Dancing is big in Europe, and ball room dancing is something every kid attending a German grammar school usually learns at age 14 or 15 by attending a local dance school. I did, too, and enjoyed it that hugely that I taught my younger brother how to waltz, do the foxtrot, the blues, the cha-cha, and the rumba. Later I even joined a group, besides singing traditional songs and having each member play an instrument, performed traditional German folk dances, but also historical ones such as minuets and quadrilles.
American square dances were on the agenda as well. When my life took a busier route, I gave up on that group. But I still made time enough to go to a ballroom dance school twice a week in my home town. Apparently, I wasn’t that bad either, as I constantly had to demonstrate the ladies’ footwork, and I was even asked to be a guest dancer for some other classes. In other words, though I was never as good as the pros, I was passionate about moving to the sound of music with more than just “shaking it”.
Being able to dance should come in quite handy even businesswise. The very first company I worked for always had ballroom dance music at their annual Christmas parties. And later business partners threw parties with a mix of ballroom dance and disco music. The trouble with the latter, as with most of such occasions anywhere: The men were none too keen to dance.
So, when I found that my American husband-to-be, who’d never had any dancing lessons, showed no aversion against moving his legs, I was thrilled. The very first time we listened to danceable music at his home, he simply offered me his hand, drew me towards him wordlessly, and off we stepped as if we’d been rehearsing for ages. Nothing complex, but simply in sync.
When we finally had our joint household here in Washington, I found that my husband hadn’t used dancing as a courting hook, but really enjoyed it. So, I suggested signing us up for ballroom dance lessons. I thought it would be easy. It was not.
The only school that taught ballroom dancing in the whole of nearby Tacoma was quite out of the way; during rush hour it would have taken us up to an hour to be there on time for classes. I checked with our local Community Center: Their classes had just been cancelled – only three other people had signed up. Finally, luck turned our way. Pierce College – sort of just around the corner from home – was offering ballroom dancing, and I signed us up. It would take only six evenings, and I was quite excited.
The first class started one early October night with only ten dancers, all of them in their fifties, except us who were younger by ten years then. Where were all the young people? Where were the military who have their big annual balls? Where were the high school students who were preparing for their senior proms? So many movie romances end with a ballroom scene –where were all the people who were supposed to dance at weddings, anniversaries, and Valentine’s Day in real life?!
The dancing teachers were … ancient. But they were also exceedingly elegant, incredibly sprightly, and relentless in their teaching regime. What I had learnt in one and a half years at a German ballroom dance school, was squeezed into six nights here. The teaching method was different. I found I grew clumsier by the minute, trying hard not to step onto my husband’s toes. I felt out of sync. I was supposed to touch no more than his shoulder and his hand during standard dances, whereas in Europe dancers’ bodies touch each other in a way you could clamp a sheet of paper between them. Unless you’re dancing a Latin American dance, of course. Dance step sequences were hailing down on us within each hour and a half. It was tough to concentrate and to get everything right so quickly. Others in our class felt the same. Dancing was not really the fun it should have been.
Maybe that’s why so few young people attend ballroom dance lessons here. Maybe that’s why freestyle dancing is still growing in popularity, whereas dance schools in Europe, especially in Germany, are doing really well.
My husband and I still dance every once in a while. We just do our little routine, bodies touching, no ballroom steps. But it is fun – and very much in sync.