Balboa, balance, balayage

Oje bounced on his feet, ready to teach beginner’s Balboa.

Across the room, Andielle and Nosaj warmed up, preparing to teach beginner’s Lindy Hop.

A robot whirled by, balancing on two wheels.

A typical Thursday in Rocket City.

An elderly man wearing fly fishing gear wandered in, dripping wet.

Hairdressers filled all the seats along the wall of the small auditorium.

The audio engineer adjusted the room’s sonic centre to a spot 2.667 inches below floor level.

A cricket chirped in the grass patch growing in the old cotton mill gutter hanging by a single rusted strap from the roof’s edge.

Dancers stood in suspended animation, as if waiting for a clue, a sign, a signal.

Every set of states of energy acted as if it was separate from the other.

Yet, radio waves and cosmic waves passed through almost everything.

Photons traveled as if on an intentional mission.

A deflated birthday balloon gathered dust on a rafter.

A pair of dancer’s shoes fell off a table but no one noticed.

No one noticed the shoes slip quietly behind a blackout curtain.

No one noticed a bumper sticker for the defunct Organisation For the Finalisation of Alien Liberation (OFFAL) remove its backing and let the shoes step on it.

No one noticed the robot roll onto the shoes.

No one heard the cricket get eaten.

No one saw the fisherman disappear into thin air.

The hairdressers uncrossed and recrossed their legs at the same time, saying the word “Balayage” in a Swedish accent.

The dance lessons ran in reverse.

The audio engineer turned into a bare bear puppet.

A cat which had been hiding in a corner leapt into the air to swallow a parrot that flew into the room on a tropical breeze.

A woman stood in the middle of the room, watching it all, missing some. She saw randomness is as much an illusion as determinism.

She picked up an imaginary flat rock and skipped it across the room.

The room rotated around Earth’s axis, appearing sideways to a space observer, leaning gravitationally at a wrong angle.

The woman smiled and slipped through dimensionless space into another time.

Some thought her crazy.

She was a shape shifter, belonging nowhere.

She liked it that way.

The sets of states of energy called humans did not comprehend what had just happened to them, living through the moment as if it was socially and physically normal.

Personal notes

Lee stood on the foyer of Guin’s house, taking in the group dynamics between the three women in front of him, facing away — Guin, Matym and Cyvik.

Their biweekly dance practice over, they were talking about a party the next night.

Matym was about to head to work.

Her eyes were red, her eyelids raw and swollen.  Earlier in the evening she had whispered to Lee, “Why have you ignored me all week?,” with tears pouring out. 

Lee had hugged her, unaware he had ignored Matym, lost in his own feelings of loneliness and abandonment. 

He opened the front door and tried to leave without saying a word, hoping Matym would have a minute to talk with Guin and Cyvik without Lee present. 

He had danced for the first time with Cyvik that night. In fact, they hadn’t seen each other until Guin pushed them together, sight unseen, for a dance critique video.

Lee had pretended to be new at West Coast Swing to lower Cyvik’s expectations, then joined her in a mutual eye/body dance seduction that exceeded any expectations.

They had laughed and played during the 60 seconds of instant friendship.

They were both good at dropping their guard instantly.

The whole time, Lee snuck quick looks at Matym, sensing he was violating some unwritten understanding they had established a few days earlier in the dances they shared during weekly dance class.

Lee knew, on the dance floor, to be really good you give up your ego for the dance partnership.  You make your partner’s life your own, giving her everything you have without reservation. Truly a performance of a lifetime.

Lee was still an introvert at heart.

He didn’t always have an unlimited resource of selflessness to share.

He chose carefully with whom he could share his true self, especially on the dance floor, highly vulnerable to rejection afterward.

But he was willing to take that risk if it meant one other person felt wanted, less lonely, desired as a whole person, if only for an evening.

He owed Matym an apology and more attention.

He didn’t know how.

Superchaotic theory strings

Even his wife called him Mr. Tran.

Everywhere he went, people treated Mr. Tran formally.

