Waltz I

Carl and I are taking a waltz class. Is that cheesy? I really like to dance, but I think the class is pretty silly. There are two instructors, Walter and Angela. Now, Carl and I know Angela from when we took a swing class last year. We love Angela. I feel sort of bad that I stole a parking space from her last night by mistake. She has a very nice speaking voice that carries clearly over her headset microphone, and when she says something, it’s usually useful and cogent and relevant to the situation, i.e. it’s a dance class and she is the teacher and we are the students and we’re there to learn how to do the box step. She says things like “Follows, make sure to keep your frame,” and “When you go into the zig, bank off on your free foot and then into the zag.” Helpful, cogent, relevant stuff. She wears the special dance freak shoes and they don’t even look that weird on her.

Walter, on the other hand. Walter is one of the owners of the dance school, and he is clearly insane. I don’t think Waltz I is really his highest priority, and I’m sure he can do the box step in his sleep, and so he tends to cut loose a little during class. He’s your middle school English teacher, the one with the Far Side calendar on his desk that made fun of the Scarlet Pimpernel every year, mincing around and speaking in a really fake English accent, where you knew you were supposed to laugh but couldn’t really because he wasn’t, like, funny or anything. That’s Walter. Walter in his jazz shoes and Hawaiian shirt. Poor Angela (hi Angela! Love you!) will be all serious, talking about how you want the waltz to be smooth and floatsome, and so therefore you should step, for example, to the beat of the music on the stereo and not to that in your head, and Walter will bust in with “Heeeeeyyy! Flap those arms! Air out those armpits! Yeah, you didn’t know we taught the Funky Chicken, did you? Yeah! Heh! Yeah! Come on, follows! Look that joker in the eye! Woo! Funky chicken!” And everyone, including Angela, will sort of pause briefly and look at him all,”huh?” and go back to stepping on their partners’ toes and having absolutely no frame at all. And Walter carries on.

I have to say, it’s a pretty good idea, every once in a while, to be a part of a group in which you can do something as well or even better than everyone else. So far it’s been marvelous for my ego to hear things like: “Ooh, you’re really good. You don’t even move your lips when you count!” and “Wait, you’ve taken this class before, haven’t you? How do you know what to do?” And I just smile mysteriously and try to glide along the floor. It’s hard to be a follow. I have this friend (hi Kat!) who was voted by her dorm: Most Likely To Backlead, and I think the main reason I didn’t get that award that year is because I didn’t live, technically, in her dorm. Because it’s certainly a way of life for me. Backleading, for those of you who are not at the Swedish Cultural Center on Tuesday nights, is when a follow (usually but not always the woman) tries to lead the lead (usually but not always the man). I’m not explaining this very well. I’m trying to remember if everyone who reads this also dances. I have no idea. So, the lead is supposed to direct the follow by little cues and signals, and the follow is supposed to, uh, follow his lead. Make sense? This can get all esoteric and philosophical in terms of gender relations, as I discovered when I took Social Dance in college…the woman who taught that, who was also a complete freak, was always saying “Okay, gentlemen, you’re going to let her go, and just trust that she’ll come back” or “Ladies, stick by your lead and do what he tells you to do!” And everyone would giggle and elbow each other because, man, they totally knew people like that! Last night I ended up dancing with a woman lead for a while, and she said that learning to lead had made her a much better follow, and I rejoined that she was certainly an excellent lead, possibly as a result of her follow experience, and she concurred. I think there’s some sort of sexual metaphor to made here, but I’ll just let you make it, okay? Metaphor or no, she was probably the best partner I had all night.

Carl and I are still learning to dance together. You know how it is, when you’re with someone for a long time, and you begin to divide labor. This doesn’t neccesarily have to be a Capital R Relationship. When My Friend Amy and I went on our West Coast road trip after we graduated from high school, we quickly split things up according to ability: she was in charge of driving, maps, directions, places to visit, places to stay. I was in charge of snacks and telling time. Carl and I are like that too. He’s in charge of navigation, of computers, of non-fiction, of all things gear-related, of ordering weird food, of finding cool places to go. I’m in charge of ordering food that’s actually good, of grammar and spelling, of being on time, and now, apparently of rhythym and beat. I get real bossy when we dance. “Sweetie! Five six seven eight! Triple step triple step rock step! Okay! Give me the cue! On the four! ON THE FOUR! Okay, see, you’re supposed to do this and then I do this and then…no! No, okay, no, five six seven eight!” And so on.

Sometimes I have read dire predictions into our dancing together. Sometimes I wonder if some of the stuff that, uh, surfaces, when we’re at waltz class, is indicative of the rest of our relationship. Am I too bossy? Is he too uncoordinated? Do we have a severe power differential? Does he have to watch out for me, and do I have to do everything backwards and in high heels? You see how you can get really into it. Especially if you’re superstitious and just the teensiest bit insecure.

So that’s waltz class. This weekend we’re going to do something more along Carl’s idea of a good time, which is go to Mt. Rainier. We’re going to try sleeping in hammocks. I’ll let you know how that goes. Carl is sleeping outside in his tonight, as I have bet him money he won’t do it and have promised to buy him breakfast if he does. Won’t he be surprised when I finish this journal entry and go out and put mosquito larvae in a bowl of water underneath him. That’ll show him. I’m going to earn this breakfast. I guess I’ll be able to report back next week if hiking has any deep allegorical impact like dancing does, like, he carries all my weight and I eat all the food when he’s not looking. Does that mean anything? This is him when we’re hiking: “Hey, didn’t Chiara come along on this trip? Wonder why I haven’t seen her for the last couple of miles. Huh.” I mean, I think it’s him, because I’m always back there a ways gasping for breath and struggling over a fallen log or through a swamp something. So that’s something to look forward to. I’ll let you all know if we end up practicing our waltz out there.

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