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SSQQ-02: First Party SSQQ-02: First Party
by Mike Jennett
2011-12-18 10:30:00
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“Quick-quick, slow-wuh,” Rebecca says, stressing the nonexistent syllable like a southerner.

After four weeks of endless variations of quicks and slows, my head is overflowing and they’re coming out my ears. I have invincible days when everything falls into place and bad ones so crowded with dances, rhythms and steps that I leave the studio convinced of my worthlessness as a human.

Rebecca replaced Scott. Normally we do lunchtimes, but this is our first evening session. After several minutes of hilarity at the beginning when I referred to the ‘rumble’, we’ve been doing Rhumba steps without any major incident.

“You should come to the party,” Rebecca says, her long auburn hair persuading me all by itself. I’m convinced it’s alive and it smells red in a way that is impossible to explain. It’s a pity she’s married.


“It’s my birthday.”

Knowing it’s her birthday does nothing to assuage the abject terror I feel at the prospect dancing with someone else at a social gathering. I realize that’s why I’m strutting around the ballroom with an instructor, but I need more time and practice and confidence before I’m ready for the big-time. I’m about to issue the next excuse from my mental list when another student looks my way and I momentarily go off balance and into stick-mode. The presence of an audience is akin to duck-taping my legs together and neither my brain nor mouth will work until the danger’s passed.

Part of me wants to come to the party, but it’s the part that also wants to have done hang-gliding, bungee-jumping and been on a trek to the North Pole without experiencing the misery or peril of actually doing them.

“OK. Sounds cool – I will,” I lie. The excuse list, normally limitless, has drawn a blank.

None of these steps are hard to do in isolation but my memory for them could be measured in minutes. The confusion caused by trying to execute three or four patterns each of four different dances in a single lesson means that very little actually sticks and is only slightly familiar when Rebecca reminds me at the next lesson. The concept of lead and follow means I have to know what I’m doing and guide a stranger with confidence. I can’t remember what to do myself, so how would I lead someone else?

The lesson continues without drama and Rebecca tells me, when we’ve finished, how well I am progressing. I’m about to leave when Stanley and Jennifer call me into the corner office for a chat about ordering ballroom shoes. That morphs into the possibility of doing competitions in a month or so, which stirs genuine mirth.

“Don’t laugh,” Stanley mocks in his French accent. “You’re coming along nicely. Better than most of our beginning students.”

“Such lies should not escape your lips,” I tell him and pour doubt on his ability to enter the kingdom of heaven if he continues. Stanley laughs and brings out an album with pictures of recent competitions featuring current students and claims that they were just starting out when they competed. “Improves your leading skills incredibly,” Jennifer adds, but there’s no way she’s ever going to persuade me to do that.

When we leave the office, the studio has undergone a transformation. A table of full wine glasses has appeared from nowhere and there’s a sparkly disco ball spattering the room. The Girl From Ipanema is playing at a good deal louder than lesson music level and I realise that I am in the midst of the party that I am not attending. It’s Thursday night and I have been tricked.

Panic rises within me like sick after too much beer but I have no time to run away before Rebecca thrusts a glass of wine into my hand. She also kisses me on the cheek, which is enough of a shock to keep me rooted to the spot.

“Drink,” she commands, so I do and the wine progresses into my mouth faster than if turned upside down.

She passes my empty glass to an anonymous hand and we’re doing the Rhumba again. It’s faster than earlier but I manage the whole song without the need for a quick-quick, slow-wuh.

The staccato rhythm of a Tango begins and Scott grabs me in a serious hold and does the female part. Despite making a hash of everything, it’s really quite funny and another glass of wine comes to me when it’s over.

Various teachers make me their pet project for the next three or four dances and each trek around the floor ends with yet another drink. My internal panic begins to subside in favor of a small measure of confidence and an increasing measure of wine. I’m dancing.

A few failures occur with other students, all of whom asked me onto the floor, but the wine makes them forgiveable. There was Diane, the frighteningly tall woman who looks like the Status of Liberty - and is about as flexible - then Shirley, who danced a Foxtrot straight backwards like a train with no hint of a turn until she backed into a wall, looking like I’d crushed her.

Then was a little Hispanic girl whose name I can never remember who is sweet and likes swing but has spaghetti arms. Even if could lead, nothing would work as her arms give the impression of being connected to the rest of her body with string, like a marionette. If I could lead her, I could do anything, so she might be good for practicing.

Flushed with wine and semi-bravado, I make a move on Rebecca and ask her for another Rhumba. We’re getting near the end and this isn’t a lesson - I’m doing it for real. This is like the difference between watching porn and actually being naked with a girl, but I have enough sense to not communicate that analogy.

Without noticing how it occurs, I find myself in the arms of Jennifer for the last dance of the evening, which is a Waltz. I didn’t even know she was a dancer. This is a very close hold and I’m trying hard to forget the mental image of naked girls and sex that doing the Rhumba has left me.

We finish as the lights come up and she smiles and tells Rebecca that she’s doing a good job and I’m lovely to dance with. Lovely? Me? Lies or not, it’s a huge ego blast.

It’s several days before I learn that Jennifer is not just an owner, not just a business woman. She’s also a teacher, but of the more advanced kind. The very advanced kind.

I also learn that she competes and has been judged the number three smooth ballroom dancer in America and number six in the world.

After all that wine, it’s just as well I didn’t kick her.

Read the other chapters

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