I Danced Pretty One Day

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My Birthday Surprise

In the forty-first year of my life, I found myself wearing a bedazzled tie and spending two days in the Westin dancing the waltz and cha cha with a Brazilian woman nearly half my age. I was surrounded by eight other couples trying to run me off the floor. The guys had black shiny pirate shirts unbuttoned to their navels revealing their darkly tanned and freshly shaved chests. Their female partners wore fake smiles and thousand dollar dresses with hand encrusted with sequins. Eight judges circled the floor with clipboards waiting for me to make a mistake. For the pleasure of enduring this torture, I spent about the price of a vacation to Hawaii for two. Welcome to the world of competitive ballroom dancing!

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Six months before, I had decided that my wife and I needed to do something new together. After twenty years of marriage, we’d fallen into the familiar routines that one would expect. Instead of smoldering text messages about when we would remove each other’s clothes, our conversations had turned into messages about household logistics like who was picking up the almond milk or protein bars.

My wife had recently become co-owner of a gym and she now worked a lot of evenings. But when she wasn’t physically at the gym, she was mentally there. The curse or joy of being a business owner is that you can always be working. A typical evening at our house consisted of me arriving home from work and the dogs excitedly coming up to greet me while the rest of the family stayed glued to their screens. My wife would be updating the business Facebook, answering work emails, or planning the next classes. After spending the entire day communicating with and training other people, she was in no mood to spend a lot of time chatting with her husband. If we were lucky, maybe we would watch a show together. Was this the inevitable fate of all twenty year marriages?

Her birthday was coming up, and in my infinite wisdom I knew that we needed a new hobby. It had to be something different from our day jobs; something that would be romantic and could really reignite that fire. I discarded a couple of non-starters like Sybaris romantic hotel (too seedy) and cooking together (too messy). After a few days of deep thought I arrived at what I deemed to be the perfect option — dance lessons! It had everything: romance, tight holds, dresses, high heels, and sultry stares. Like many of my brilliant plans, this did not go exactly as I expected.

After deciding to move forward, I did extensive internet research to find the best dance studio for us. There was one near us that had twenty-nine five-star reviews. When skimming the reviews I noticed that many of the employees and their families had also left five star reviews. Was that allowed? Was that breaking the sacred honest code of online reviews? I decided that I wouldn’t let it bother me and made the call.

A women with a Russian accent answered and told me that she would be delighted to help teach my wife and me to dance. Her name was Natalya. She had the sound of someone smiling while talking into the phone. I couldn’t help but wonder if that was a sales tactic? Eighty percent of buyers are more likely to convert if you smile when talking to them! Overall I got a good vibe, but I imagined that she would be harsh and critical of our complete lack of dancing skills. Maybe it was the Russian accent and the fact that I’ve seen too many 80’s movies where the Russians are always the harsh bad guys. Wasn’t it a Russian that crushed Rocky’s dreams of dancing?

We were told to dress in casual clothes and show up at the appointed time. The “studio,” as I would learn that it should be called, consisted of lots of mirrors and hardwood floors with fancy decorations. There were pictures on the wall of people in fancy dresses holding up their arms in fancy ways. I tentatively glanced at my wife knowing that she was not the fancy type. Luckily she was so far unfazed by the what she’d seen.

We were introduced to Emilio, our instructor for the evening. He was a slender man with shoulder length black hair, a well-trimmed beard, and a black turtleneck. His voice was light and airy. He seemed vaguely of Eastern European descent. His look and manner of speaking immediately set off my gaydar, but I wasn’t sure. Maybe dancers just give off that vibe?

We started to learn the Rumba dance, which I imagine they teach to newcomers because it’s a slow romantic dance that gives you time to learn the steps without rushing. The problem is that a huge part of the dance is this mystical way of moving your hips called cuban motion. When done correctly, your hips move in this synchronized undulation like some kind of dancing foreplay. Actually doing it was a different story though. It felt less like foreplay and more like juggling while doing trigonometry. As if dancing to a beat while moving your feet and arms wasn’t hard enough, you now have to move your hips in a figure eight motion. Oh yeah, and don’t forget to point your feet the correct way and bend and straighten your legs at the right time.

“No problem. It just takes time.” Emilio told us. That would become his mantra.

Of course, being an athlete that worked out every day, my wife was a natural. Emilio would show her a set of four moves and she would just instantly repeat it. She actually got bored practicing because it was too easy for her. Things were a little different for me.

Emilio would try to explain it slowly to me by saying “Step on a bent leg, now straighten, settle the hips. Hold the that for a beat.”

