Almost a Dancer
by Doyle Harden
A recent movie, "Shall we Dance", struck me rather hard. As I watched the ballroom and tango dancing, I felt a kinship. I saw myself in the role of Richard Gere and lived his emotions. I even had tears in my eyes during some scenes.
Several hours later I became aware of why I was so affected and shocked to a standstill. When I regained my sense of the present, I realized that within just a few moments I had reviewed a part of my life, a life when I was much younger.
I was twenty years old, still in the Air Force, and had been in my new station in Montgomery, Alabama, for two months. After being in the Far East for two yers, it was good to be in the country of my birth again.
One day a friend in my barracks asked me to go with him to take some dance lessons. He was embarrassed to go alone. I didn't really want to, I already knew how to dance. But eventually I agreed to accompany him. And learned more than a few dance steps.
I went to the dance lessons with this guy because I had always wanted to know how to dance the tango and the waltz "properly". The lessons were at a studio in downtown Montgomery. We arrived at about 6 PM and walked up to the second floor of an 8-story building. We located the proper door, one with the top half made of glass and the words "Dance Studio" painted on it, and walked in.
What we walked into was a huge room the size of a basketball court, with a smooth wooden floor but without the markings, and not much else. Attached to one of the long sides were those parallel bars dancers hold on to while they stretch and do ballerina-type things. While we looked around, someone behind us said, "May I help you, boys?" We turned around to see a most gorgeous blonde whose blue eyes sparkled with friendliness.
"I'm Angela, the dance instructor. And who are you?"
We told her and, when she asked about our dancing knowledge, my buddy spoke up first. "I don't dance at all," he said, "but I want to learn." She looked at me and asked the same question. "I dance a little," I told her, " but I want to learn some special types of dancing."
She had us fill out application forms, then turned to my buddy. "Okay, let's start with you." After turning on some music, she talked with him about music and the feel for it as she took him across the floor. He told her he was a little clumsy but willing to learn. She worked with him for a half-hour, then began asking me questions about what I knew about dancing, ending with, "Let's see how you do."
The music, I was glad to hear, was a foxtrot beat, and we began to dance. She allowed me to lead without saying anything, letting me "feel the music and her feel me doing!" in order to discover how much I actually did know.
Then she began to both tell and show me how to guide a partner and how to do this and that and various other aspects, all the while commenting on how well I responded to the music. "You're a natural", she said. The compliments about my dancing ability continued and I began to feel this was just an enticement to get business. Actually I was somewhat peeved and embarrassed.
We were the only pupils there and she worked with both of us in short segments. Shortly before 7 PM, she selected some waltz music and held out her hand to me. "Let's waltz" she said and gave me no time to say I didn't know how. I didn't, and yet, quick as a wink, in the blink of an eye, there I was waltzing away with her. Actually, she led me into and out of dance steps as smoothly as if I had been waltzing my entire life. I was stunned, but very happy about the whole thing.
A week later my buddy and I were back, dancing around the large room, each of us trying to remember the steps we had been shown just moments before. The lessons were for one hour and Angela worked us steadily. Toward the end of the session, Angela took me aside and asked if I would like to go dancing after class. My dumb, slack-jaw expression made her laugh. She repeated the suggestion.
I said, "What? Me go dancing with you? Now that would be an honor! I mean with a professional dancer like you, I would feel like a total klutz."
"I think you are a very good dancer," she said. "You have a feel for the music and an agility that I hardly ever find in my students. Besides you learn rapidly and I think you have real potential. So? Do you want to go or not?"
I stammered a "Yes." My buddy said he would go on back to the base, leaving me free to go dancing with this delightful angel. For an angel she was. Blond hair, azure blue eyes and a smile that melted me as the summer sun melts butter. And in her presence I melted a lot. The top of her head just made it to my eyes and her body was slim and well formed like a dancer's would be. I knew she was older than I, but I figured her to be about 35 while I had just turned 21.
So, after an hour of dancing instruction, we went dancing, again. This time it was different, however. She drove to a nightclub that featured a full orchestra and had a large dance floor. We were shown to a table, sipped briefly on a drink and immediately started dancing. Between dances we learned about each other. That's how I found out that she was more than a dance instructor: she was the owner of the studio. She also told me that at age 17 she had married a dancer and was divorced at 20. That she had taken dance instruction from a number of top teachers in New York and Los Angeles and had come to Montgomery to consider buying this studio. She did and stayed.
This became one of the greatest nights of my life, dancing as if I were Fred Astaire or Gene Kelly, or both, all in one. She led me through many dance routines until my head was spinning. And for the next three hours I was performing dances I didn't even know! She led me so easily into and out of the routines that even I looked like a professional. And there was more to this glorious experience - another, even bigger surprise.
