(This is another special posting by Suzy. I hope you enjoy it.)
Many people like to go out for dinner and dancing. Especially when they are single and looking for a companion or after the children have grown and they enter into that much more desirable and relaxed form of dating. In my childhood I thought dancing was wonderful and that everyone knew how to do it. My great-grandfather, Pop, would dance me around my grandmother’s living room and out to the sun porch. A sun porch was a common feature of a row house in the early half of the 1900s. It opened almost fully onto the parlor or living room. It had at least one wall full of windows that allowed for solar heating in the winter and more air flow in the warm months. Grandmom’s had a sofa above which hung a very faded tapestry on one wall and a straight chair by the front door. The radiators under the window were hidden by the white boxes that had rattan fronts and pots of sansevieria on top. Oh, yes, a sun porch also served as a foyer. The limited amount of furniture made for a lot of space to play and dance. Pop liked to waltz. His wife’s brothers had had a dance band that played at the spas along the Rhine River in Germany. Everyone said that Pop and Mom Kate were great dancers. The brothers would play the waltzes of the late 1800s and the couples would twirl around and around. As the children came, then the grandchildren, and finally me, a great-grandchild, Pop would dance and teach everyone just how to do it. I last saw Pop when I was six. For us dancing was still a game. Moma said that as she approached the dating years he became more exacting. She loved dancing, so he must have been rigorous rather than harsh.
When we would visit with my great-Aunt Emilie she would dance with me through her living room and into her foyer. I was very small, and Aunt Emilie wasn’t much taller standing at 4’10”. Her house wasn’t very large. We had to stop as I reached upper elementary school. There was no longer enough room to move between and around the furniture. Just like Pop, her love of dancing was lifelong. When my brother, Jim, married Pat, Aunt Emilie danced and danced. She was well into her 80s then.
My parents were dancers as well. Being of the World War II generation their tastes were more for Foxtrots and Swings. B.K. (before kids) they danced frequently. With each of our arrivals, time and discretionary spending became more restricted and the amount of dancing lessened. Mom would fall into cascades of giggles when she told the tale of going to a Squadron Party early in the World War II years. Stockings were rationed, so she and her friends would use iodine to color their legs. She was a nurse and the iodine was easy to obtain. Dad, being a Navy Lieutenant, was in Summer Whites. When they were doing a Swing, he would slip her between his legs, pull her back, and toss her up. As the evening progressed a brown stain began to appear on the legs of his whites and her “stockings” gradually disappeared. The whites were ruined but the memory tickled her the rest of her days.
As I approached dating years dance was becoming less of a partner thing and more of a rhythmic movement relatively near your partner. There were still some “slow” dances, but they were primarily “swing and sway” in time to the music. My dating years saw the advent of the twist, shrug, mashed potato, pony . . . It was the 60s scene.
Walt, my life’s love and partner otherwise known as husband, had played instruments in bands throughout his school years. Most were marching bands, with the occasional concert band thrown in for variety. The Marching Band at the University of Delaware was renown for its half-time shows with lots of movement and “pictures” drawn on the field as the musicians marched to and fro. He has always loved music of all genres. Dating for us was mostly movies, a few plays and concerts, and lots of walking and letters. Neither of us had much money to spend on anything but school stuff. We joked about his summer job going from a regular work week to 80 hour work weeks after each Independence Day. That gave me time after my summer job to make my clothes for the next school year. He went to the University of Delaware. I went to Kutztown State College (now University). One didn’t spend overnights before marriage so weekends were absolutely out of the question. He graduated in January 1969 and began working for Burroughs, the same place that had given him so much summer overtime. I graduated Memorial Day weekend that year. We married in August. I began teaching after Labor Day. We were both working on our masters degrees. Soon we moved across country and began exploring the US in any spare time we had. Then our boys filled our days, and nights. The only times dancing entered the picture would be when I would dance infants around the house or the wedding of a friend. Walt didn’t want to dance. With each passing year and event he wanted to get on a dance floor less and less.
When we approached our 30th wedding anniversary Walt asked if I would like to go on a cruise to celebrate. He had never wanted to go on a cruise ship as he believed there would be nothing to do all day long. Did I mention he has a Type A personality? I truly wanted to go, but as it was his 30th wedding anniversary also and I didn’t want to make it too uncomfortable for him. The travel agent and I found a short trip: one week, leaving from NYC for 2 stops in Bermuda and back. Did I remember to mention that Walt didn’t want to go to any islands as they would be claustrophobic? We flew to NYC from Lansing, MI, and boarded the Norwegian Crown. She was a beautiful, older ship with lots of lovely mahogany trim. Our anniversary being in August there were still hurricanes playing up the Atlantic seaboard along the pathway from the Caribbean toward Bermuda, so the ship ride was more than just forward motion. I noticed on the daily news sheet that dance lessons were scheduled and told Walt that, with the waves tossing the ship the way they were, no one would ever know if he took a misstep on the dance floor so we should check out the lesson. Did I mention that Walt is a perfectionist and only wants to do things when he can do them correctly? We went to the lounge/theatre which had a retractable stage that uncovered a great wooden dance floor. Only later did we begin to appreciate how good it was. Everyone had the same challenge as we fought for a balance against the waves. The instructors did manage to get us all moving around line of dance in a basic slow Waltz. The second lesson was Foxtrot. The syncopation was more difficult, but the waves made that problematic.
Bermuda was perfectly lovely. Beautiful weather, beautiful people, beautiful plants, beautiful beaches. Walt found that relaxed vacations really are, well, beautiful.
The sea days on the way back were even more rocky than those on the way out. We renamed one class the “Tangle”, as that’s what we thought we resembled as the dance floor moved beneath our attempts at Tango. The dance lesson venue moved to the lounge on the top deck which only amplified the motion. Our last lesson was the Cha-Cha. Even the lady instructor was having trouble standing. I see her now in her tight, short skirt, very high latin dance heels and the backs of her knees quivering as she strained for balance. We learned one of the most important lessons about shipboard dancing: The more motion of the ocean the more one should opt for short-stepped, faster dances.
On the return flight to Lansing, Walt confessed that he had enjoyed the cruise ship. That an island, for a few days of vacation, was a charming place to be. AND that with a “few” dance lessons maybe he could conquer this activity. Dancing, like any other activity or sport can be addictive. We have now celebrated our 40th wedding anniversary with a return cruise to Bermuda. We have spent the last decade on various cruises, visiting several islands (and a couple continents), and learning to do ballroom dancing.
I could become very officious at this point and establish the health benefits of ballroom dance: improved coordination and balance being primary. Memory support as you learn new steps and patterns. Then, you could choose any activity and get that. It has also opened a world of friends and companionship that we would never have entered otherwise. Most important of all, we are having great fun together.
Walt’s last word:
Dancing helps shy folks get up and do what needs to be done.
Keep your sense of humor.