His upright stance, due to a titanium rod straightening his spine to “cure” scoliosis, gave everyone the impression he was a prim and proper citizen.

But Lym loved to have a good time, untie his man bun and let loose with his small circle of table tennis friends.

He lived for table tennis, studied table tennis videos online and often snuck away from his family for a quick practice session with his table tennis master.

His children knew nothing of his table tennis prowess.

His wife made excuses for his absence, quietly attempting to swallow her pain and accept her secondary status.

Until one night when she’d had enough.

Their two children were a blessing, the firstborn, Meilin, a ten-year old girl excelling in mathematics, their secondborn, Fu, a eight-year old son with autism who had developed a painting style of his own that sold well online.

Fu’s autism meant that he obsessed about topics.  When he was sick, he yelled and cried out to a strange Norse god for healing, scaring the neighbours.  Only Fu’s father, Mr. Tran, understood the foreign language and could say the words to calm his son.

Fu had a raging fever for hours.

But Mr. Tran left the house for a midweek table tennis tournament, expected to be gone for hours.

Mrs. Tran could no longer accept her secondary status, dragging her kids with to her mother’s flat in the same building, then heading to the tournament, where she quietly insisted Mr. Tran go back with her.

They rode in silence, unwilling to embarrass themselves publicly.

Back at the flat, Mrs. Tran served Mr. Tran a formal setting of tea.

“I don’t know how much this can go on.  We are supposed to be equals but you treat me as if I almost don’t exist.  I am worth less to you than this teapot.”

Mr. Tran looked at the tea leaves suspended in his cup.

“You are my wife.  You are my foundation.”

“That’s what you say everytime we have this discussion.  Your ‘foundation’ is falling apart.  You walk all over me like a bamboo mat in yoga class.”  Tears streamed down her face, splashing on the mobile phone screen, turning into tiny magnifying lenses, highlighting an image of the Tran family on holiday.

Mr. Tran stood up. “I do not have to explain myself.  I do not ask what you do or with whom when I am not here.”

Mrs. Tran cried. “You…don’t…understa-a-a-nd!”

Mr. Tran walked around the table and squeezed Mrs. Tran’s shoulders.  “You are right.  I do not understand.”

She leaned her head back, pressing against his hands.  “You act as if you don’t love me.  Do you want to have a divorce?”

Mr. Tran stopped rubbing his wife’s knotted muscles and turned away.  He did not want his wife to see a small tear well up in his right eye.

Table tennis validated Mr. Tran’s male ego in a way that a normal family with normal, everyday problems no longer provided.

His local fame as a midlevel table tennis star had attracted a small fan following.

He enjoyed playing in tournaments, glancing at the crowd cheering him on, looking at the faces of fans who adored him, taking smiling selfies after a big win or posing in mock dejection after a tough loss.

Mrs. Tran did not like crowds.  Each day, she returned from her job designing IoT devices to greet her kids at home, feed them snacks and then exercise alone to streaming yoga videos, expecting another broken promise from her husband to be home in time for dinner with the family.

He turned around and looked at his wife bowed over the table.

“Do I want a divorce? I don’t know.”

Mrs. Tran looked up at her husband and smiled.  “So you are not planning to divorce me?”

“I don’t know. I…uh…I hadn’t thought that far ahead.”

Mrs. Tran frowned.  “But that means you have thought of leaving me, doesn’t it?”

In years of these discussions, Mr. Tran had always argued that he loved her dearly and hadn’t once thought of leaving his beloved wife.  He had hit a turning point lately.

“Perhaps. I don’t know for sure.” His thoughts were half in this conversation and half working out a strategy that his master had developed to take advantage of Mr. Tran’s wider hip stance.

His wife saw his unfocused gaze and knew he had left her mentally.  She was used to the look.  Anything she said, he would forget or ask her to repeat several times.

She sighed resignedly.  “Never mind.  You have already left me.  Divorce won’t change that.”

