Tuesday, 23 April 2013
Dancing Outside the Barn
It was a sweaty June night in 2007 and we were milking cows. My coveralls stuck to my body in places I’d rather not describe, and I knew my face was the colour of an overripe tomato. D likes to think of doing chores on weekends as “date night.” In the summer, I tend to think of it as “hate night.
As I lurched over the gutter to grab some tit dip, I caught sight of D shuffling down the walkway in a rhythmic step, his eyes glazed over in concentration. He was wearing steel-toed boots and poop-stained summer coveralls, unzipped just enough to allow a downy tuft of chest hair to peek out. His hair was a curly mess from the humidity. He wore turquoise latex gloves on his hands, which were raised to hold the waist and hand of an imaginary partner as he swayed across the manure-encrusted floor.
I realized my husband was salsa dancing, probably practising the steps we’d learned in our dance class a few nights previously. As sweat dripped down my nose and a cow defecated directly behind me, I also realized that I found him dead sexy.
D is a wonderful blend of practical gentleman and unselfconscious goofball. He comes across as a serious, almost courtly fellow: he opens doors for people, urges others go to ahead of him in line and loves to talk about finances and career trajectories. Yet underneath his stolid exterior lurks the heart of a child, a soul that hasn’t lost its capacity for joy in simple, sometimes silly things. I adore his enthusiasm for tractors, motorbikes, hockey and his parents’ dairy barn. Most of all, I adore the way he dances.
D and I first met briefly at The Flying Dog, a club in Waterloo that features Latin Night with free salsa dance classes. I was there with my friend Sinda, who was feeding a burgeoning obsession with ballroom dancing. I don’t actually remember meeting D that night; I danced with his colleague, not him. Apparently I shook his hand though. So much for first impressions.
My first clear memory of D came months later when we were thrown together again by chance at a salsa dancing class in the bowels of the University of Waterloo’s student life centre. Sinda was pondering the idea of becoming a dance instructor, and she needed me to be her “girl” so she could learn how to lead. So there I was, floundering around a beige, windowless hallway to the beat of Latin music with a dozen other salsa misfits, including D.
Nothing romantic happened during those awkward, fumbly lessons (unless you count the time he accidentally grabbed my boob). I thought the neatly dressed, lanky, soft-spoken guy I partnered with from time to time seemed sweet and sincere, unlike the icky lechers I’d run into at The Dog. I liked the way his big smile sprang out of nowhere and how patient he was when I messed up a move. But I was married at the time, and though I knew my marriage was navigating rocky waters, I wasn’t ready to jump ship just yet. So dance lessons were just a favour to Sinda, a good distraction from my troubles at home. And D was just a nice guy I danced with once a week.
A year later, after my marriage had exploded in a burst of soap opera shrapnel, I was most definitely single. Emotionally bruised, full of doubt and anxiety, underweight and utterly sure I was going to be alone for the rest of my life, but available. I was a real catch.
Enter Sinda, still a ballroom dance addict and ever-faithful friend.
“Let’s go dancing,” she suggested one afternoon at work as I was moping in my cubicle.
“Ugh,” I said. “No way.”
“Oh come on, you should get out. Why don’t you email that guy from Christina’s salsa class? He seemed pretty keen - remember he asked us to call him if we ever went to The Dog to practice?”
To this day, I have no idea what made me agree to Sinda’s scheme. I wasn’t feeling ready to venture outside the house, let alone attempt to dance with a guy, no matter how nice or keen he was. Sinda had amazing powers of persuasion, I guess. I sent D an email and he sent back a pleasant, witty reply (which I still have). We met the next night, just the two of us, Sinda’s daughter having conveniently come down with a cold.
When D led me to the dance floor, I was shocked to see his hips move like Ricky Martin’s. His lead was sure and strong, and his steps were fluid. Gone was the awkward windmilling of arms and legs I’d experienced back in the hallway at the university.
“Oh, I’ve been taking lessons,” D said casually, and spun me around like he’d been salsa dancing his entire life.
We’ve been dancing ever since. Our Thursday night salsa dates continued, and we took weekly lessons in a lady’s basement while we lived in Waterloo. We even organized a group dance lesson for everyone who came to our engagement party; the dance teacher choreographed a crazy cha-cha number for us and twelve friends, which we all proceeded to massacre at the wedding reception. At least it entertained the guests.
Once D and I moved to the Bruce, opportunities to dance weren’t as readily available as they’d been in the city. We had to get a bit more creative whenever we felt the need to get our boogie on, such as tipsy two-stepping at stag n’ does in Ripley or a singles ballroom dance party in Goderich. We’ve gone to swing dances at the pavilion, the Legion to hear the Glen Boyd Orchestra (featuring D’s uncle on saxophone) and even danced to the Glen Miller Orchestra when they came to Owen Sound. We’re usually the youngest couple on the floor when we go to these events, but it doesn’t matter, because the music is always excellent and swirling around the floor together makes us both happy.
One dance at the Pavilion stands out in my mind. As D and I swayed to Moon River, we noticed an older couple dancing near us. They’d been up for nearly every song, even though they had to be in their late seventies or even early eighties. He wore a wine-coloured shirt under his suit jacket, and she wore a slim leather belt of the same colour around her blouse. They giggled and hugged each other after every dance. They weren’t always on the beat, and they seemed to repeat the same pattern of steps regardless of the music, but you could tell they’d been dancing together for years. The pure joy in their eyes made me smile. I wanted that to be our future.
Dancing with someone is an intimate thing, because every person has their own rhythm, their own style and pace. It can be downright ugly if you’re not in tune with your partner, or vice versa. When you dance with someone and your bodies connect, well...it can take you out of your head completely and into a purely sensual experience, where music and touch and movement are the only things that matter. That’s how it is with D and me, when we dance. Sometimes, anyway. We’ve had our share of horrible missteps and embarrassing moves; times where we’ve laughed at the other person’s clumsiness, times where we’ve thrown up our hands in frustration at our partner’s inability to get it right. It’s sort of like marriage.
And, like our marriage, we’ll keep practising our steps, even if most of our dance parties these days take place in the kitchen instead of a dark club and involve squealing children in pyjamas instead of sultry singles in strapless dresses. And you know what? Whether it’s in the barn, the Legion or our living room, I plan to dance with D for as many years as our legs will let us. I want to be like that couple in the wine-coloured outfits at the Pavilion: maybe our moves will be old-fashioned and a little out of synch, but we’re going to be on the floor for every dance as long as the music’s playing, with goofy smiles on our faces.