Monday, May 30, 2011

On Dancing without the Stars

Over the last couple of months, I’ve taken a semi-hiatus from writing. It hasn’t been a complete separation—more like a vacation where you stay in touch with your colleagues through email. I’ve kept up with my blog, participated in my bi-weekly writers' group, and completed some rough editing on a draft of a novel. But I’ve rediscovered my 80s dancing persona. Actually, it started with folk dancing in college and the years immediately following, with a twice weekly habit the year I lived in London. I even went to Maine Folk Dance Camp, where in my mid-20s, I was one of the younger attendees.

In the late 70s, I saw "Saturday Night Fever" and fell in love with disco. After 30 classes, satin jeans, and practice sessions at Faces, a now decaying club on Route 2, I had to concede that disco had lost its steam, so I switched to swing—-reminiscent of my grade school jitterbug days. And then on it went, through foxtrot, cha-cha, rumba, waltz, meringue, samba, mambo, salsa, all the way through Argentine Tango V. I'm sorry to say that most of that kinesthetic knowledge has faded in the two intervening decades. Other than the basics of ballroom, the only dance that really stuck was swing.

A few years ago, a writing friend introduced me to a local dive frequented by middle-aged patrons listening to middle aged bands at a sensible hour on the weekend. But it was a rocking good time. The ladies and I would get up to dance to the bluesy, r&B, country, honkey-tonk, or doo-wop sounds. Every once in awhile, my husband would come along, and we would trot out the old swing moves-—often the only ones on the floor to do so. Over time, more couples joined us, and we were no longer an anomoly. But I went only every couple of weeks, sometimes skipping weeks in a row.

Until this February when I became the dancing queen. It coincided with my fitness kick—-my weekly butt-killiing sessions with a trainer, my losing five pounds, my cutting out all sugar except for my daily square of chocolate. But the exercise factor became a side benefit of the more central fun factor. And the fun factor was a result of that great epiphany of one’s middle years—that the space between us and death is narrowiing.

So to the Saturday sessions I added the more mellow late Sunday afternoon set (for which you didn’t need earplugs but you definitely needed a glass of wine), the twice monthly Saturday afternoon with an Irish-Cajun band at a long-standing Cambridge pub (where a waltz or a polka is a possibility and a beer, a necessity), and then Wednesdays in the gospel-like atmosphere of the “Church of Fred” in an even tinier bar where the lead singer sashays down the narrow aisle, and we all chant the chorus. The repertoire becomes as familiar as the faces of the other regulars.

Only the first bar has something ressembling a dance floor. In the others, space is at a premium, but we push back a few chairs and make do. Sometimes, there are later night sessions at actual music venues with cover charges, or heaven forbid, the odd foray to a real dance, where everyone knows how to do two-step and zydeco and the dancers flow counter-clockwise around the room. There are casual and surprising opportunities to dance. Two weekends ago my town held a “Porchfest,” with 75 bands playing on front porches to the sidewalk audiences. And just this past weekend we attended a music festival where we danced a marathon eight hours.

All this activity doesn’t leave a lot of time for writing, but oh, the stories I am gathering and the characters I have met, liked the grizzled fellow with a missing tooth and alcoholic breath but some cool dance moves. Although I will always love dancing as long as I am physically able, I suspect that my recent frenzy will die down one day—maybe soon or maybe later. For now, my explanations of how I spend my time in my advancing years elicit surprise, sometimes envy. It makes more sense in these "Dancing with the Stars" days. But to those of you who remain skeptical, pick your venue from the above and join me. You, too, may become a convert. And if not, I can get you home early enough to use your evening in another way.

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