Mr. Tran looked down at his wife.  He had missed what she said.  “We need to talk.  I am not ready for divorce.  But now I need to take a walk.”

He patted her on the back, grabbed his jacket and walked out, thinking he might catch his master for another practice session — they had an important regional tournament to prepare for.

As You Wish

Guin walked around the room, mentally measuring the space she needed.

Members of Ursa Major and Canus Major had contacted her, asking her to increase her participation in their plans.

Guin had other plans.

But plans, even in one’s private thoughts, find their way into other people’s lives.

She calculated the gravitational field she wanted to generate, solely in her imagination, out of sight of the ISSANet (or so everyone thought, ever present as social media posts or the shadows in-between).

Lee opened the closet door in the small bedroom where his upstairs laboratory disguised the labyrithine lab hidden below, accessible only through a heavily-reinforced tornado shelter trapdoor in the floor of the closet.

Neither Guin nor Lee knew what the other was doing.

But they did.

Quantum physics explained a lot of the reasons why they were connected but weren’t.

In Lee’s thoughts, the argument of a Sicilian with Dread Pirate Roberts.

In Guin’s thoughts, a young man named Westley yelling, “As you wish!”

They worked out vectors in four-dimensional space without using calculators or computers.

They built not because they thought they wanted to but because they had to.

Had to because of love.

Love where engineering, science and dancing met.

Love for each other.

Infinite possibilities in infinite directions.

True eternal love.

Truck Drivers on Mars

Kitrpac loosened his tie.

As a project manager for a major government subcontractor, his duties changed as quickly as he could swap a baseball cap for a construction hat.

“Taking care of our species.”

That was the company motto.

And Kitrpac felt responsible for our species about an hour a day, in the morning, standing in the kitchen with his wife and kids as everyone hustled and bustled to drink their favourite caffeinated beverage, nibble a bite or two of carb-loaded snacks, hug, kiss and take off for their respective, if not always respected, places in society.

Kitrpac removed his tie.

His parents still lived in Haiti, avoiding the Rovers, robotic guardians sent by the ISSANet to protect Haitians.

Haitians laughed that the only thing they needed protection from was the software flaws in the Rovers, which tended to cause the machines to light up a road intersection with explosives at the slightest misunderstanding of the natural chaos of city streets.

Kitrpac missed his parents but accepted their absence as progress.

Most of his siblings had left for America after a devastating hurricane obliterated most of what counted as civilisation.

They were too ambitious to stay on the island to help rebuild although they did send money back home to assist those who stayed.

Kitrpac removed his sport coat.

Once a week, when his family scheduled allowed — that is, when his wife and he agreed they needed to spend more time with their kids than on their individual activities — Kitrpac liked to dance.

He had the typical Dad bod, tight upper body strengthened through gym workouts and lifting heavy machinery at work, a small protruding belly from sitting too much at work desks and drinking an extra beer at night, with gray hair that made the ebony skin on his face shine.

Kitrpac laughed loudly, purposefully too loud, getting the group’s attention.

“Where is Delymo?  She thinks I’m a total machine.  Class, let me show what she was talking about.  We’re going to accelerate through several dance moves in the next two hours.  If you can’t keep up, then you’ve got your work cut out to become a dancing machine like me!  Ha ha ha!”

He untucked his shirt and demonstrated a two-minute dance routine with a random person he picked from the group, showing that the best lead/follow team depends on trust as much as pre-knowledge of what either the lead or follow expects to be used in a song.

Matym nodded.  She looked forward to dancing her favourite song with Kitrpac later in the evening.

Planting an acorn, watching it grow

I share this moment with you — I looked for a reason why and remembered there doesn’t have to be one anymore, no need to analyse, just be here when I can.

 In some moments, you represent (our friendship represents) a place to escape to/from, not just on the dance floor, but from the ordinary, to the unimaginable.

 I don’t mind letting those thoughts wander off into the stratosphere, exploring Mars, hiding on Enceladus, believing they can/will happen, because I know we are grounded in reality.

