Monday, August 13, 2012

Twice Bitten, Thrice Shy

Perhaps two years into my marriage, my then-wife and I attended her sister's wedding. Among the preparations was an introductory class in tango.

I grew up in Crescent City, California. It's population in 1990 - when I moved there as a sophomore - was just over 3000. Since then, they've annexed the state prison for purposes of state funding allocations - a nifty accounting trick if ever I've seen one, and it's just over 7000.

Consequently, we had no clubs or dance halls or generally fuck-all to do as teenagers. Dancing didn't exist. It was the Pacific Northwest's version of Footloose, only no Baptists. My town's population that resided outside the prison walls was almost exclusively white with the exception of two Native American tribes. Again, dancing was not a culture.

Our "things to do" were either illegal consumptives or very Mayberry-ish activities: fishing, camping, hiking. There were beach bonfires and Wild Turkey. Going up into the mountains and stealing gas from the golf course at night.

I immediately joined the military once I became an adult, and dancing was not exactly a skill taught at basic training. By the time I made it to my first duty station in Monterey, California, raves were becoming the scene. What little time not spent studying and what little money I could scrape from an E-1's paycheck would go to trekking up to Berkeley and dancing the night away - notably minus the ecstasy. A point needs be made here, though: rave dancing is not dancing. It is white people just wobbling around to the sound of music. It's what we otherwise naturally do when asked to dance and we are untrained or unskilled. It was perfect for me.

The only thing easier is headbanging.

I was only in Monterey for a year, and then off I went to a bigger and scarier world where I spent perhaps 70% of my life deployed in a combatant role. No dancing in the Persian Gulf, no dancing in Iraq, Afghanistan or in the Horn of Africa. Coming home was restful and essentially became just a run-up for the next deployment.

In the meantime, however, my then-wife and I found ourselves in DC attending a tango dance class. Even before we arrived, I was nervous. I expressed this to her; I do not recall if she allayed my fear or ignored it. Importantly, this class was one of those where you stuck with your partner. It made sense -- we were going to tango together at her sister's wedding.

I focused intensely on every instruction the leader gave. I tried desperately over and over and over again to get the moves right. I repeatedly stepped on my partner's shoes. I apologized to her profusely, red-faced, but she stared back at me in anger. I knew this woman, even then. No more than thirty minutes into the session, my then-wife - tired of my two left feet - loudly interrupted the class and asked, "Can I switch partners?!"

I was crushingly humiliated. It cut me to the core. I tried to make a good social face of it - I in fact traded with another couple, but only after a minute or so of fumbling around with a blue-haired lady, I hurriedly excused myself and bolted across the dance floor and outside the building, where I waited for the class' conclusion.

Our marriage ended five years later.

Earlier this year, I was dating someone I met on OKCupid. She was aware of the story I've just recounted. On a late, drunken night returning back to my apartment, we walked by The Salsa Room, a cavernous and evidently extraordinarily popular dance hall less than a block from my home. She wanted us to duck in. I was surprised, to say the least.

We entered, and approached the bar. I tried to get a feel for the room; I would not be surprised if my mouth was agape at my admiration for the skill I was seeing -- the brilliant, flashing colors, wheeling and whirling and moving and thriving and syncing... it was all so beautiful. Not long after our arrival, I let the "fuck it" take over, and toed away from the bar and onto the floor where I just tried to move with the music. I asked my date if she would join me. "No."

"Why not? You wanted to come here."

"Because you can't dance. I'll dance with anyone here but you."

The night did not end well. Perhaps two months later, I left her. For that reason and many better.

Dancing has always been my achilles heel. Even before I became sick and everything became harder.

I used to believe (and still sometimes do) that I can do anything. That 12 mile run in the desert? Done. Qualifying for airborne? Done. Be selected for such-and-such? Done. Beat Zach at basketball? Crushed him.

But do anything other than that sort of white-guy shuffle/bump&grind? No. I cannot do it. Aside from having tried it, I've been kicked in the side enough to now be afraid to try. Which sucks, of course.

Maybe some day.


Anonymous said...

You know what? EMBRACE it. Embrace the fact that the white guy shuffle bump is what you can do and be done with it. I'm saddened to see that you've found ladies who would be shallow enough to get on your case about that, but there are many more who would not. So don't let the remarks get ya... go home, play "I'm sexy and I know it" and let your white guy come out in full bloom. :) Regards, ~Phee

A soundtrack for life said...

Been there, done that. Don't let the comments get to you. I can actually dance and found that the people that made those comments were people who I turned out having bad chemistry with. When they made those comments, I just shut down, and couldn't relax. The secret to dancing is to enjoy yourself, who cares if you're doing the white boy shuffle, if there's a smile on your face that should be infectious to all those around you.