Sunday, January 14, 2007

Dance, dance evolution

On Friday, Anegla and I went on a date. This is, of course, a minor miracle: we never go on dates! We’re responsible people! Parents, even! And I’m untenured! I should be slaving away at my writing at all hours of the day instead of having any fun whatsoever, or at least I should be seeing movies, which can be work. Thankfully, my wife said, “The hell with all that. We’re going dancing.”

Contradancing, to be precise. I had agreed to do this, a tad reluctantly because my type of dancing usually involves strobe lights and a good five-hour techno beat. (Which, mind you, I haven’t done in years, primarily because Angela lasts about 20 minutes in such a scenario but also because, as my students remind me, I’m old.) But sure, I’ll bring my semi-metrosexual self to some English line-dancing. We had been before – once in Ann Arbor, once in Pacific Grove, so ages ago – but not anytime recently. The nearest contradance area to DC is actually at Glen Echo Park, a historic area with a beautifully preserved ballroom whose heyday in the 30s was still evident, not chipped away.

About two minutes in to the first dance, I was giddy, thinking God, this is SO MUCH FUN.

I had forgotten how much fun this was: trading partners even few bars, swinging people around in circles and generally having a really good time with all sorts of people. The intricate dance patterns were instructed before each dance (and a good thing – due to a child care snafu, we arrived too late for the lesson) and both of us wore “newbie” buttons which pointed the more experienced folk to ask us to partner up with them so that they could show us the ropes. I had forgotten how accepting these kind of folks are, not caring when I overthought a pattern and went the wrong way once. It was suggested to us that we not dance with each other but rather seek out more experienced partners, so we did that.

Also flooding into my head within the first five minutes of that dance: the memory that I once plotted out an entire novel called Contradance, following a pair of characters as they progressed in patterns down and back through a line, which I thought would make a wonderful literary device. Long abandoned, I suddenly remembered that notion and brought it back out of the cobwebs to at least put on a very back burner to simmer. (There are at least two or three creative projects that have been stewing for longer and thus are more immediate, though they all take place after these two academic books are done. Tenure tenure tenure.) I now think that idea of the contradance pattern would be better for poetry than for a novel, but we’ll see where it goes in my head eventually.

At one point in the contradance, I had a brief moment of confusion. In the progression, I came upon someone in a skirt with longer hair who was taller than I was. She was as thrilled and giddy as I was and I was swinging her around as I was supposed to. “How are you doing?” I quickly asked, as I had done several times before to other partners. “Great,” she said, “although this is my first night out as…” And she let that trail off quickly as she went around the progression.

And it hit me in a split moment that she was about to say …as a woman. My confusion came about, perhaps, because there were a few men who were clearly crunchy and challenging gender issues by dressing in skirts, but they were also dancing as men. (Indeed, Angela’s first partner that night was one of these guys.) But this person wasn’t part of that group of young people at all and besides, he was “playing” at gender roles as much as passing. Looking a little closer, it immediately hit me that this person was transgendered, though rather convincingly. And my heart immediately swelled: Damn, I thought, what an amazingly brave thing to do. This is the last place I would have expected to encounter someone who was transgendered, way out of what I might think of as an expected “comfort zone” and yet what a perfect place: there was no time for anyone – including her – to get hung up on anything before she would get passed down to the next partner anyway. I don’t know if I could be that brave.

Within a minute, she was back swinging with me and we entered a promenade for a moment, right before we would both progress to our next partners. I wanted her to know that she was doing fine and that I, for one, didn’t care at all that I probably saw through her to him. I laughed and said, “That’s OK, this is my first night out in a long time as well.” And she laughed and moved on.

Angela and I finally got to dance with each other when the band – amazingly, almost 30 people strong! huge!! – broke into a waltz. I had been cajoled into dancing the waltz by a partner I had had earlier, but Angela (who used another guy to get out onto the dance floor herself, that minx) cut in and we finally got a chance to dance together before we left. Today she’s sore and I’m back to writing, but for one dance, I could look her in the eyes, sweaty but overjoyed. “Thank you,” I said. “I had forgotten how much fun this is. Remind me that we need to do this more often.”


KC said...

How fun! I miss dancing- although contradancing is a new concept to me. And sounds illegal.

That's so great you guys got out alone!

Anonymous said...

ohno! you've experienced the baffling, hormonal raging geek-fest that is contradancing at Glen Echo. Its fun...but, lord, the atmosphere can be downright bizarre. At least there wasn't a contingent of uptight but well-meaning presbyterians to confuse matter!