It was like he was teaching a newborn baby to walk but speaking in Portuguese. My wife would look at me in bewilderment as I hobbled across the floor trying to imitate him.

Occasionally Emilio would give me an example of what I should be doing. He would gracefully move one part of his body while isolating another. It was almost like watching the slow motion running of a cheetah or the way a snake slithers through the grass. All I could think is that my body would never move like that. He said not to worry and it would just take time, but I was unconvinced.

After our lesson, we were encouraged to look into purchasing dance shoes at the studio because of course we needed the correct shoes to dance well! I saw the price and was skeptical. Was this just a merchandise upsell like the extended warranty at Best Buy? But when I saw that my wife’s shoes would be high heels I was on board. Getting my wife to wear high heels and not gym shoes was something I dreamed about, but didn’t think was possible. This gave me a glimmer of hope; I immediately purchased the shoes.

As we left the studio, I saw an older man in a tight blue shirt dancing in the corner by himself and I immediately felt sorry for him. Was that my future? Was I to become old and dancing alone on a Tuesday night? I put the thought out of my mind.

We left that night thinking that we started something new and who knows where it would lead. Later I would learn that my path would follow closer to that older man’s than I would’ve ever thought possible…

My First Steps

We started regularly attending classes every Tuesday night. At this point our “dancing” looked more like the shuffling of zombies in popular post-apocalyptic tv shows, but don’t worry our instructor told us it just takes time. I wondered if they said that to everyone. Couldn’t anything be accomplished given enough time? Didn’t they build gigantic pyramids in Egypt with enough time? All you need is twenty years of lessons and you’ll be a great dancer! Did they ever tell anyone “Sorry your dancing is just so bad that I don’t think we could ever fix you no matter how much time and money. Have you considered another hobby like bowling?”

One night he observed how our arms hung limply at our sides while dancing. He demonstrated a sassy arm movement for my wife to accentuate her feminine side by shooting her arm up in the air and then seductively brushing the back of her head. Imagine something Marilyn Monroe would do and you’ve got the right idea. My wife promptly told him that she wasn’t going to do it; she doesn’t believe in doing anything that’s too “showy.” I thought it ironic that our male instructor had no trouble doing this seductive feminine movement, but that my female wife did. I smartly kept my mouth shut. He persisted with getting her to try and she persisted with saying no. I was worried that it might turn violent and I was pretty sure that she could take him. I could see the headlines now: Local Female Gym Owner Pummels Dance Instructor. The only witness was the gym owner’s husband and he’s too afraid to talk.

As we spent more time at the studio, I noticed that there were two camps of people there — the newbies and the veterans. The newbies, like my wife and I, shambled around without really knowing what they were doing. They also tended to take group classes together where they break down the basic steps.

Our newbie group got lots of encouragement. “That’s it!”, “Good job”, and “I can tell you’ve been practicing!”.

The newbies also tended to spook easy like a herd of wildebeests who might bolt at any minute if someone watched them dance. The instructors often pulled a curtain to separate the studio and give us a level of privacy. One newbie was unable to dance in front of anyone else and needed the studio to be completely empty while she practiced.

On the other side of the studio were the veterans who had been there at least a few years. They didn’t care about dancing in front of anyone because they knew what the hell they were doing and weren’t afraid to show it. They had mostly private lessons and didn’t attend the group classes with the lowly newbies. Because they took so many lessons they felt like they owned the studio so some of them made outlandish requests like having the studio temperature set to slightly below frigid.

The instructors were much more critical in their lessons. “I told you to stop counting!”, “I didn’t see the right steps there…are you sure you’ve got this?” I was glad to be a newbie for now.

After a while we started to get the hang of it. We were actually able to dance the Rumba box (the most basic step) and not step on each other’s toes. Every now and then we would even throw in some fancy arm movements. I was ecstatic. My wife and I were actually dancing together and having fun. She even wore high heels. Sadly, this was too good to last.

My New Instructor

The more I danced, the more I wanted to learn. I wasn’t content with just doing a simple Rumba box. I wanted to learn the more complicated steps. If I was going to do this, I wanted to do it all out. My wife on the other hand was just in it for fun and didn’t really care about learning new moves.

