Today, I find myself in an all too familiar place. At age 68, I am back on the dating scene trying to find a woman with whom to share parts of our lives. The first time this happened was also an eye-opening experience. By August of 2011, my marriage had been dissolved for many months. In an effort to find more regular female companionship, I began attending singles dances for the first time since 1966. Below, I have written about my extraordinary experience with dance.
The Saturday night singles dance at the Legion Hall went swell. More than 170 singles were there to dance, laugh, share company and have a good time. I entered nervously and left at the very end of the dance feeling great, happy, connected with life again. Immediately after the dance, I did just a bit of on-line research and found other singles dances in London and surrounding towns. I made careful notes of all of them, determined to have that same, rewarding, feel-like-a-man experience again.
Tonight, I went to another club, another dance. Upon my arrival in the parking lot something told me that this dance would be different than the last one. Parking spaces were readily available about ten minutes after the dance had been scheduled to begin. I saw an astonishingly lovely young woman getting out of her car and heading for the door, just as I too was heading for the door. Thinking that she might either be connected with the club itself, or perhaps be a regular at the dance, I asked her if she could confirm that there was indeed a singles dance being held in the club that night. She said that yes there was such a dance and that more dancers were likely to arrive within an hour or so.
I’m giving lots of different things a chance these days, so I decided to forge ahead, thinking that there was little to be lost in the venture and the potential for gain was great enough. I paid my money at the door, went to the bar for a beer, took the beer to a table and sat down.
The club itself, was better than the legion hall had been. This club, the Dutch-Canadian Club, seemed larger in space, there was better mood lighting, it had better air conditioning, it even had a large, sunken dance floor, with balcony-like seating on three sides of the floor. It was nice. People were filtering in slowly, not exactly filling the place, but adding to the numbers substantially.
As I watched from the periphery, I noticed that the couples dancing were good, accomplished dancers. They were a pleasure to watch as they moved with stately grace and precision to the music. I thought it was beautiful, but hoped that some less formal types of dancers might soon appear and let me and my style of dance blend in with the untrained rabble. There were some pretty women there and I was looking forward to dancing with several of them, but not then, not while the adept dancers swept so gracefully around the dance floor. No. My dance style would have to wait, so that I might blend into the relative safety of anonymity within a crowded dance floor.
Finally, the DJ put on what I thought was a fairly standard, slow dance. There was a group of three lovely ladies sitting just a few tables away from me. I gathered my courage, stepped boldly forward and asked in an embarrassingly awkward style if one of them might favour me with a dance. My timing could not have been worse. It appeared that the woman I had intended to ask to dance was either having her palm read or she might have been explaining an injury to one of the other women, but I just carelessly interrupted their conversation to spill some blathering words upon them which they finally understood to be an invitation to dance. Meeting my clumsiness with social charity, the woman I had asked to dance stood in a semi-bewildered fashion and accompanied me to the dance floor, whereupon we began to dance. Modesty precludes me from describing this woman’s beauty, well modesty, and the fact that I had just asked this woman, whom I had never met before, to dance, right there, in front of her husband!
Okay. Singles dances sometimes go this way. Couples arrive together, even married couples, but dancers mix with other dancers and have a good time – no problem. Though they may be married, they mix freely. Agnes, my first partner, carefully guided me to an ever-so-slightly higher level of understanding of the dance we were doing and offered me the sage advice that we would be better to stick to the middle of the dance floor so as not to impede the swirling couples’ movements. We finished a series of dances and I escorted her back to her table, humbled by my ineptitude and humiliated by my unwitting presumption.
The problem of my being the outsider remained. I didn’t really fit in anywhere that seemed comfortable. I felt like I had been plunked into a pool with a snorkel and face mask while a synchronized swimming event was in progress. You know, the pool might be for everyone, but the guy with the frogman mask and snorkel is distracting. His ungainly presence in the pool interferes with the otherwise symmetrical beauty of the synchronized performance.
So there I sat, in my face mask and snorkel, sipping my beer, watching the beauty, the grace, the pageantry of the dance. An old woman, I took to be in her mid-eighties, was slowly making her way down the walkway, I presumed she was heading for the restrooms beyond me. But she stopped and asked me to dance! Startled by her unanticipated invitation, I awkwardly blustered out a few semi-incoherent words, smiled and accompanied her to the dance floor where we danced several dances. Though I tried, not quite desperately, to excuse myself dance after dance, Helga, as I came to know her, was adamant that we stay and dance! She was really quite a sweet woman, but I’d already felt foolish just being among these dancers, when the rhythms changed and a new dance was required, all I had in my repertoire was the standard school-gym shuffle. It didn’t seem to matter to Helga, who kindly kept assuring me that it didn’t matter. I may have been projecting this upon her, but I definitely had the feeling that Helga was simply enjoying being held in the arms of a man. That I could do. She was right. My dancing style didn’t matter for that.
