling, and fighting as several couples did.

Months later we spotted one of these couples in Home Depot ---squabbling in the paint aisle. Somethings never change.

Joy said...

Sharon's story reminds me of this lovely Modern Love column from a few weeks ago about marriage and dancing.

Class factotum said...

Beryl, if I can ever convince him to go again, I will make sure SH doesn't have to change partners. Maybe I'll just start taking classes by myself.

Sharon, I guess SH and I have discovered yet another activity that is best undertaken apart. We do not move into a house together well. We don't varnish the porch together well. We don't install stereo equipment together well.

We do, however, eat and watch movies together well.

Class factotum said...

Joy, I loved the opening lines of the essay - that a dance class is something you do when your marriage is in trouble!