Monday, April 03, 2006

Ballroom dancing for beginners; Salsa dancing for survivors

I can barely move across the floor in a Waltz. So why do I go to these ballroom dance thingees? Because my friend Maggie invites me, and this weekend I went because I was tired of being sick and not being able to dance.

The Sweet Melody Dance Club in Houston celebrated their 10th anniversary this weekend. As I understand it, they are a group of ten couples who form an exhibition dance team. I only seem them perform once or twice a year at the Chinese Cultural Center in Houston when Maggie invites a few friends for ballroom.

With ballroom dancing, I don't have to worry about being worn ragged by ladies asking to dance with me. Sure, my friends will ask occasionally, but I'm still learning the basic moves. So I was able to sit on the sidelines and rest in between Cha Cha dances Saturday evening. Many people do actually go to these dance events and just watch (the floor show is worth the price of the ticket, for sure).

They played 1 Salsa song, a few Cha Cha songs, and a lot of Waltz and Tango that evening. Maggie insisted I do a Tango with her. Well, I surprised her by actually staying in time (mostly) but it got boring quickly because I know the basic, a twinkle (or maybe something like a twinkle), and how to turn. That's it. It takes years to become a good Tango dancer, but once you get there, people come across the room to dance with you.

The Waltz I've been learning is very basic. The ballroom folks like to dance a lot of Viennese Waltz, which is not very basic. Maggie and I got out there and tried to do some steps. At first, she switched styles on me, and then settled on a simple Waltz. But I was doing it as learned in class (to much slower music) and Maggie was trying to fit in with the crowd. I finally gave up and just started three-stepping my way around the floor as gracefully as possible. Have no idea what it looked like, but it's better to move than to argue with your partner over whether you should do this or that. Besides, if she had wanted a perfect dance partner, she could have grabbed one of the teachers.

We also did a Jitterbug. I can dance about three moves in Jitterbug, too. But I didn't feel so bad about that because there were a couple of songs where I couldn't tell what anyone was dancing. "What are they doing out there?" I asked Maggie at one point. "Is that the bunny hop?"

People were bobbing up and down, jiggling from side to side, and pretty much looking like ... I don't know what they looked like, but it was obvious that a couple hundred people with 5-10 years' dance experience were having trouble with one song. I'm sure the DJ heard some interesting comments right about then....

He played a Twist melody. I used to like those back in college, when I didn't really know how to partner dance. I'm not fond of the disco-style freeform dances now, although I can cut up on the dance floor like any fool if I feel like it. The thing about the freeform dance steps is that you and whomever you're dancing with have a hard time developing rapport. There is literally no connection. I just don't like that. Give me a connection with a partner.

Of course, some connections are a little too close. During the Advanced Salsa class Saturday morning, I was learning the first part of this month's routine when one of my partners decided to lead herself. The ladies do that a lot because it takes men a little longer to pick up the moves. We not only have to learn how to do the steps, we have to learn how to give the lead and how to adjust in the middle of the move if something doesn't go right. And the ladies just get so impatient waiting on us to catch up.

So they lead themselves.

I've learned to break up the routine a little just so they have no idea of what comes next. Some of the ladies have picked up on this and they start to hold back with me. Lan, one of the best dancers in the class, rolled her eyes during one rotation. "I know that look," she said. "You're planning to surprise me." She usually follows when I throw in an extra move, and that helps me set up the step we're learning so that I can actually lead her through it.

Unfortunately, one of the other ladies in the class has gotten so used to leading herself I couldn't do anything with her. She anticipated a spin so quickly she slammed her very long, sharp fingernail into my forehead just above my eye. Had she aimed about half and inch lower, I'd probably be seeing out of one eye today. And she drew blood (which I didn't realize until I got home). I told her to keep dancing but she freaked out. I guess the site of blood does that to some people.

It's easier to dance with beginner and intermediate students. While they do tend to lead themselves through the steps, I already know the steps and don't have to slow myself down to concentrate on the details. The expressions on the ladies' faces when they realize they are partnered with someone who knows the moves better than they do are priceless. I've almost had a marriage proposal come out of that kind of experience.

As I get over the cold and flu season (God willing and the river don't rise, as John Wayne would say), I'll get back into the regular dance routine again. BTW -- Gloria Jones is now offering Two Step classes, so if anyone in Houston wants to learn Two Step, check out her Web site at Dance Passion. Classes start tonight (timing is everything).


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