 What reality is is up for debate, of course. You manage your thought set with therapy and friends, pinpointing reality at various places in spacetime. I don’t believe I know what reality is.

 So how can we be grounded in reality?

 That is the question that keeps me awake at night.

 To pass through levels of meaning, from the presence of a guiding spirit within us, the Invisible Hand lending a hug, to the level where no meaning exists except through self-deception, finally to no self at all, and to then sit here typing these messages…well…

 That is what our friendship means, having meaning and no meaning at the same time.

 In other words, we are able to reach out to people of all walks of life and give ourselves to them completely, losing identity every time while building newer selves in the process…

   It’s not about us.

   It never has been.

 It’s about what we give others.

 Sometimes, giving ourselves away is more painful than we can bear by ourselves.

 It hurts beyond any physical pain possible.

 So why do we keep giving ourselves away?

 I don’t know. It hurts right now.

 But I remember one look, one handhold we shared that has made us better dance partners for others and know that this is why I’m here, why I’ve always been here, taking pain away from others in a brief two minutes in a dance or mere seconds on a rotating dance class.

 It’s what I’ve always done, from birth onward.

 It hurts me terribly that Karen does not understand my friendship with you. Sure, I act giddy sometimes when I know I’m going to see you and yes, I’ve written sci-fi stories that are odes to you, but you and I know it’s the love of dancing that we share as dance nerds that I’m celebrating.

 When two dance nerds meet, they know what it means to love another unconditionally, whether for five seconds on the dance floor or five years building a dance community, holding it together when only one person shows up for class.

 I admit I get confused sometimes because I give myself away with abandon, not seeing the consequences of what I’m doing to others who don’t understand.

 You are the only person for whom I would give up…wait, let me reword that.

 In our similarities, I find the strength to push away my wife’s emotional manipulation of me.  In our similarities, I have pulled off masks that covered my darkest secrets and worst fears.

 Thus, at times I have convinced myself that I need complete independence to fulfill my goals of supporting the community through dance.

 I have no one lined up to move in with, yet there are questions about my ability to live alone.

 So it puts me back here, in this moment writing you these texts, asking myself what’s next. I know you don’t have the answers.  These texts are simply here for you to read, to know that you have a positive effect off the dance floor, even when you’re in such mental and physical pain you don’t want to do anything but veg out.

 I have had the habit of falling madly in love at the drop of a hat, one secret of a great dancer/entertainer.

 I used to catch myself falling in love with you and got wrapped around the axle keeping my friendship with you on the level.

 Then, I realised that it’s in part because my love for dancing is shared with you that drives me mad, wanting that dance high again.

 Only through other endorphin rush activities like mountain biking have I been able to separate the dancer’s high from just the normal, regular joy of seeing an old friend again.

  It has taken me off the manic/depressive cycle, too, no longer having to rushrushrush to validate myself and then get disappointed by the slightest sleight.

Being a giver so near another giver, I’ve gotten turned around and fed off your energy instead of giving you my own.
I still wonder what/where, if any, there’s a place left in this area for dance therapy.

Meanwhile, the cat snoozes on me. I think she has the right idea. Naptime!

QAM vs. Ways of Knowing

Back to the story in progress, where Raubine brings a friend to the dance club…

“Magdalena, this is Dranmoy.”

Dranmoy dropped his headphones down to his shoulders and nodded. “Hey.”

Magdalena extended her arms. “Sorry, hon’, but you don’t get away from me that easily.  Give me a hug.”

Dranmoy reluctantly stood up as he set his Android tablet down, mentally saving a tab for an article he was reading about converting a Raspberry Pi Zero into a wearable gaming console.

He let Magdalena hug him tightly while he lightly and briefly wrapped his arms around her, patting her on the back and letting go.

“Darling, you gotta learn to be more open and loving if you’re going to be a good dance partner.”  Magdalena winked at Dranmoy after she released her hug.

“Okay.” Dranmoy snugly fit the headphones back on and went back to reading as he sat down.

