I once wrote something along the lines of, “I dance alone because I’ve never found a partner strong enough to lead me.” People seemed to like that, they took it as some kind of metaphor maybe, but I was being literal. The boys who have been so sweet, so nice to ask me to dance—and I know that in itself takes courage; I always try to be sensitive to that—never did seem to know what to do with me once they had me in their arms.
There was a time when dance instruction was considered a staple, and I do wish it still were. I love to dance. I’m Creole, and we’re built to move to music, it’s hardwired into our being. My father’s is the Creole side, and my mother always used to say he couldn’t dance, which utterly baffled me. Then one day when she was gone, Dad and I turned the stereo up and danced away. It turns out he can dance, but my mother cannot, which is why Dad never dances with her.
So you see I come by it honestly.
There is something simultaneously frustrating and embarrassing about having a dance partner who cannot maneuver. I’m sure this is true for men too, but as a woman I am supposed to be dependent on this person to steer me. Now, people who know me well (there are a very few in the world) would be quick to point out that steering me in any way is a difficult if not impossible chore. But I can cooperate with another human being when necessary. And certainly if it’s in something as pleasurable as dancing. (For men I would think having a partner who cannot follow your lead would be just as terrible, might make one feel like a failure, or at the very least like you’re dragging something heavy across the dance floor.)
The embarrassing bit is that, when asked to dance by someone who then cannot lead, my options are to stand there with him and wait for him to move (because, yes, I’ve had a few partners who just stood there), to stumble through with him as he attempts to dance (this is the default, and it becomes a guessing game of what the next step might be, or sometimes a bizarre dance floor version of Twister), or to take the lead myself (a last resort, but I’ve done it when all else fails and my fleeing the scene would only embarrass us both further).
They hang like memorialized veterans in my closet: the many dress hems that have fallen in service.
So. One night at a university dance some years back, I was all dressed up and decided if I wanted to dance properly I would probably have to suck it up and do it on my own. It was a crowded enough room I figured no one would notice or care. Students are supposed to be free spirited and all that, right? And they were playing just the dumbest mix of music, and at one point “Under the Sea” (yes, from Disney’s The Little Mermaid) came on, and people were milling and a few were dancing, and I found a corner and closed my eyes and did my thing. Why not?
Well . . .
I like music, and I like to dance, and I get lost in that pretty easily. But it’s hard to ignore when a rhythmic clapping has started. Somewhere nearby. And I thought, Conga line? Because that seemed like a reasonable possibility.
But no. A huge circle had formed around me. People were clapping and watching me dance.
After that night people were asking me to go dancing all the time. Some asked me to teach them. (I used to choreograph, but I would show the dance instructor and then she would do the teaching, so actually teaching dance is beyond my capabilities. I don’t know how I do what I do; I just do it. Asking me to break it into steps is like asking me to explain my existence—I can’t.)
I do still harbor that wee dream of finding someone who can lead me gracefully through the steps. Yet most of the time I dance alone. Because I know how, and I’m good at it, and then the only person to embarrass is myself. Dancing comes naturally to me. And I’m not always patient enough to wait for others to ask or catch up. A girl could prop up a wall for hours in the hopes of someone asking her to dance . . . And then, after waiting, if he can’t dance after all? What has it won her? She might as well make her own fun in the meantime.