Finally, I was allowed to escort Helga back to her seat and return to my isolated position. As I sat there wondering what I should do next, the finely dressed woman I had spoken with in the parking lot approached me and sat down. She brought with her a sheet of paper that told of dance lessons that might be had, just in case I might be interested. As we were discussing the idea of lessons, I gestured to the dance floor, but when my hand returned to the table, I knocked over my glass, sending several ounces of beer flooding across the table in her direction and covering her proffered sheet with beer in the process. Then there was this small lake of beer on the table between us. Fearing that the puddle might continue to spread in her direction, I jumped from my seat to get something to stop the flow. I went immediately to a nearby table and, seeing a stack of napkins, asked if I might use them. The couple I asked, not knowing what was going on, failed to respond positively with any speed, so I quickly abandoned that effort and strode swiftly to the bar where I found a roll of paper towels. I tore off enough paper towelling to absorb the main body of beer and walked quickly back to the site of the spill. Could it get any more awkward for me?
After all that frenetic activity, the woman and I completed our discussion, she left and went back to her friends. Dance after dance happened. The dancers just kept changing with the rhythms of the music, doing dances I don’t even have the words to describe. A Grand Viennese Waltz, a Foxtrot, a Cha-Cha, a Mambo – you know, real dances. Helga was eyeing me from the distance.
Finally, the dance instructor, herself, was asked to dance. She accompanied her partner to the floor. I have no idea what the name of the dance they performed might have been, but this couple were as far above the others in dance mastery as the others were above me. I watched in awe as the teacher and her partner took dance to a level of calm grace and expression that just made me want to weep, it was so beautiful! While other dancers were adeptly keeping time to the music, matching step-for-beat, step-for-beat, the teacher and her partner had instantly gone beyond matching movement to beat and interpreted the dance at half-pace and not being too fussy about it either. Their dance movements were clearly connected to the rhythm of the dance but it seemed more like the rhythm informed their movements rather than dictated their movements. The result was a vision of profound tenderness and languorous sensuality, expressed within mature reserve. It was serene in its pace, yet flowing, like a sheer window curtain moves as it is gently blown into a room by soft, summer breezes in the pale, silver moonlight. God it was beautiful!
Back when I was an art teacher, I would occasionally draw with my students or show them a work that I had done. I was always surprised and dismayed when I’d hear a kid say, “Well, that’s it! I’m giving up art right now!” I know that it was a comment intended to be the ultimate compliment on the student’s perception of my art work as being fine beyond his imagining. But I would invariably tell them that this level of work was within their ability, and encouraged them to keep working on developing their skills.
I must admit to having had similar feelings when I saw the teacher dance. She was completely attuned to every nuance of gesture and movement as it related to the music, as it related to her partner. I even felt that she had somehow expanded her relational sphere beyond the dance floor out to where I sat watching. She seemed to be able to incorporate my watching into her dance. She had included me as observer. All in dance!
It was incredibly powerful.
Shortly after that, the teacher returned to my table with a fresh sheet of paper to replace the sheet that had been destroyed by beer, and encouraged me to consider taking lessons. But here’s the part that’s got me thinking I won’t take lessons. Honestly speaking, I wanted to go to singles dances to make contact, to connect with women in a way that had been absent from my life for many years. I was like the male version of Helga. I just wanted to hold a woman, to feel a woman in my arms, to hold a woman who wanted to be held in my arms. I respect how powerful a means of expression dance is, and the men who can really dance are highly sought after as dance partners, but in the right venue, so are schleps like me. Tonight’s dance was a sight to behold, but I was more interested in holding, not beholding, and my skills were just not up to standard in this crowd.
I didn’t stay to the end of the dance like I had at the Legion on Saturday night. In fact, I spent only about 90 minutes at the Dutch-Canadian Club. Those 90 minutes were for me a melange of awe and awkwardness – humbling, humiliating experiences and witnessing fierce beauty unlike anything I’ve ever seen. I felt like trailer trash mistakenly invited to (and attending) a gala party of elegant Hollywood stars. There was just no future for me in that place at that time. I gathered my things and left, stopping only briefly to inform Helga that I was leaving and telling her that I had appreciated the opportunity of dancing with her. I may not be a ballroom dancer, but I try to be a gentleman at all times.
So much to learn. So much to learn.