“Is it exercise, love, or performance art that brought you here tonight?”
They spun around the room to a Viennese waltz, their arms held out in formation, firm but flexible.
She looked up at him admiringly, pressing the small of her back against his palm. She wanted to say she came to the weekly dance lessons because of him but she knew she wasn’t the only woman who thought that about their handsome, older dance instructor.
“To learn how to hold my own as a follow.”
He smiled at her. Less than a year earlier he had told his dance instructor the same thing, that he wanted to hold his own as a dance lead, starting out as a newcomer.
“Okay, we can do that. But I ask one thing of you.”
“You must be willing to practice. A lot.”
The song stopped and he escorted her off the dance floor.
“How much time have you got each week to exercise?”
“Usually 30 minutes in the morning before I go to work and 30 minutes to an hour at night, depending on my social calendar.”
“Then give me your 30 minutes in the morning and at least three hours at night each week. Can you do that?”
She sat in the chair he offered her. She wanted to be with him as much as she could. How many other women was he teaching?
“How much will this cost me?”
“Let’s talk about cost later. No matter what, I will make it affordable for you. Thank you again for a wonderful dance, Raubine.” He bowed his head and turned to hold the hand of a woman seated nearby who had waved as he stepped off the dance floor, leading her silently to a clear spot on the floor just as a samba started.
Raubine visited the studio a week ago after buying a discount coupon on the Internet for a free dance lesson by the owner followed by one more lesson for $5 by an assigned instructor.
The dance studio owner, Ed Post, was a military veteran who had just celebrated 27 years of teaching ballroom dance styles. His cartoonish smile and thinning hair made women feel at ease, especially when he showed them in their first lesson how much they didn’t know they already knew about basic footwork, musical rhythm and body posture.
After the first lesson, Ed assigned Raubine to Neil, a half-Irish, half-Greek dance instructor who had torn a ligament in his left knee while teaching Tae Kwon Do and had taken up ballroom dancing to rehabilitate his leg.
Neil’s torso was bulked up from years of body building. Despite his bulk, he was graceful and charming on the dance floor, confident in his dance technique despite little training.
Raubine watched Neil’s samba moves on the dance floor, unaware he had only learned samba two weeks ago.
She sat and watched Neil take four different women on the dance floor, wondering if anyone would ask her to dance again during this two-hour open dance session when a young, bubbly blonde with a red face walked up to her.
“Hi! I’m Shelmi! What’s your name?”
“Is this your first time?”
Raubine shook her head. “How ’bout you?”
“Yep. But I’ve danced before, just not a lot of ballroom. You taking lessons with Neil?”
“Not yet. I’m supposed to later tonight.”
“He’s great. My friend Guin — that’s her over there — she taught Neil everything she knows. Her and Ed, that is.”
Raubine nodded. Guin was a tall brunette who had the flat feet and strong legs of a gymnast. She was talking to Ed and laughing.
Shelmi reached out her hand. “Do you mind dancing with me? I’d love to practice the cha-cha.”
“I don’t know how…”
Shelmi scrunched her face. “Pshaw! The only way to learn is to try. I promise I’ll only trip you a few times.”
Raubine allowed Shelmi to lift her to her feet and walked with her onto the dance floor. Shelmi’s energy was infectious. Her skin glistened and radiated heat which gave Raubine the impression that Shelmi must have been dancing all night. Yet Raubine hadn’t noticed Shelmi on the dance floor.
Shelmi stood beside Raubine and walked her through the basic zig-zag follow pattern of cha-cha, then turned to face her and showed her the lead part.
“So, you wanna be lead or follow?”
Raubine was about to answer when Guin jumped in between them.
“Hey! I’m Guin! Who are you?”
Raubine was astonished by all the attention she was getting. “I’m Raubine.”
“Hi, Raubine. Shelmi, mind if I step in?”
Shelmi frowned. “Well, I don’t know. She’s already my date for this dance. But if you insist…”
“I owe you!” Guin patted Shelmi on the shoulder. “You can watch.”
