Instructions for Dancing(10)

Except for when she says it, it sounds like You are eeenterested in zee waltz, I zee. Her accent is vaguely Eastern European and very heavy.

“What? No,” I say, putting the pamphlets down. I open my backpack and take out the Instructions for Dancing book. “I just came to return this,” I say. “It says to return it to this address.”

She takes it from me and flips through it for exactly two seconds before tossing it to the side. “Come, Saturday morning is perfect time for you to come in. Best waltzing class in history of world is about to begin.”

She takes off down the hallway.

“Wait,” I say. “I can’t just leave my bike here.”

She opens a door with a sign that reads Studio 5 and tells me it’ll be okay in there.

Once I’m done stashing my bike, we walk down the hall to another studio. She holds the door open for me. When I hesitate, she stomps one foot. “You want to learn or no?”

In my head, I hear Martin imploring me to keep an open mind. I remind myself that the reason I’m here is to figure out what’s happening to me and that this is the only clue I have.

“Yes, I want to learn,” I say, and go inside.

The studio is a wide-open space with hardwood floors, barres for stretching and floor-to-ceiling mirrors. Twenty or so people are standing in pairs next to the windows in the back of the room.

“These are clients,” says the woman. “Most of them have wedding coming up and need waltz for first dance.”

Almost all of the couples are in their late twenties and early thirties. I spy a few engagement rings. Some of them seem eager and others seem nervous. I hope I don’t see any of them kissing.

The woman turns to me. “But where is special friend? Cannot ballroom dance alone.”

“I don’t have a special friend,” I say.

“Why not?”

Is she really asking me about my love life right now? Mercifully, the older Black couple I saw on the website last night walks into the room. Exploding firecracker woman shifts her attention to them, and I’m saved from having to explain why I don’t have a special friend.

“Welcome to La Brea Dance,” says the older woman, Maggie.

In my entire life, I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone so regal. She looks like she’s just assumed the throne of a small but powerful Caribbean island nation. She has thick gray dreads that are piled high on her head, with a few strands framing her bright brown face. Her ball gown is high-necked and pale blue and made from sequined lace, tulle and (I’m pretty sure) the diaphanous wings of actual fairies.

Her husband, Archibald, is tall and thin, with a bald head and a salt-and-pepper mustache. He’s wearing a white tux with white suspenders and a bow tie that matches Maggie’s dress perfectly. He’s so dapper, I’m pretty sure he’s the reason the word dapper was invented.

He claps his hands together. “Today you’ll be learning both the regular English waltz, which is slow and boring, and the faster Viennese waltz, which is much more interesting.”

“Don’t be nervous,” Maggie says. “Nobody ever died waltzing.”

“Although there was a time they were persecuted for it,” Archibald adds.

He goes on to give us a small history lesson. He tells us that the waltz is the oldest of the ballroom dances, that it began as a peasant dance in Vienna in the seventeenth century and that the name is from the old German word walzen, which means “to turn or glide.”

Then he tucks his hands into his pockets and rocks back on his heels. I can tell the next part is his favorite from the way his eyes twinkle madly. “Everyone hated the waltz when it was first introduced to high society. Religious leaders thought it was vulgar and sinful,” he says, and points at Maggie’s dress. “Because the women wore ball gowns when they danced, they had to hold one corner off the ground so they wouldn’t trip. Can anyone guess why this was a problem?” he asks.

No one can, so he answers his own question. “The problem is ankles,” he says. “Sexy, sexy ankles.”

Maggie picks up a corner of her gown and wiggles her foot. Everyone laughs.

He tells us that when the waltz arrived in England, one English newspaper thought it was so “obscene” that it printed an editorial warning parents against exposing their daughters to “so fatal a contagion.”

He smiles. “Isn’t it funny how time changes everything?” he asks.

Maggie walks over to the record player and moves the needle to the record. Archibald dims the lights. “Fallin’?” by Alicia Keys starts playing and they begin to dance.

I’ve seen ballroom dance shows on TV before, but that doesn’t compare to the romance and drama of seeing it in real life. It’s not like they’re telling a story with their bodies, more like they’re dancing an emotion. When they get to the Viennese waltz, it’s like they’re skipping through air. They dance by me, and Maggie’s ball gown makes a small tornado at my feet.

I’m enchanted. Everyone is. Some of the couples move closer to each other, caught up in the magic of them. As the song ends, he spins her one last time and bends her into a dip. The room sighs into quiet for a few seconds and then explodes with applause.

I’m clapping too, but mostly I’m watching them. I don’t think they’ve noticed the applause. I don’t think they’ve noticed anything but each other. They’re still holding the dip, his hand on her back, her arm on his shoulder. They’re breathing hard and gazing at each other with so much love, it’s almost too bright to look at. A few more seconds pass before they turn into a bow. We all cheer so loud, you’d think someone sank a game-winning three-pointer instead of just ending a waltz.

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