I mentioned to Emilio my desire to learn more advanced moves and he introduced us to another instructor at the studio that would help us to “Be more competitive” (whatever that meant). He told us only that we could really learn a lot from her and that she was from Brazil. I soon learned that dance instructors are all from outside the US and have names that end in ‘a’ like Adriana, Gabriella, and Michalina. I imagined a whole business of importing slim European instructors to teach dancing to the obese and wealthy Americans. Here in America we ignore the arts for most of our lives and destroy our bodies by working in cubicles. Then we spend that money hiring young Europeans to teach us to dance. It made me proud to be part of the land of the free.

Our new Brazilian instructor was named Arianna. Her curly blonde hair, tight fitting clothes, and glasses reminded me of a naughty librarian. I can only assume it’s part of the dance studios business model. Not only must you be able to dance, but you must have the right look and persona. I imagined dance studios modeled after the Spice Girls. This one is the rebellious one, this one is the sporty one, and this one is the smart one. Which instructor best fits you? When you choose your instructor, you also got to choose which dance routine you wanted to perform. The routines often involved elaborate costumes and attire. Did you want the teacher and schoolgirl routine or the routine with one guy and two girls? That one’s extra, but it’s a very unique experience!

I learned that each instructor focused on a different aspect of the dancing. While Emilio focused on arm movement and theatrics, Arianna was a stickler for posture and keeping our head up high. We couldn’t take two steps without being told to “look up”, but with her accent it sounded more like “luke up”. We would be dancing the cha-cha and double checking to make sure our feet were moving in the right direction and would hear “luke up!” from out of nowhere. I heard it so much it started to haunt my dreams. I’m sure “luking up” was just one of those things that took time.

In an attempt to fix my posture, she even put what looked like a medieval torture device on my back. It was a piece of metal that went on your shoulders and across your back. Then your arms went on top of it and were held rigidly in place. It supposedly corrected your posture and put your shoulders and head into the correct position for dancing. She would bring it out and put it on me like a yoke on cattle. Then we’d have to dance together in front of all the other students. It seemed like a bizarre hazing ritual because no one could look cool while dancing with this device strapped on. My suspicion is that it worked more from humiliation than anything else.

She pushed us much harder than Emilio did. Under all of this dancing pressure, my wife and I began to crumble in different ways. She all of the sudden got busy at work and often would have to miss our dance lesson. I went the other way and started to succumb to Stockholm syndrome where you begin to identify with your captors. The more they corrected my dancing and told me to “luke up”, the more I wanted to prove to that I could do it. Yeah, I’m a terrible dancer now, but what about after a bit of time? I’ll show them!

In a classic example of Newton’s first law of motion (each action has an equal and opposite reaction) just as I became more obsessed with dancing, my wife became less interested. This posed a bit of a problem since, as the saying goes, it takes two to tango. Our instructors had a solution though. I could dance with Arianna and continue to move forward in my dancing. Then when my wife rejoined, I could more easily guide her through what she had missed. It seemed like the perfect set-up. What could go wrong?

Arianna was always smiling, enthusiastic, and excited to dance. Whenever I arrived at the studio she always greeted me by name. It was so consistent that I was sure it was part of her instructor training or from a sales book — clients love to be greeted by name! Everything was always super positive and every text she sent me had smiley faces, winks, or hugs. She regularly told me that I was making amazing progress and she was really looking forward to our lesson! I was 99% sure she said that to all her students.

I mentioned my goal of wanting to get better and she convinced me that the best way would be to train for a dance competition. I was concerned that I didn’t know enough yet, but she said she talked to the studio owner and they both agreed that I would be ready because I was making great progress.

“You will definitely beat some of the other competitors!” she said, “Even other students have commented on how well you’re doing.”

I was unconvinced and was beginning to doubt my own sanity. Was this a form of gaslighting? Weren’t they highly incented to make me think I was making progress and really good? I tried to put it out of mind and focus on getting ready for the competition.

What I didn’t realize when I said yes was how all-encompassing this decision would be. It slowly started to overwhelm the other pieces of my life. My wife would mention that we should go to her gym and get a workout in, I’d respond that I have a dancing lesson the next day and really don’t want to be sore so I can perform my best. She would skeptically give me a look that was a cross between “who is this guy” and “I might just have to kill him.”

Each morning, I’d wake up early and practice my cuban motion and cha cha steps. It was like one of those action movies with a montage of someone working out, except mine was focused on dance steps so not quite as cool. When I got tired of practicing alone, I’d pressure my wife to practice with me. I’d make sure that I did the dishes first before asking. She would roll her eyes and begrudgingly practice a few minutes of the routine.

