How to Dance

When I was in the eighth grade, my mother registered me for a dance class.  She was certain it would give me the confidence that I lacked.  Perhaps secretly, she also hoped that it would make me like girls.  What she didn’t understand was that the confidence I needed would not be gained by learning how to count steps, but more so by simply taking them.

Each week I would join fifteen other gangly teenagers, mostly girls twice my size, in Miss Isaacs’s basement. We mastered such dances as the fox trot and cha-cha; steps in the 1970s that guaranteed we would never be asked to dance more than once. 

On the day of our final class Miss Isaac glided into class with sparkly high heels on her plump little legs and tilted her frosted haired head to one side.  Anticipation climaxed during her pregnant pause.

“Today, we will learn how to boogie!”  She finally said.

She punctuated this statement by placing a hand on her hip and pointing the index finger on her other hand to the sky, à la John Travolta in Saturday Night Fever.

With a scratch she placed the needle on the record player and proceeded to tell us that in order to truly master disco it was necessary to move our hips to the beat.  If you were a skinny, pimpled, closeted gay boy in 1970’s North Carolina, I can assure you that moving your hips to the beat was something you most certainly did not want to do, lest you get beat up.   Probably the only thing worse was watching Miss Isaac move her hips to the beat.  My attempt to dance without revealing my true identity was like watching a dog walk backwards, equally awkward and laughable.

I never really learned how to dance until about five years ago when I met Linda.

Linda and I travelled the world together in my last job.  If you are a woman, Linda is the type of woman you want to be.  If you are a male, you want to be near her.  If you are her manager you count yourself lucky to have someone so smart on your team.

We often found ourselves together at software conferences hosted in different cities.  The final night always involved a celebration for the participants who were primed with alcohol and music.  Every time Linda was on the dance floor, dancing the way I wanted to dance; hands above her head, her blond hair swinging to the beat.

It took a trip to Singapore for me to agree to finally dance with her.  On Saint Patrick’s Day in a city as far away as we could possibly travel in an establishment nick-named the “Four Floors of Whores” I danced with Linda for the first time surrounded by Asian prostitutes and “Lady Boys”. It was as far away from Miss Isaac’s basement as I could get.  Even then, I was self-conscious.

But there is a moment when the desire to dance truly hits you.  It can come in the car, or while you are doing the laundry or when you are walking down the street.  Or it can come in the moment of drunken clarity in the flashing lights of a Singaporean nightclub when a friend so happy and giddy with life tells you “My husband is the love of my life and each day I find I love him more.”  At that moment, you have to decide whether you will sit it out or finally learn how to dance.

Tonight, I am sitting in the basement of a bar one hour west of Boston watching Linda dance.  It is her fiftieth birthday party; she recently lost her mother and just decided to quit her job.  But you wouldn’t see any of that if you saw her dance.  She is holding her husband’s hands as the music washes over her. I turn to Paul, raise my hands above my head and ask him if he wants to dance.  Linda taught me something Miss Isaac never did.  In order to learn how to dance, first learn how to love.


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