Wednesday, May 24, 2006

I wanna dance

For our recent vacation, my husband and I took a cruise. You can do as little or as much as you like and it's one of the most relaxing types of vacations I've been on - a great place for a people-watcher like me. I love dancing and watching others dance – all forms of dance - ballet, jazz, ballroom, it doesn’t matter. As long as there’s music and movement, I’ll watch. So while on this vacation, I mostly watched the sixty-plus crowd dance. Why this age group? Because they can really dance.

Almost every night and on every special occasion, they’d be the first on the dance floor. They did it all: foxtrot, cha-cha, rumba, salsa, waltz, jive. They did it with verve, enthusiasm and energy – especially the jive. I was in awe. All these grey-haired seniors dancing and boogying as if they were still in high school. Then it occurred to me – they’re probably the last generation who really learned “how” to dance as a matter of course when they were young.

I grew up in the fifties and sixties. The music of the times ranged from Patti Page, the Mills Brothers and Doris Day to the beginnings of rock ‘n roll with Buddy Holly, The Big Bopper and Elvis, then The Everly Brothers and Roy Orbison, eventually segueing into The Beachboys, Beatles, and the psychedelia of love ‘n peace and hippies. Other than the early rock ‘n roll years, the music of my youth was not very conducive to couples or touch dancing.

Admittedly, the fifties music I listened to was a result of living with much older teen cousins. They had frequent rumpus room parties and after school get-togethers listening to 45s. It was during the parties (where I lurked behind doors and around corners, well past my bedtime) that I’d marvel at the crinolines, ponytails and couples jiving. They slow-danced, too, but I thought it was pretty yucky at the time. It was the jive I loved. One of my cousins even tried to teach me. It didn’t stick.

At about the same time, I started watching Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers movies. I loved them. I was a sucker for the romance, the tentative meeting, the falling in love, the “I’m-mad-at-you, never-see-you-again” misunderstanding and the eventual reconciliation by way of a glorious dance number. No Gene Kelly for me. No sir. He always danced by himself except for those Cyd Charisse-type numbers from American in Paris. Too tough and athletic, not at all romantic. I wanted to dance like Fred and Ginger. I imagined myself as Ginger - floating feathers and trailing sequins in my wake.

By the time my own teen years arrived, it was the sixties and the jive had given way to everyone for themselves, no-touch, freeform dancing. There were no “steps” to speak of, just a self-involved flailing of limbs and a movin’ to the groove style of dance.

At school, we had so-called dance lessons in gym class to learn the waltz, foxtrot and square dancing. I suppose the teachers thought it would be good for our social development. But for the life of me, I still can’t figure out why they taught square dancing (when was the last time you did a “dosey doh” or “swing your partner” at a wedding or party?). Maybe they were caught in a time warp of their grandparents’ barn dances and hoedowns.

For my part, I thought it would be cool to learn ballroom dancing (visions of F & G still beckoned). But I was in the minority. At that age, few were interested. It was more of an embarrassment and ordeal to endure. For the girls, the main objective was not to get stuck with a truly obnoxious, sweaty-handed, smelly boy who had to count under his breath in order to keep time. I’m sure the boys had other objectives. Did anyone learn to dance? No.

By the time university rolled around, I had reconciled myself to a life of non-ballroom dancing. Then, along came Sam. He could really dance! He knew how to do a proper waltz, cha-cha and jive. He was patient enough to teach me. Alas, our relationship didn’t last (though in retrospect, I probably stayed with him longer than I might have if he couldn’t dance) and I never dated another guy who could dance as well as Sam.

Fast-forward to my current husband. He dances – sort of – in the late sixties, shuffle your feet in time to music kind of style. He tries, really, he does. He even went to ballroom dance classes at the community centre with me – twice. But like the jive of my childhood, it didn’t take. He’s promised to take private dance lessons with me after he retires. He figures all he needs is some individual attention. We’ll see.

Meanwhile, I live my dance fantasies vicariously by watching others. On the formal nights of our cruise, if I squinted hard enough, the grey-haired gentlemen with their lovely wives could pass for Fred and Ginger. Really.


Anonymous said...

Oh to have a partner who can dance! I had a bf a few years ago, whose brother was junior ballroom dance champ for the country. So, his life was filled with going to ballroom dancing and he particpated in some of it himself. But would he dance with me? No. He didn't do that anymore. And when I made him once, I wish I hadn't, because he just didn't want to be doing it. It didn't go well. Oh well! Maybe one day!

Anonymous said...

LOL. I have this theory: Guys worth keeping around can't dance. Guys who CAN dance aren't worth keeping around! It's life telling us we can't have both.

Anonymous said...

You have a point.

I think this is why I like to watch Dancing with the Stars, but I'd really like to go to a ballroom dance competition. I'm more in the watching stage than doing now.