During one dance, I can't recall what it was, I suddenly became aware that I did not have to steer us through other dancers on the floor. I looked around and found we were the only couple on the floor and, as we spun around, I glimpsed the other couples standing in a circle around the dance floor. Just standing there! Watching us! What a wondrous feeling that was! Everyone had moved aside in order to watch us, and me, of all people! I knew it wasn't me who caused this wonderful dancing, but she who made it happen. I had to sit down.
We returned to our table to a ringing of applause and I sat there, completely mystified. It was like a scene from a movie, and yet it had just happened in real life to me, to my life. Angela was looking at me with a big smile and seemed to be waiting for me to say something. I took another sip of my now watery drink and said, "I can't believe what just happened really happened."
Angela was watching me closely and after a few moments of silence she said, "Get used to it, Doyle. This will happen to you a lot if you want it to."
"What do you mean?" I asked.
It was then that she offered me a job, a job teaching dancing. I was stunned. It was part-time, of course, as I was still in the Air Force. "Let's get some fresh drinks," she said and I motioned the waiter.
She outlined her idea. I would come to her studio two evenings a week at 6 PM. First she would teach me the steps I wanted to learn and then the steps her 7 PM students would be learning. I would help her teach the soon-to-arrive students their dancing lesson for that night. I would instruct the female students, she would handle the male students. In return for all this, she would teach me all the dancing steps I wanted to learn. I agreed and went to work the following week.
Every night after the students left, Angela and I went out dancing for pleasure. She took me to a number of nightspots, but our first nightclub became our favorite. That's where she would teach me as we floated across the floor.
After the first week of this I began thinking of Angela as more than just a teacher and "boss". However, every time I tried to turn to things romantic, she would gently change the subject. I stopped my attempts and just enjoyed dancing with her, being with her. There was no doubt she felt as I did, yet she kept things from going where we both seemed to want.
At the end of the third month, I reminded her I would be discharged in about 60 days and said that I would probably be going back home.
"What will you do when you get back home?" she asked.
"I really don't know, I haven't any set plans," I told her.
"Maybe you could stay right here in Montgomery and work with me teaching full time."
I just looked at her, somewhat startled by an idea that had never occurred to me. "This is exciting," I told her, "but let me think about it." And I did. I checked out the rent on furnished apartments and the basic cost of living. Since I had been in the military all my adult life, I had no idea what anything would cost. I learned quickly.
One evening a couple of weeks later I broached the subject of staying and helping with the dance studio. "If I did stay and work with you full time, how much money would I make? I need to know whether I can afford to even stay here."
Obviously she had already done the math because she quoted the figures without hesitation. They sounded good to me from the information I had gathered, so I told her again I thought I might stay, that I really wanted to, but still didn't want to commit right then.
The date of my discharge from the Air Force was February 8th. Shortly before that day I decided to turn down the offer of becoming Angela's assistant and to head back to my hometown in Oklahoma instead.
Some time later we went out for our usual evening of winding down from our dancing work, and relaxing by dancing for our own enjoyment. We were seated at our favorite table, sipping drinks, when I told her of my decision. A brief look of disappointment showed on her face, which she quickly covered with a smile. She looked down at the table, and then said, "Well, if that's what you want to do, you should do it. But I really believe you should continue teaching ballroom dancing somewhere. I think you're that good."
Finally came my last day, the last dancing class, our last night out dancing for pleasure. Angela and I naturally went to our favorite club. We were subdued, quiet and sad in some ways, as each of us knew we would probably not see each other again. Still, we had known all along that this was going to happen.
Deeply aware of my own soft heart and emotions, I became aware quickly that Angela and I were bonded on the same emotional plane. We reached across the table and clasped hands, not willing to let go. We gazed into the other's eyes for a long time. She spoke quietly, softly. And so did I. Soon we were dancing, without moving from one spot, just swaying to the music, looking into the other's eyes, she into my brown ones, I into her blue ones.
When the night ended and we had danced our last dance together, Angela added her own ending to it with the perfect finishing touch. Because this time it was Angela who initiated the romantic overtures.
The next morning we walked out of her apartment on to the sidewalk, holding hands, moving close to each other. We talked very little in this final goodbye and spoke softly. Waiting for the taxi to arrive we exchanged last tender kisses and looked deeply into the beloved eyes of the other.
The horn of the taxi cab made us both stiffen. Our faces turned from soft to more pragmatic and, after a brief pause, I winked at her, smiled, walked away and got into the waiting taxi. I rolled down the window and looked back at her. Her face showed no expression -- until I noticed her grin and a wink. The cab drove off and I faced front, looking forward.
When my reverie ended, I was looking out at the full-leafed treetops. It was hard to bring myself back to the present since that dream world held so much promise.
When I regained my sense of the present, I thought of my current self. I was no longer young and agile with the balance of a dancer, but an old man past the three quarter mark of a century of living, and full of arthritis. And I found myself day-dreaming. Again.
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