Linda C. Wisniewski
In another life, I was a flamenco dancer. I know this because I am the only person in my family who loves to dance, and where could that have come from but a former existence? I never took lessons, but a good strong beat never fails to set my feet tapping, my head nodding, and if I can find a willing partner then I'm good to go.
The ostentatious look-at-me twirls across the floor, the long stretch-my-leg step – these would be the moves of a flamenco dancer such as I, if only I could recall the time and place. I am sure I did not spend long hours at the ballet barre. Nothing so formal would be in my repertoire. I like to do what my zumba teacher calls “shakin’ what ya got.” I love that woman. I don't even mind that she is less than half my age, that’s how good I feel when I am dancing.
I have not been this way for all of my present life. Well, yes, I have, but I was encouraged to tone it down. My high school boyfriend pulled my arms down when I did the watusi with too much abandon. My sister asked what I was drinking when I spent most of her wedding reception on the dance floor. Her son called me his “Dancing Aunt.” I love that kid.
My husband will dance at a wedding under pressure from me and because he loves me. Imagine my surprise then, a few weeks ago. He was watching football on the TV in our sunken living room. (This is the room with the carpeted stair I slipped down one Sunday soon after we'd moved in. “Don't you just love our new house?” I exclaimed with a flamenco flourish, my hands in the air. I lost my balance and slid down the steps, breaking my fall with the back of my hand against the coffee table.) Now, one healed broken hand and two years later, my exuberance is back.
“Want to go to a chili cook-off square dance at the church?” I ask. As soon as the words leave my lips, a loud no flies from his. His pale blue eyes stay focused on the game. His hair is almost all white, and when did that happen? I look at him and see the tall bespectacled scientist in a white lab coat I fell in love with decades ago. How thrilled I would have been to know we'd be sharing this comfortable-as-an-old shoe life today. I love this guy. Yet there’s one little thing – okay, a big thing – that would be so great to share with Steve, love of my life. We could dance.
“I’ll make chili, it will be our dinner, and Rick and Karen, and Howard and Elaine will be there…” I stop for a breath.
“Okay,” he says, without his usual grudging little sigh. “I’ll go.”
Disoriented, I forget the rest of my counterargument. I hate to waste it.
“Are you sure?” I ask. He reminds me he likes chili and talking to Rick and Howard. He does not mention the square dancing.
Friday night comes and we arrive at the church. The pungent aroma of hot tomato sauce blending with beef and turkey, hot pepper and spices pulls us inside. We hang up our coats amid a bustle of cooks bearing crock pots to long tables in the social hall. We sample eight kinds of chili. We vote for our top three choices, we drink cold beer and we chat with the other couples. The caller sets up his mike and sound system. He wears a silver badge that says he is a Certified Mid-Atlantic Caller, but he’s still our old friend Jay.
“It’s simple,” he says. “I'll explain everything, and you’ll try it before I start the music.” The women giggle and the men look at their feet. One of the women has a swirly skirt on, her partner a cowboy shirt and string tie. This is not their first square dance. I hope Steve doesn't notice and back out.
“I need eight people,” Jay announces, ”four couples to start.” Afraid to give him time for a second thought, I take Steve’s hand and pull him into the sanctuary. Chairs are pushed aside to make room for two squares. We take our place as a side couple. The calls are easy for everyone. We bow to our corners and swing our partners.
Steve’s concentrated frown turns to a smile each time an allemande left brings me into his arms for a promenade around the square. For the first time in our twenty-seven years together, he is as good a dancer as I am. I decide it’s because there are no steps to learn. Square dancing is simply fancy walking forward and back with arm holding and some turns thrown in. We even sing along with Winter Wonderland and dance at the same time.
Then the calls get complicated: stars and weaving and do-si-dos and we are bumping into each other and going the wrong way. Everyone laughs at their own mistakes. Nobody cares if I fling my arms wide or kick my heels as they pay close attention to their own moves. They're having as much fun as I am, dancing. We are all so long over high school we are way past caring how cool we do not look.
The next morning, I believe in miracles. Steve agrees to square dance lessons at the local community center. And I make a cosmic decision. If I really do get a chance at another life, I’m coming back to the best of all possible worlds: as a square dancing middle-aged zumba teacher.
About the author:
Linda C. Wisniewski shares an empty nest with her retired scientist husband in Bucks County PA. A former librarian, she teaches memoir workshops and speaks on the healing power of writing, when she is not walking, knitting, quilting, reading or writing. Her credits include the Christian Science Monitor, the Philadelphia Inquirer, The Rose & Thorn, Hippocampus, and other literary magazines as well as several anthologies. Linda’s memoir, Off Kilter, was published in 2008 by Pearlsong Press and she has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize. Visit her here and follow her on Twitter @Lindawis.