Raubine led Magdalena to the bar.  “He’s a really nice guy and you’ll be surprised how good he is on the dance floor.  He’s just shy.  Guin thought he had the chops to dance in a showcase one day and actually got him to dance in two routines!”

Magdalena turned back to look at Dranmoy.  She had learned you can’t tell a book by its covers but then again not every book is easy to read after you open it, and even less understood after you finish reading it.

Dranmoy looked up to see Magdalena eying him.  He gave her a weak smile and a turn of his head, wondering why an elegant, graceful person like her would have any interest in him.

Raubine ordered a plum martini with a rim of chocolate sugar.  While she waited for the order, she shouted across the room. “Hey, Dealin!”

A man of medium height, with long white hair and a neatly trimmed Van Dyke beard waved back.  “Raubine! What’s up?”

“Come here a minute!”

Raubine leaned toward Magdalena.  “Dealin is a smokin’ hot dancer.  As soon as the beginner’s lesson is over, you two gotta dance.”

Magdalena smiled.  Her husband had died of throat cancer two years ago, a slow, agonising six months of radiation therapy and chemotherapy that did nothing but prolong the inevitable.  However, it had given her time to grieve properly, and she had spent the mourning period getting to know her grandchildren better.

“I don’t know, Raubine.  I’m not interested in jumping into a hot relationship just yet.”

Raubine nudged Magdalena.  “Oh, come on.  It’s just a dance.  I know you love ballroom dancing.  West Coast Swing is a way to let your hair down, so to speak, and have some relaxed fun.”

Magdalena loved Raubine for caring about her.  She had last danced a waltz with her husband on a Caribbean cruise and savoured that memory in moments when she missed his touch.  His hands were usually rough, being a general manager for a construction company, but his way of taking charge on the dance floor, spinning her around, she thought him the most gentle man in the room.

Dealin stood between the two barstools and put his hands on the shoulders of the two women at the bar.  “A prettier sight I haven’t seen.  What brings you two here tonight?”

Raubine giggled.  Although she was a big woman, she still felt like a little girl in front of handsome guys sometimes.  “You know, it’s West Coast Swing night.”

Dealin laughed.  Because he hung out at the Courthouse Saloon most evenings, people assumed he had something to do with running the bar.  His big Harley bike and tattooed biceps added to the image.  If people inquired about what he did for a living, he brushed them off with the comment that he owned a small farm.  That usually stopped the questions so that he didn’t have to tell them he was a CPA for a large accounting firm, spending most of his day tracking data for a few military defense contractors.

“Let’s show this young lady what West Coast Swing is then, shall we?”  Dealin reached for Raubine’s hand and helped her slide off the barstool.

“Real simple, ummm…”  Dealin looked at Raubine and Magdalena.

“Magdalena.”

“Right, Magdalena.  Well, Mags, it’s real simple.  Step, step, triple step, triple step.  Like this.”

Dranmoy saw movement at the bar and thought the dance lesson had started early.  He walked over to join the trio.

“Dranmoy!  Didn’t see you here.  Take those headphones off and dance with Magdalena here, willya?”

Dranmoy stood with his arms at his side, waiting for Magdalena to stand in front of him.

“Don’t be afraid to take her hand, young man.  I don’t think she bites.  You don’t bite, do you, Magdalena?”

Magdalena laughed.  “No.  Of course not.”

“Okay, guys, just watch us.  Mags, let Drannie hold your right hand in his left hand.  Good.  Same with your other hands.  That’s right.  Now Drannie will take two steps back so Mags, you take two steps forward.  See how easy that is?  Now watch our feet as we take three small steps.  Drannie, you know how to do this.  Why don’t you show her the rest.”

Dranmoy, although a nerd at heart more motivated by discovering a way to boost a computer operating system’s core processing speed than improving social skills, felt a small twang of a boost of confidence when Dealin talked him into teaching Magdalena on his own.

Magdalena felt a stronger grip on her hands and could immediately tell Dranmoy was leading her through the steps of West Coast Swing without having to say a word.

