I first wondered if my family had a dancing disability when I watched my oldest brother, Lawrence, dance at his wedding with an agonized expression and dragging steps, like an unhappy dog tugged by a leash.
Then Bob bounced by with a hapless girl in tow, looking like he was jumping hurdles.
But, what the heck, I’d never be a Ginger Rogers if I didn’t give it a try, so I signed up for a City Parks and Recreation summer session called Introduction to Dance.
We started with ballet, where I attended a remedial class of three until I could force my sizeable feet into first position while at the same time sucking in my bellybutton and pretending a string was pulling up on the top of my head. I struggled with the pose and worried I was another Bray who shouldn’t dance in public.
Fortunately, tap dancing came next. The teacher explained that tap dancing was like playing the drums with your feet — lots of stamping and heel-clunking, which struck me as the best sort of fun, and I excelled. I can still execute a step/ shuffle/ball change while crooning “Bicycle Built for Two” — though I only do so in my home.
The lessons helped me shine during the school year when my class performed a minuet for our parents on Washington’s Birthday. We clasped hands with our assigned partners and proceeded in a stately fashion, pointing our toes on the pauses—a breeze for someone who nearly mastered first position.
We square-danced to records in sixth-grade, vigorously obeying the caller’s commands to do si do, allemande left, and promenade back home. Being tall, I sometimes had to dance as a boy to even out the numbers, but I didn’t mind. During two-hand swings, I twirled Sally Evans about until her little legs flew around like helicopter blades.
In junior high, I participated in an assembly about dances of other lands. I wanted to do the Mexican Hat Dance with its hopping, clapping, and shouting, but instead led my bashful, embarrassed partner Bruce Evans through a robotic cha-cha-cha, while Mrs. Johnson hissed offstage, “One, two cha-cha-cha; one, two, swing-your-hips, SWING YOUR HIPS!”
High school brought romantic slow dancing beneath crepe-paper streamers and glitter-covered baubles. Dancing moves didn’t matter; clutching your partner did. By night’s end, body contact had turned the girls’ orchid corsages into mashed lumps.
I didn’t experience the freedom of no-hold dancing until college when the twist finally reached Utah. Under the direction of my sophisticated boyfriend from rural Idaho, I gyrated my body and swung my hips in a manner that would have silenced Mrs. Johnson.
Today, my husband and I continue to enjoy dancing, whether in our living room or public; and I encourage our grandchildren as they cavort around their house, falling to the floor to spin on their backsides or do the worm.
Watching them, I’m glad they’ve discovered what I did when young: dancing is fun, and perfection isn’t required.