As Arianna and I started to to spend more time practicing alone together, I wondered if problems developed with dance partners being attracted to each other. It’s like actors who have to spend a lot of time practicing love scenes. It’s fake, but it has all the signs of something real. While dancing you’re staring into each other’s eyes for long periods of time, you’re rotating your hips, and you’re touching each other a lot. Many of the dances require very close holds and tight body contact. Imagine a two minute sustained hug with chests touching while moving your legs in between each other’s and that’s basically the tango. Besides my wife and my mom, I’m pretty sure I haven’t held anyone else like that. I’m not even sure I held my mom like that.

One night while learning cuban motion I was having trouble moving my hips correctly. Arianna had me stand directly behind her and grab her black spandex clad hips while she twisted them rhythmically back and forth in front of me.

“Take a close look. Are you getting it now? Do you feel it?” she said.

I imagined this kind of thing had to cause issues. I asked Emilio if he ever had problems with his students being attracted to him or vice versa.

“No problems” he said “We always keep it professional.”

He said it very matter-of-factly, but I had my doubts. Weren’t two instructors at the studio dating or engaged to former students? I decided not to press the point.

He often talked about how he went to traveling competitions with his forty-something female clients.

“Oh yeah. It’s way more fun than these local competitions! We get nice hotel rooms and hang out by the pool and go dancing together.” he said.

I pictured traveling with Arianna to a competition and hanging out at the pool in our respective swimsuit and bikini. I would be in the middle of applying sun tan lotion to her back — because it’s important to be tan for a dance competition — then my wife would call.

“Sorry, honey, I can’t talk right now. Too busy preparing for our dance comp!” I would say.

After a trip like that, the only question would be how my wife would kill me. Would it be poison or an accident on the stairs? I gave it a fifty/fifty shot either way.

I was in it to learn dancing, but I had to wonder if others were in it for more than just dancing. Many of the clientele were older or widowed. All of the dancers were young, attractive, and sharply dressed. And after spending all that time together you definitely established a bond with your dance partner. Was this a form of companionship that people were paying for and getting out of it that they weren’t getting from other places in their life? Did it matter? I decided not to think about it too much. Besides, I had a tango to work on.

My Rival

One night I arrived early for my lesson and saw Arianna dancing with another student. He was roughly my age, but looked a bit older. I’m blessed or cursed with always looking fifteen years younger than I really am. As they danced around the floor they appeared to be having a great time.

During our lesson Arianna informed me that his name was James and he had been dancing for about a year. Due to our age similarity he and I would be up against each other during the big competition. I thought that was unfortunate.

Sensing my concern she said, “Don’t worry. You’re progressing really well and will probably beat him!” Did she say that to all her students?

I assumed that just an hour ago she was dancing with James and said “There’s a new guy that you’ll meet tonight. You’ll be competing against him, but don’t worry; you’re progressing really well and will probably beat him!”

I was beginning not feel as special as I once thought I was, but my illusions were truly shattered later in the week during the practice party. This is where all the students come together on a Friday night and practice their dancing with each other while watching dance performances. I had never been to one, but it sounded like it might be fun and would give me some practice dancing outside my lesson. As usual my wife had to work so I would be going alone. I was a little worried about who I would dance with because I didn’t know any of the female students well enough to ask them to dance. I mentioned my concerns to Arianna, but it was ok she told me because I could dance with her at the party.

“Don’t worry. We will have fun!” she added.

What I didn’t realize until I arrived is that Arianna really got around, and that there would be six of her other students also dancing with her that night who were also told “we would have fun!” So most of the night consisted of trying to make conversation with strangers while waiting to see if Arianna was available to dance. Often there would be a group of us standing together and she would saunter over and pick one of us to dance. It felt a little like junior high gym class where you’re just hoping you don’t get picked last for the kickball team.

My Mentor

One night I struck up a conversation with the older man named Sam that seemed to live there. When he wasn’t taking lessons with Natalya, the smiling studio owner, he was practicing by himself in the corner. I liked the way he talked because he had no filter and everything was definitive.

His phrases went like this: “I will beat him the next time I dance against him” and “I will become a best-selling author.”

He always had definitive advice for everyone and started to become my Yoda at the studio. Originally I was focusing on six different dances.

But he told me “You need to focus your energy on three dances so you can do them well. Don’t let them talk you into more dances. It’s big money for them.” He said it with complete confidence. I looked up at him and waited for him to dispense more wisdom.

“You should focus on the rhythm dances because you are still young and can move your hips. You see him over there?” He pointed to one of the other students “He’s too fat to be able to do the rhythm dances.” My mentor was very wise.