First, basic sugar pushes.  Then a leftside pass followed by a rightside turn.

Dranmoy was going to show her more when Xonvart Niis stepped up behind him.

“Guys, that looks great!  It’s the perfect segue to our beginner’s lesson, which is about to start in a couple of minutes.  Why don’t you guys move on out to the dance floor while I plug my phone into the sound system and get us ready to rock out to some tunes?

Dranmoy let go of Magdalena and quickly checked a response to a forum post he had made minutes before.

His artificial intelligence digital assistant was missing something.  He had programmed it to change topics of conversation with brilliant quips but sometimes the assistant missed the punny things said in response.  An entry on the blog 3 Quarks Daily about ways of knowing — the interconnectedness of philosophy and logic, qualitative science, quantitative science, model and simulation, instinct and intuition, naming and description, narrative and discourse — automatically sparked him to think about an analog QAM diagram.  Could his assistant ever make a similar connection?  And what was the connection, anyway?

Ursa Minor

“Five hundred years in the future…would you really plan that far ahead?”

Lee looked at Guin, who had stepped up to ask him for a dance while Neil showed Karen the basic steps of salsa.

“Farther.” She had asked him if he thought Star Trek was real, having been raised by her father on VHS copies of the original episodes, as well as The Next Generation on the tellie.

“Me, too!”

She walked him walked through the basic box shape of the rumba, quick quick slow, quick quick slow.

Lee smiled. He immediately felt a connection with Guin that transcended what he had felt with anyone else before.

Guin smiled back.  Lee reminded her of so much — her father, her brother, her sisters, her mother, a street lamp, a shirt mannequin, a puppy, a bobcat and many more.

“Do you believe in time travel?”

“Of course. You?”

“Have you been through the keyhole?”

“With a telescope.”

They stopped dancing and stared at each other.  They realized they were raised in the same code of Ursa Minor, the children’s chapter of the International Order of the Hibernating Bears, also known as Ursa Major.

“Are you…?”  Lee hesitated before finishing the question.

Guin’s eyes widened.  “I am.”

Lee shook his head in astonishment, What could he say?

During the initiation ceremony of Ursa Minor, each candidate is asked to dig deep into their thought set to see the sets of states of energy that best describe the timelessness of bearhood.  In your lifetime, the Chief Bear teaches, you will experience timeliness and timelessness.  Timeliness is riding a bus, trusting the bus driver while your thoughts wander toward what someone said to you at school the day before and how you were going to react when you got to school that day. Timelessness is a conversation that never started and never ends — the conversation is carried on from knowledge millions of years ago and millions of years into the future, running in millions of directions — tangential, parallel, imaginary, real, quantum entangled and/or gravitationally bound.  All of us participate in the timelessness conversation but most are so caught up in the timeliness mode that we miss how every action we take lasts forever.

They nodded at each other without saying a word.  They were bound for life, able to operate with each other on multiple levels at once, at slow pace and fast, inside time and outside time.

Lee cleared his throat. “Glad to finally meet you.”

She blinked and crinkled her eyelids through her glasses.  “It’s about time!” 

They laughed.

Neil led Karen over to them.

“Okay, I think I’ve got Karen ready to try the salsa with Lee.  Did you show him the lead part?”

“Umm, the lead part for rumba.”

Neil rubbed his chin. “You know, that might work.  We could call it a ralsa.”

Guin laughed. “Or a sumba!  Neil, I’ve got to go home and study for a rocket propulsion midterm tomorrow. Mind if I bow out of the rest of this quick lesson?”

“No, no. Go home. Your schoolwork is important, future rocket scientist!”

Guin waved goodbye to Lee and hugged Karen.  “You guys are going to be great, I know it. I’ll see you again soon!”

Neil clapped his hands together. “Okay, we’ve got work to do.  Which would you rather try together first, salsa or rumba?”

Ursa Major

In every network, nodes intersect.