“In that case…” Shelmi crossed her arms and leaned back on one hip, eying in mock criticism.
“Okay, Raubine. I just talked with Ed and we’re going to give you not only the starter package but also a group package at a major discount. He likes the way you learn so quickly and would love to have you as a regular at his studio.”
Raubine raised her eyebrows. “And would Neil still be my dance instructor?”
“Sure, if that’s what you want.” She held Raubine’s hands in hers. “However, I can tell you it’s best if you learn from a woman, too. Your follow will be so much better.”
Shelmi nodded enthusiastically. “She’s right. And Guin is so good at this, you’ll want to take lessons from her!”
Raubine looked from Guin to Shelmi out to Neil giving another woman cha-cha lessons.
“Look, I’ll give you two free lessons on top of whatever Neil’s giving. I absolutely promise I’m doing this for your own good. You will rock the dance floor and never be able to sit down all night.”
Raubine smiled. “Really?” She was normally shy and didn’t understand why these women would want to make her less socially awkward.
Shelmi patted her on the back. “Yes, yes, yes. It’s true. Oh, there’s my boyfriend! See y’all later!” She ran across the room.
The cha-cha ended and Neil walked over. “Raubine, I see you’ve met Guin.”
“Hey, Neil. Are you giving Raubine her lesson tonight?”
“I plan to. Why?”
“My appointment backed out. Mind if I help you teach Raubine for the next hour?”
He looked at Raubine. “Guin is a great teacher.”
Raubine was confused. “So, is this my official dance lesson or what?”
“No, this is still the open session. Guin, you’re just going to walk her through all the follow dance steps, right?”
“That’s right. Raubine, it will make you so much better when you have your lesson with Neil.”
Neil patted her on the arm. “That’s perfect. Well, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got to help reinforce a dance lesson I taught earlier today.” He walked across the room toward an older woman in a pink blouse and long yellow skirt, her hands in her lap, sitting quietly but attentively by herself.
“Okay, Raubine. First things first. Your hands.” She flexed Raubine’s hands up and down. “You’ve got to learn how to keep her hands poised without clinching. Let them relax in my hands. That’s it. Now slightly curve your fingers. Good. Your dance lead will communicate a lot of where he intends to send you on the dance floor through his handhold. You’ve got to have just enough of a connection with him to feel his intent without gripping too hard or too loosely that you lose the connection. Here. Rest your hands on top of mine and let me raise or lower them while you let your elbow and shoulder relax. That’s it. Feel the connection?”
Raubine was amazed at easily Guin was getting Raubine to feel as a dance partner. With Ed, she had a general feeling of almost being lifted and carried around the room, completely in Ed’s soft but firm guidance. Guin gave Raubine the idea that she was participating equally by giving Guin feedback through her hands.
“That’s a great start. Now, I want you to hold me as if you are the dance lead so you can understand to be a better follow. Place your right hand on the small of my back. No, a little higher, just below the shoulder blade. Good. I’m going to push back so you know how much pressure the lead feels. Feel that? See how the tiniest movement of my back, including side to side, tells the lead where your center of balance is moving?”
Shelmi ran up, her boyfriend in tow. “Raubine, this is my boyfriend, Geoff. Geoff, this is Raubine. She’s brand-new.”
Geoff extended his hand. Raubine let go of Guin and shook his hand. “Nice to meet you.”
“You, too. You taking lessons from Guin?”
“I just started.”
“She’s the greatest, isn’t she, Shelmi?”
Shelmi swung Geoff’s arm in the air. “Spin me around, you silly, and show Raubine what Guin taught us last week.”
Geoff lifted his arm, raising the grip he had on Shelmi’s hand above her head. She turned in place like a ballerina and returned to the position she started in, facing Geoff.
Raubine clapped. “Very good.”
“Thanks, Raubine. You’ll be able to do that in no time!”