Wednesday, September 2, 2009

White Men Can't Dance

I’m in the sixth grade. It’s a birthday party. Someone put together a bad “80s music” mix tape that blasts through a HiFi stereo system. She comes to me with the sweetest smile, one that’s loaded down with innocence. She’s wearing that incredible dress she wore for her yearbook picture. Wow.

She begs me to dance -- only she doesn’t say a word. Her innocent smile says it all. She wants me to invite her to the dance floor.

Fat chance. As they say, “white men can’t dance,” and that’s certainly the case for me when it comes dancing to anything but slow songs.

I hate dancing. I don’t get it. Basketball: make the most baskets. Baseball: hit the ball. Boxing: knock the other guy down. Dancing: bounce, jump, wiggle . . . make a fool of yourself to impress a girl.

I come to the dance floor with what good dancers call the “white man’s overbite,” and I have no moves, except for left foot in, left foot out, right foot in, right foot out. It’s far from cool.

A slow song plays. That’s when I ask her to dance. I understand this kind of dancing. It’s intimate. It’s romantic. The two of us can talk without screaming at each other.

“I didn’t come here for the music,” I finally say in her ear. “I came here for you.”

It works. We step out back for some privacy, away from our friends, away from party chaperones. We share a glass of punch and I try to make my move toward steady dating. The wind rises and she shivers. Before I know it, we’re back inside the heated house, and all eyes are on me and my terrible dance moves again.

I have no technique. I have no rhythm. I have no business dancing. I must be a sight. I try to imitate better dancers. I might as well be imitating an Olympic ice skater’s routine -- The closest I’ve been to ice skates is six feet from the TV screen during the “Snoopy On Ice” advertisements.

My shirt soaks up the sweat on my back. The cotton sticks to my skin. Massive amounts of sixth grader cologne and perfume makes my head ache. My feet hurt. I’m tired. I still haven’t asked the girl out. The Beastie Boys sing that I gotta fight for my right to party. I’m fighting for my right not to get kicked out of the party.

All this grief because, two months prior, my sixth-grade teacher treated our class to square dance lessons in the cafeteria. We learned to promenade and step like thunder, do-si-do and swing right under. Square dancing was a lesson in culture, to be educational, healthy and fun. This was a horrible idea.

But had it not been for the square dancing, I never would’ve gotten so close to the girl dancing to my right. Had it not been for our closeness, she never would’ve invited me to the party. Had I not gone to the party, the two of us never would’ve “danced.” And had we not “danced,” I never would’ve asked her to go steady later that night -- I would’ve feared humiliation. I figured, since I already felt humiliated by my dance moves, things couldn’t get any worse. So I took a shot and asked her out. And it paid off.

That girl was my first steady girlfriend. And everything I gained from that relationship helped me make better choices toward a second relationship, and ditto toward the relationship after that, which led me toward the choosing of the woman I now call my wife.

I’m a 32-year-old man. It’s an engagement party for a friend. Someone put together a bad “80s music” playlist on their iPod that blasts through a 5.1 digital surround sound system. My wife comes to me with the sweetest smile, one that’s loaded down with innocence. She’s wearing that incredible dress she wore for her baby shower. Wow.

She begs me to dance -- she comes right out and asks, because married women don’t hold anything back.

I’ve been married almost 10 years. I’ve been a dad for six. My wife and I are officially domesticated.

So how is it that I still have to dance to impress a girl?

-June 2009

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