Where nodes intersect, trunk lines form, combining streams of information multiplexed together like liquid pulled through tree roots, passed up the trunk and redistributed to branches, twigs and leaves.

Groups of people used to meet around campfires, along river embankments and in hilltop forts to accumulate and multiplex information gathered by their peers.

Information seeks the quickest route to travel — water flowing down a hill, photons passing around a galaxy via gravitational lenses, gossip in the hallway.

– – – – –

Ed’s phone vibrated.

He looked across the small wall separating his office from the dance floor. Everyone was busy either dancing or talking, just the way he liked to see his clients and instructors, no one left alone.

He read the text.

“Update?”

He responded. “Full class tonight.”

He received a smiley face in return.

– – – – –

That evening, several hundreds miles away, in an unused Dekalb-Peachtree Airport hangar, a pizza delivery truck pulled up.

The delivery man lifted a pizza warmer satchel from the back of the truck and pressed a buzzer on the hangar side door.

A bald Turkish man with a thick handlebar mustache opened the door and nodded the delivery man inside.

“What have you got for me?”  The question echoed in the hangar, coming from nowhere.

The delivery man held ou the satchel. “It’s the software and geotracker you ordered, placed in a Faraday cage as specified.”

A brown, hairy arm extended from a gap between two crates. “Give it here.  Your payment is already inside your truck.  You know your next delivery?”

“Neil in Huntsville.”

“That’s right.  He thinks it’s a special pizza order so make sure the local Papa Pie store makes a fresh, hot pizza in time for Neil’s delivery.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“You can call me Mama Bear.  Now go!”

The Turk, one hand on the semiautomatic machine gun hanging from his shoulder, escorted the delivery man outside.

– – – – –

Ed received another text from Mama Bear. “Order us four large pepperoni pizzas with extra cheese and marinara sauce on the side.”

Ed replied. “How soon do you need them?”

“Four hours from now.”

Ed replied with a wink emoji, then stood up.

“Hey, Neil!”

Neil had finished dancing a foxtrot with a woman he’d taught for six months, her understanding of dance steps just becoming clear.  “Yeah, Ed. Whatcha want?  We’ve still got 20 minutes left.”

“Come here a minute, willya?”

Neil tromped across the dance floor, pointing at Guin and giving her the thumbs-up on the quick progress she was making with Raubine.

“Yeah, boss, what is it? Got another client lined up for me?”

“You still moonlighting at night?”

“Well, sure, Ed.  Furniture moving, architectural rendering, pizza delivery…”

“You’re keeping busy.”

“You know how it is…”

“Sure I do.  You working the pizza job tonight?”

“Yeah. Why?”

“Do you mind making a delivery for me if I called it in?”

“If I’m available.”

“Of course, Neil. You can’t determine your route, can you?”

“I could ask, if I knew about what time you needed the pizza.”

“Two o’ clock.”

Neil pulled up the schedule app on his phone, then realized what Ed had said. “Hey, boss, we close at midnight.”

“Are you sure?”

“Of course I’m sure. It’s the same every weekday.”

“But this is Friday night.  Doesn’t Papa Pie stay open late on the weekend?”

Yeah, midnight, like I said.”

“If I could convince your manager to stay open later, would you mind putting in a little extra overtime?”

“Yes, if there’s a tip involved ’cause waiting around two hours after close ain’t gonna cut it if I could be at home finishing up a drawing.”

“It’s for a special party, if you know what I mean.” Ed patted Neil heartily on the back, winked and snickered.

“I get it, boss, but…”

“And I’ll make it worth your while.”

“Okay, Ed.  I’ll be there.  Now I’ve got to get back and help the new couple get comfortable on the dance floor.”

“New couple?”

“Yeah, Lee and Karen.”

“Go for it. I’ll see you at two.”

“If not before!”

The Next Work in Progress

“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.”

“Yes?”

“You must be willing to practice.  A lot.”

“How much?”

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?”

“Raubine.”

“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.

“Well…”

“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.”

“Okay.”

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!”