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Monday, April 28, 2014

Terpsichore’s Day

DO YOU DANCE? Sure you do. I don’t. Or, at least, I try not to. It’s out of kindness, sparing the world any chance of witnessing my body attempting what’s for me some fairly complicated patterns of motion.

I want to tell you about an event where you can dine and dance and enjoy some terrific music, and then I’m going to reveal my surprisingly complicated dancing history.

The event takes place from 5 to 9 PM Friday, May 4, 2014, at the Old Daley Inn at Crooked Lake, which is a gorgeous venue that boasts excellent food service as well. It’s the annual fundraising gala by and for Musicians of Ma'alwyck, a chamber-music group known for its innovative programming.

The theme takes us back to Paris in the 1920s and ’30s, a time when the world’s most creative composers and artists and writers were gathered in that city and changing the world. The music of that era was particularly memorable, and Musicians of Ma'alwyck will be performing both popular and classical tunes of the period.

And there will be dancing. You’ll be dancing, no doubt, and you’ll be among professional dancers from the Fred Astaire Dance Studio in Latham. You’re paying $130 per ticket, which gets you not only the music (and dancing) and food and wine – and a custom beer by brewmaster George de Piro – but also live and silent auction items to which, I’ll confess, I contributed.

You won’t get to dance with me, but you will be able to join me on a review visit to an Albany-area restaurant in the near future. And that right there is worth the price of admission (because I can’t imagine the thing will get bid very high).

Go to this web page, choose steak or salmon or chicken piccata or the veggie thing, and book your place. And here’s why you really should think about going there to dance.

When, as a teenager, I discovered that movies were far more real than the life around me, one of the most appealing subsets was the musical. What Gene Kelly and Fred Astaire did – not to mention Ray Bolger and Eleanor Powell and James Cagney and the Nicholas Brothers – was breathtaking. I needed to tap dance.

I signed up for a course while in my first (and only) year at SUNY at Purchase. It was taught by a senior named Scott, whose passion made him seem frightening at times. I was the only male in the class. I was the only non-dancer. I was surrounded by bunheads – ballet students who needed an extra credit. So it was I alone who was discovering how much work goes into making repetitive but necessary motions at the barre.

“Shuffle! Step! Ball change! Slap! NO!! No, no, no! Can’t you SEE what I’m DOING here!?” And Scott would exaggerate the moves with exasperated sighs we’d try it all over again. The bunheads got it. They could do it – just didn’t seem to want to. I, on the other hand, was struggling, sweating, trying like hell not to look like an even bigger fool than that which I know I looked.

What spelled my doom was a class during which Scott topped himself with exasperation. “STOP!” he shouted, and ran to my side. He was a good foot shorter than my six-feet-four, but he nevertheless threw an arm over my shoulder and shouted, “See? Do you see this man? HE’S not a dancer. You KNOW he’s not a dancer. BUT HE’S TRYING, which is more than YOU’RE doing!!”

Up until then I’d been ignored. Now, I feared, I was hated. I stopped showing up. But I still remember how to do a waltz clog.

I don’t count the musicals I’ve performed in, because the choreographer instantly spots my lack of talent, puts me somewhere way in the back, and gives me what I term the “fat guy steps,” usually a simple box step with a few rhythmic arm gestures in support.

So my next shot at the dance floor was inadvertent, the result of a visit to some friends in the Minneapolis area a couple of decades ago. “You have to go dancing with Jane on Wednesday,” I was told by her husband, Steve. “We’ve signed up for these weekly classes, and I can’t make it to this one.”

Thus it was that I squired Jane into the gymnasium-like studio in which those ballroom-dancing lessons took place, feeling like a lummox amidst the many couples who’d been at those classes for (I think it was) four weeks by then. She guided me into place, quickly showed me how I should stand, where I should place my hands, how we should move – and I took heart from the realization that those previous three weeks must have been rock-bottom-beginner stuff. I held my own. We did fairly well. My undoing came halfway through the session.

I’d noticed the line of pathetic-looking guys against a wall. “They come here to try to dance with someone,” Jane explained. “I feel worry for them, so I’m going to dance with one or two of them.”

They looked even more pathetic in motion. Which was when I realized that there, but for a slightly higher degree of self-awareness, an awareness that otherwise kept me away from places like this – there I could have been standing, waiting for my chance to make physical contact with a girl.

And I kept myself away from such places. Until a few years ago, when a friend who’d begun taking tango classes insisted I take a trial class at the studio where she was studying. “I get a discount on my next class if you just show up for a sample session,” she explained.

This was when I discovered that I was one of the finest practitioners of Terpsichore’s art. I was Nijinsky and Ted Shawn and Bill Robinson rolled into one. Or so crooned the lively, lovely Russian woman who waltzed (and fox-trotted and tangoed) me across the floor. It turned out that I was expected to pay a small fee for this session, but I was actually paying for three. So when that first lesson ended, my incredibly seductive partner insisted that she couldn’t wait to see me again, could I please return soon, and by the way: I’d save a fortune of I just went ahead and signed up (and paid for) a few months’ worth of classes now.

I demurred. I’d never be very good at it, I confessed. Oh, but I already was! In fact – and here she turned it over to one of the guys who ran the place, who decided he had an even better deal to offer. Reminding me of being trapped at a time-share hard-sell session many years before, during which my wife and I (who were only after a free dinner they’d dangled) were moved from salesman to salesman until we ended up in a back room with a sweaty guy in shirtsleeves who snarled, “All right. What’s your bottom line? What can you afford to pay per month?”

Susan thought for a moment and said, “Twenty dollars.” He threw us out. We got out dinner vouchers, but ended up at the restaurant the sales force frequented, and thus got to hear them piss and moan about people like us.

So no extended dance lessons for me. In fact, I didn’t even return for the rest of the introductory sessions I’d paid for. There are other men who need to make physical contact with leotard-clad girls more badly than I do.

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