I drew closer. He was neither. He was an irate dancer raging about some fool who had ruined the morning waltz workshop by dancing clockwise. The significance of this sin was wasted on me, for I had never danced, but I got the message. I vowed never to go clockwise – or otherwise — in this man’s territory.
I broke my vow almost immediately when I started a beginning Scandinavian dance class. It seemed safe.
The class was actually full of long-time Scandinavian dancers, not beginners. I’m sure, when they invited beginners to join them, they were thinking of Balkan dancers seeking new challenges, not arrhythmic non-dancers like me. Still, most of the men were gracious and helpful. The women were sympathetic.
One night, as I wept in the restroom, someone said – without asking why I was crying — “If you can find a way to like
I considered her words for weeks. Finally I approached him. He glowered at me. “I need help,” I said. “I can’t get the timing in that last dance.” I was so sure he’d tell me to take up knitting and forget dancing that I was amazed when he tugged me into the kitchen for the first of many tutorials. He was an enthusiastic teacher and a perfectionist. Sometimes his interventions were a bit breathtaking. One time, as I was finishing what had felt like a successful dance, he bounded onto the floor, shouting, “You shouldn’t be seen in public dancing like that!” Yanking me away from my partner, he went right to work correcting the cant of my right toe. It seemed trivial but, to someone who loved and understood dancing as
I think he liked being seen as a curmudgeon. Most of his advice was brusque. Any compliments were minimal or oblique and often had to be inferred from what he didn’t say. On one occasion he led me through a particular dance pattern but in the wrong sequence. He apologized gruffly. Then he said in an accusing but surprised tone, “I did it wrong and YOU followed me!” “Sorry,” I said, but he interrupted. “NO, NO, that’s what I’m always telling you – follow your partner – RIGHT OR WRONG.”
Another time he stopped dead and demanded that I stop leading. “I don’t know how to lead,” I said, “and I barely know the dance.”
He contradicted me. “You know it perfectly well and you WERE leading.”
“Perfectly well?” I smiled, snagging an unintended compliment.
“Grrhmpf,” he muttered, stifling a smile, “Now try it again and let ME lead this time.“
His advice was so useful, though, it hardly mattered how he delivered it. Once he asked me, “What in God’s name is wrong with your knees?”
“Everyone says to bend them,” I answered.
“Well, STOP!” he bellowed. “Hold my hands. Firmly. Now sit down a little.” Right away I could feel the shift in my center of gravity that everyone had been trying to help me find.
Once I relaxed a little, I found that
Another time, a crowd from class went to Ship’s Café and spread out over three tables. At my end I was telling someone how awful the first few months of class had been. At the other end
“Because I didn’t want YOU to win, ”I yelled, and he let out a loud cowboy cheer.
As the years went by and my joints grew tired, I stood on the sidelines with him. We told jokes and funny stories, bawdy ones as well as dopey ones we’d known as kids. I wondered if the newer dancers circling past us worried, as I had worried, that we were laughing at the cant of their toes or the bend of their knees.
I learned, too, but never from him, what a good friend he was to the dance community. He videotaped dances and took still photos at camps. He drove all the way to
“How about a picture of that famous old bell that’s cracked?” they asked and he grinned despite its being an old joke for him.
He was always grumpy about saying goodnight to me. If I said I was leaving, he’d ask, “So what are you waiting for?”
“A hug,” I’d say and he’d shake his head. I’d move closer and he’d step back. I’d insist that I wouldn’t leave without a hug and he’d chortle, “Guess you’re going to sleep here.” Eventually he’d smile, open his arms, and give me a warm hug. I miss those hugs. There’s never been anyone like
Valerie Cooley is living in Coos Bay,