Memphis, TN – November 21, 2012
It’s warm inside. The air is well used and filled with sound. The whole room seems to move with the beat, rising and falling like it has a pulse, only breathing between songs.
People smile. Daniel and Tiffany hug friends and introduce me. I shake a dozen hands in a minute and a bit of nervousness brushes away. Not enough.
Daniel’s the reason I wrapped a shirt, pants, and a pair of dancing shoes in a plastic bag and shoved them into the tail of my kayak. They’ve sat there a thousand miles because he promised me dancing when I got to Memphis.
I’d never met Tiffany before, but Daniel had told me about her the last time we saw each other, the night before I left for this trip, and I remember how excited he was. Now I see the little glances back and forth, the smiles, the way they dance together. I wonder if I’ve listened to too many Jane Austen novels floating down the river. They look so happy and I always cheer for love.
I stand against a wall, watching dancers flow and spin in front of me. I tap a foot to make sure I still hear the beat. The music fades and the room takes a breath as the floor empties then fills again with the next song.
I do feel the beat. I feel the pop of drums, the rise and fall, the rhythm. I want to dance. I want to be on that floor. I look around. I’m all nerves. It has been a long, long time.
I know I shouldn’t hesitate. I ask one of Tiffany’s friends to dance. She smiles and takes my outstretched hand. My heart pounds and the beat disappears in the whirling gears of my head.
We stand for a moment. I can tell she’s wondering, asking herself if I know what I’m doing. I feel her hand in mine, warm and small, waiting. I remember Daniel once told me you could lead any dance with just two fingers. He was one of my first teachers.
I listen for the beat. I wait for the drums to catch me like the current catches the bow of the boat, wait for them to send us spinning into the song and away.
There it is.
We join the moving floor, add our arms, legs, and hips to the rhythm. Her hand feels smooth in mine, spinning, moving underneath my fingertips. Turns rush back to me, leads I haven’t thought about for months, half-rusty movements that only need a bit of polish.
I make a dozen mistakes. I mix styles and confuse leads. She smiles at me. I laugh. She knows I’m not completely lost and we’re having fun.
The song ends too quickly.
Another dance, then another. Timid moves become sure. The list of possibilities grows in my head. I reach deeper, pull out more, spin and laugh and dance.
Hours tick away. Playfulness replaces nerves. My feet began to hurt. Sweat soaks into my shirt. Someone brings drums and starts playing with the music.
I look around. I recognize faces. I’m no longer in a room full of strangers.
I dance and watch and dance some more. A clock blinks 2 am. The floor is empty. A slow bachata plays on the speakers.
I ask a woman to dance. She smiles, takes my hand, and steps close. We start slow, letting our bodies connect, feeling every touch, every little push and pull of a lead, feeling the music, letting it run through us, move our feet, our legs, our hips. Our bodies slide together.
I give up the list of turns I spent all night remembering. I give up counting the beat in my head. I give up worrying about mistakes.
I just dance.