Dance Lessons

By Rose Ann Sinay

Dance Lessons

When I was ten, my mother signed me up for ballroom dancing. It wasn’t because I was graceful or loved to dance. She signed me up because it was free. Living on the American military base in Japan had perks for its service families. There were activities for almost every interest, offered for the price of the supplies. I had taken oil painting, origami, etiquette and poise, flower arranging, and Japanese language lessons – all before puberty.

“You should learn to dance,” my mother said when I resisted yet another class. “Everyone should know how to waltz. I’ll make you a ballroom dress.” She pulled out her patterns. The dress was in the works; it was a done deal.

I was dropped off at the recreation center gym. It was filled with an assortment of boys and girls of all ages and sizes. I immediately scanned the room for the shortest boy. Being height deficient myself, I knew that’s who I would be paired with.

As soon as I saw Melvin, I knew he would be mine. His name tag, printed in bold black letters, was pinned to his shirt at an awkward angle. His hair was sculpted straight up with the same butch wax my father used on his crew cut. The Coke bottle lenses, set inside black frames, magnified his blue eyes twice their size. As the heavy glasses slid down his nose, his ever-ready index finger continually pushed them back into place. He was as thin as I was chubby and about four inches shorter.

Shorty, I decided, left a lot to be desired.

We stood toe to toe staring unhappily at each other.

“Girls have cooties,” he said without preamble.

“Boys are stupid,” I replied glaring down at him.

We watched without interest as the older boy/girl assistants demonstrated arm placement and dance steps.

“Positions,” Mrs. Martin, our teacher, demanded as she placed Shorty’s hand on my back. She then forced our warm, sweaty hands together. I cringed. He looked like he was going to throw up.

We stood as if suspended by wires, waiting for the music to start, wanting it to be over.

“Ready,” she announced as strains of the “Viennese Waltz” filled the room. “Gentlemen – forward, 1-2-3, 1-2-3.”

Shorty and I struggled for a moment when I tried to take the lead, both of us stepping forward. We bumped faces – my chin to his forehead. His porcupine hair poked me in the eye.

I’m the gentleman,” Shorty roared.

“Okay, okay,” I said, surprised at the timbre of his voice. I blanched at a disapproving look from a teenaged assistant.

We followed instructions, going through the motions with surprisingly few hitches and absolutely no talking. When our lesson was over, we both ran for the door without so much as a good bye.

I practiced the dance steps in my room with the radio turned down low and the door locked so as not to invite curious eyes. I suspected Shorty did the same because each week we improved, though we both pretended not to notice. In fact, Melvin was just short of amazing, gliding through the steps, leading me confidently over the dance floor.

Of course, there would be a finale. Mrs. Martin watched everyone with an eagle eye to determine which couples would participate in each competition: foxtrot, rumba, waltz and cha-cha. We were chosen to compete in the cha-cha. Melvin was elated; I was not so sure – his idea of the dance was a little more rhythmically enthusiastic than mine.

“You have to step it up,” he ordered as we practiced the quick footed number.

I went into overdrive. I could not have the little twerp show me up. I practiced in the morning before school and after dinner every night. I would be ready.

The day of the competition arrived. The ballroom dress, a yellow, dotted-swiss creation, was ready, and my hair awaited a last minute comb out from the dozens of bobby pinned curls.

When I found my partner amidst the crowd of parents and siblings, he was dressed in a navy blue suit and shiny black shoes. His hair was neatly parted and slicked to the side. We sat in grey folding chairs watching the dancers, applauding the winners and waiting for our division to be called.

Finally, it was our turn. We took our place amongst our competitors. Melvin looked up into my eyes with his huge, fuzzy, baby blues and said, “Good Luck, Rose Ann.” It was the first I’d heard him say my name.

“Thanks. You’re a good dancer,” I replied shyly. We both smiled, checked our stance and took our first step. The rest of the dance was a synchronized blur of movement. When the music stopped, people were standing, applauding. It took a minute for us to realize that we had won.

“You were wonderful,” Mrs. Martin gushed. Melvin’s glasses were dangerously perched on the tip of his nose, as she gave us each a big hug.

I never saw Melvin again. Our fifteen minutes of dancing fame had been reduced to a small metal trophy and a wonderful memory. I’ve wondered from time to time if Melvin grew to be tall, if he discovered contact lenses and if he continued dancing. It would be a shame if he didn’t…continue dancing, that is.

As for me, my mother was wrong, I never did need to waltz, or foxtrot or rumba. Instead I learned the pony, the bump and the electric slide, and slow dancing meant swaying cheek to cheek with my latest crush.

But every once in a while, when I hear a Latin melody, I close my eyes, and do a sassy quick step. For just a moment, I’m ten again. It’s me and Melvin…2 – 3 cha-cha-cha.

About this writer

  • Rose Ann Sinay Rose Ann Sinay is a freelance writer typing away in sunny North Carolina. Her articles/stories have been published in The Carolinas Today, The Oddville Press and The Brunswick Beacon.

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16 Responses to “Dance Lessons”

  1. Betsy Bergstrom says:

    What a great funny story. I love reading your articles every month. We were in Japan in 1955-1958. My sister was 10.

    • Rose Ann says:

      Isn’t it great to have experiences in another country? Brings back unique memories. Thanks for reading Sasee and commenting on my piece!

  2. Tammy Rohlf says:

    What a lovely story! Once again you brought it to life for your readers.

  3. Colleen Wenthen says:

    You have done it again! Those awkward years suddenly coming to life again, but now we can look back and smile. Bravo!

  4. Arnette Stewart says:

    Very nice story. Brings a lot of memories and people to mind.

    • Rose Ann says:

      It’s fun to take a stroll down memory lane. Those little things that are funny now were all consuming back then! Thanks for reading and commenting!

  5. Your best line has to be “I’m the gentleman,” Shorty roared.” Who can read that and not smile? :)

  6. Diane Quackenbush says:

    What a wonderful story, once again you brought tears to my eyes with memories from long ago.. Thank you

  7. Kailey Konow says:

    “She then forced our warm, sweaty hands together. I cringed. He looked like he was going to throw up.” … I could totally relate to this! Felt like my first dance with a (stupid) boy. Now I know where my dance skills come from… Great story!!

  8. Janet Marmura says:

    I can relate oh so well to that first dance with a boy and the sweaty hands. I can still hear my Mom saying, “You should learn to……” In my case it was having every one of the us (all seven) play a musical instrument.

    • Rose Ann says:

      Janet . . . so you really know how I felt! I can’t imagine throwing a musical instrument into the mix–never mind seven! Thank you for reading and for commenting!!

  9. Rose Ann says:

    Kailey, glad it brought back memories. . . it is always so much funnier when you look back on it!

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