I turned to watch Sam glide around the floor with Natalya. He had to be near sixty and she looked to be in her late twenties. He had grey hair and a salt and pepper mustache while she had long curly auburn hair. He was American and she was Russian. Even with all these differences they moved smoothly together and appeared to be in sync in every way. They danced the Waltz to music with a three count and zoomed around the floor rising and falling as one on the beat. By the end of his lesson he was dripping sweat and smiling.

I caught him on the way out the door to ask him if he had any final tips for me to properly prepare for a competition.

“Sure. One last thing,” he said. “Don’t let people at work make fun of you for dancing. They all think I’m a pervert for dancing with a woman that’s half my age.”

He chuckled as he walked out. Like I said my mentor was very wise.

My Competition

After months of training, the day of the competition arrived. I was nervous, but was able to eat a protein bar, so I figured that was a good start. I packed all of my fancy dance clothes which consisted of a black shiny shirt and a bedazzled rhinestone tie. I made sure to bring along a bag containing important dance items like deodorant, mints, bananas and hairspray. Never forget the hairspray. That could spell dance disaster.

When I walked out the door, I asked my wife if she was still planning to attend. She was noncommittal because of a busy schedule at work, but said she would make it if she could. I knew it wasn’t her thing so I didn’t want to push. In my mind, I figured she probably wouldn’t make it.

As I drove to the hotel, I thought about all my years as high school and college tennis athlete. I’d competed in so many tennis matches that competitions were second nature to me. Not only that, I’d even won my college intramural ping pong championship. With that kind of mental fortitude I was convinced that I’d have no problem with a simple dance competition. How hard could it be?

When I arrived at the Westin, I looked around the ballroom and was amazed by all the dresses and makeup. The dresses shown like the sun with all of their sequins and bedazzled gems. It was as if someone robbed a jewelry store and and then sprayed the merchandise all over a dress. The dresses revealed as much skin as possible without becoming truly pornographic. The amount of makeup was stunning. Women sauntered around with dark red lipstick and deep black eyeshadow caked on like sexy clowns.

Our studio had reserved a table near the dance floor almost like a sports team dugout. People were practicing and getting psyched up for their dances. Wardrobe malfunctions were being adjusted and feathers were being placed strategically with bobby pins. Everyone was preternaturally tan like they had used the whole bottle of self-tanner and then applied a second one just in case. Only white teeth flashed amid their dark tanned faces. They were ready for battle.

Arianna found me and asked her standard question, “How are you feeling?” I was terrified but said “good” as people often do when they don’t want to speak the truth. We did a quick warm-up of all our routines and while it didn’t go awesome, but I didn’t pass out so I consider that a success.

Then it was time for the awful waiting game. I watched others dance while waiting for my turn. I couldn’t really focus on them because I kept thinking through my steps in my head. Was it left foot forward then right? Was that hold for a half beat or a full beat? I suddenly started to forget all my routines and had visions of freezing on the floor while they stopped the competition to haul me off.

We sat down at our table and waited for our start time. After watching a handful of other heats, I finally heard them call my name to the staging area. We would be dancing against five other couples. We all lined up with our partners and waited to be called onto the floor. When I heard my name my heart skipped a beat and the blood started to rush to my head.

When we got to our position on the floor, Arianna could tell I was freaking out a bit. As we started our routine she counted out the beat or prompted me for the next dance step as my mind had gone almost completely blank. During part of one of the routines I froze and she had to almost push me into the next step. While Arianna would smile at the judges around us, I tried not to make eye contact with anyone. When I looked at the other dancers on the floor they were smiling and moving gracefully through their routines. I was sweating with a pale blank look on my face. I had spent all this time and money preparing for this, but now I couldn’t wait for it to end. Finally the music stopped and we walked off the floor.

“Great job!” was the first thing Arianna said when we were back at our table.

“Thanks,” I mumbled.

I was feeling pretty miserable, but was at least glad that it was done. What was the point of all that hard work only to freeze up on the floor?

I watched James and Arianna finish their dances as well as Sam and Natalya. It looked graceful and easy for them. Then it was time for the awards ceremony where they announce the placing of all the dancers. As part of the ceremony we all walked back onto the dance floor and waited to hear if our names were announced. I felt like I didn’t do that well, but maybe I was just being too hard on myself?

As they began to announce the winners I anxiously waited to hear my name. First the waltz winner was announced.

“First place goes to James O’Brien. Second place goes to Bryant Hankins.” Well that’s just one dance but there are many more. Surely I would have to win for one dance style? Then the tango winner was announced.

