I had been invited to a wedding and needed to learn how to dance. Mark’s dance studio offered three introductory dance lessons, for free. Surely, I thought, I can learn enough in those three days to save myself from embarrassment on the dance floor the following weekend!
I signed up and was pleasantly surprised when Mark’s youngest son – tall, dark and handsome with deep brown bedroom eyes – introduced himself as my instructor. In those first few lessons, he taught me the basic steps of waltz, foxtrot, tango and rumba. As my free lessons came to an end and the wedding day loomed, I realized how naive I had been to think that I could learn to dance in three days. I could not have been more mistaken.
I went to the wedding pumped that I was going to dance, and considered myself fortunate when a kind, elderly gentleman took pity on me and danced me around the hall. As he returned me to the table where I had shared dinner with other guests, he apologized. “I haven’t danced much since my wife died last year,” he said, “I guess I’ve forgotten some of the steps.” I knew he was covering for my faux pas.
Although my wedding experience was disappointing, my passion for dancing had been ignited. I needed to learn more. I needed to be better.
The following week, I returned to the studio for more lessons, an action that changed my status from interested guest to new student. I was also introduced to a new instructor: Mark’s older son – also tall, dark and handsome with a Latin flare.
The more dance moves I learned, the more I craved. Dancing became my passion, my obsession. I took advantage of every class and every practice party the studio offered. I was in heaven.
Over the next many months, Mark’s elder son taught me not only dance moves, but style, poise, posture, rhythm, how to slide, how to glide, how to pose, how to use my hips, knees, hands and arms to full advantage, and, most of all, how to maintain my frame. I was constantly amazed to find myself exhausted and drenched at the end of a forty-five-minute lesson. I had no idea when I first began that dancing was both a competitive sport, and a weight-loss program! If I had, I likely would have turned tail and run. An athlete, I am not. Nor, had I imagined that I would feel so exhilarated at the end of each lesson, despite the exertion.
Then one day my young instructor announced that he was leaving the studio to pursue other interests. The news was, for me, devastating. I wondered what would happen next. I knew that the other instructors had full calendars and were taking no new students. I felt lost. I was unfamiliar with the rhythm of the studio. I was too new to know that instructors came and went, and that somehow dance lessons continued.
Soon, I found myself sitting in Mark’s office, discussing my dance history, my goals and what he would like to teach. Wait! What? Him? Teach me! I was both stunned and over-joyed.
Mark was not my idea of a leading man, but he was, indeed, a leading man. He was average height, short greying hair, straight back. He walked from his hips, but always with a smoothness that typified his career as a ballroom dance. When he danced, he was powerful, commanding, precise and funny. During practice parties, his eyes danced, too – with mischief.
I knew Mark as the owner of the studio. He oversaw its business, and, of course, danced at the practice parties. What I did not know until that moment was that he had a history as a dance instructor. As owner of the business, he was alert, always ensuring the satisfaction, if not happiness, of the students. I had presumed his dancing at the practice parties was an extension of his obligation to the clients.
Mark sat behind his desk, steepling his fingers under his chin. “I started my working life as a welder,” he said. “One day, when faced with the thought of going to a wedding where I’d be expected to dance with women, I decided to take dance lessons. After a few lessons, I realized that I simply could not learn to dance overnight. I signed up for more lessons, time passed and now I own this studio!”
I gawked at him, awed by his story. It mirrored my own. “What drove you to abandon welding for a dance studio?” I asked. “That was a significant change.”
“Yes, it was,” he replied. “It didn’t take long for me to figure out that I didn’t want to be a welder. One Friday afternoon, at the end of the day, my co-workers announced they were meeting at a nearby pub for beers while they watched a hockey game. Of course, I was expected to go with them. Instead, I politely declined.” His smile was genuine as he recalled the conversation that followed. “I told them that I had been studying ballroom dance for months. They were shocked. Then, they started teasing that dancing was not manly. I let them have their fun. When their jibes finally stopped, I said ‘Look, you guys go and have a good time. It’s just not for me anymore. I would rather spend an evening dancing with beautiful women in my arms, than spend the time drinking with you, and wake up tomorrow morning with a hangover.’ They were annoyed at first, but eventually some of them understood my argument. Not long after that, I hung up my welding tools and turned to dancing full time. As soon as the opportunity arose, I bought this studio.”
Dancing was a life-changing experience for Mark, and for me. I was flattered to have him was my instructor. I found myself marveling that I had worked my way up from second son, to elder son, to father. This was boding very well.
The first time I stepped into Mark’s upheld arms, I was very nervous. I knew how well he danced. I hoped I would not disappoint him.
My expectations made me quiver. I looked into his eyes with apprehension. He fastened his right hand in the centre of my back and the left comfortably around my right hand, raised his eyebrow, cocked his head, and bent his knees, sliding his left foot toward me. I had no choice. I bent my knees and slid my right foot back. His power moved us forward.
Strength, fluidity, smoothness and flexibility: we glided around the room over the beautiful oak floors. Then, just as smoothly as the dance began, it elegantly ended with him slowly dipping me backward. I wanted it to go on. I wanted to dance with him all night, but I had a dance lesson to complete. That was just a warm-up.
During the many lessons that followed, Mark taught me elegant waltzes, tantalizing tangos and fanciful foxtrots. Although he was serious, he was also entertaining. His playfulness manifested in our Latin lessons, including jive, salsa, mambo and samba. And, when he led a rumba, whew, he was hot!
As time passed, I did learn to dance, not as a professional, but – because of Mark’s remarkable instruction and discipline – reasonably well. After a few years, I even entered a competition in New Orleans – with him as my partner, of course – and won some gold and silver medals.
From Mark and his sons, I learned that dancing can be fun and exciting, taxing and exhilarating. It is life-changing and body-sculpting. It builds confidence and requires commitment. It also embraces patience, kindness, understanding, encouragement and support toward others.
The dance community is quite social, meaning that both verbal and physical communication is required. (It also nurtures a degree of familiarity and perhaps affection. I met my husband on that beautiful oak floor . . . but that is a story for another time.)
Dance instills many positive life-disciplines that can be transferred to any skill, career, hobby, task or relationship.
If I could, I would insist that everyone learn to dance, and the sooner, the better – definitely not a week before a wedding!