“First place goes to James O’Brien. Second place goes to Bryant Hankins.” Ok, but third time’s the charm right? Finally the foxtrot winner was announced.

“First place goes to James O’Brien. Second place goes to Bryant Hankins.” Well, at least I got second place. So I didn’t do too awfully bad? Right?

For a brief shining moment I felt alright. Then I looked closer at the program and realized that even though there were eight other couples on the floor, I was only competing against James because we were the same age group. In other words, I came in last place in all my heats. Damn!

At that point I went into a dark hole of self-pity and despair. What was the point of this whole thing if I was going to perform so poorly and lose at everything? For most of my life I had been a high achiever, but I clearly had no talent for this and needed to find a new hobby. I was also disappointed that my wife didn’t make it. I had put all this time and energy in. Even though I didn’t push her to attend I secretly was hoping she would be there to support me.

I just wanted to get out of there without talking to anyone. I congratulated James and started to pack up my stuff. Arianna caught up to me and sensed that something was wrong. She told me not to be too disappointed because everyone I was dancing against had been dancing for much longer than me.

“Hey, you finished your first competition and we have a great plan for you going forward!” she announced.

I told her that I really didn’t enjoy the whole experience and that I was probably done with dancing. She was taken aback by my reaction.

Then she said “Take a few days to think about it before making any decisions, but if you’re not enjoying it then of course there’s no need to continue going forward.” I nodded noncommittally.

I walked out the door feeling like my dancing journey was over and that this was a time consuming and expensive misadventure.

My Final Dinner

As I was walking out I heard a familiar voice from behind me.

“You looked great out there!” my wife exclaimed and gave me a strong hug. I was shocked and surprised to see her. I had no idea that she actually made it and was in the audience for the final dances. “How did it go?” she asked.

Even though I was grateful to see her, I couldn’t quick shake my bad mood. Was she just being nice? She had to know that it didn’t go well?

“Terrible” I replied with a one word answer. I explained how I froze up and lost in every dance.

“Really? It looked amazing to me!” she said looking a little deflated. “But did you have fun?”

“Not really” I said.

Her years of experience at coaching athletes started to kick in. “How long have you been dancing?”

I replied that I’d been dancing for about six months and some of the dances I’d only learned three months ago.

“And how long had your competitors been dancing?” she asked.

I remember hearing from Arianna that many had been dancing for years.

“So why in the world did you expect to beat them considering you just learned some of these dances three months ago? Maybe you shouldn’t be such a perfectionist about everything and just look at this as part of the process of learning something new?” I really hate it when she’s right.

That evening there was a celebration dinner for all of the dancers to relax after the hard work. I had planned to skip it based on my performance, but my wife convinced me to go and said she would go with me. For once, I decided to listen to her.

I arrived at the dinner not expecting to stay long. First off, I needed to apologize to Arianna for leaving in a huff. She was very gracious and talked about how she had recently finished a professional competition and placed terribly. It happens to everyone even after many years of dancing. She told me that I should talk to the other dancers and ask them about their first competition experience.

As I went around I started to feel better. It seemed like everyone had a story of when things didn’t go according to plan. One guy told the story of how his first competition was supposed to be mostly empty so no pressure, but then their time slot got moved and there were hundreds of people watching. He said they got through it, but it was a daze of nerves and he nearly passed out. Another competitor talked about how she forgot half her routine and just had to stand there. She laughed about it now. One lady was doing a traveling competition and her hip popped out of place in the middle of a swing dance. She had to hobble off the floor.

At the end of it all I still had so many open questions. Should I be proud of myself that I had the courage to try it even if it didn’t go well? Would I ever do another one? Was dancing bringing me closer to my wife or pulling me further away? At this point I wasn’t sure of the answers.

Finally I caught up with my first instructor Emilio.

“You just have to write off your first competition. Even my first competition as a pro was bad. Your nerves get the best of you. It’s not until your third or fourth one that you really get used to the feeling.” he said.

He put his hand on my shoulder. “Some of the best dances I’ve seen were when someone made a mistake but they recovered gracefully. You are always one step away from being back on time.”

I went back to my table and took a long sip of wine. I thought about his last sentence. No matter what happened here the past is done. Looking back it wasn’t the ideal first competition, but maybe that’s okay. Maybe it was just part of the process of getting better at something. In the end, what matters most is what we do going forward and sometimes it just takes time.

“Nobody cares if you can’t dance well. Just get up and dance.

Great dancers are not great because of their technique, they are great because of their passion.”

-Martha Graham-