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Thursday, August 21, 2014

The Monday Afternoon Once A Month Dance Club


It was a terrible awful excruciatingly painful week of equally soul searing heart breaking I-can’t-take-any-more horrible headlines. I logged off my computer, spun down the dial on the radio in my car and headed out to get away from it all. Granted, I was an observer in the front row of the cheap seats, the not so close to my back yard stories, but no longer an impartial nor a partial observer at all. My heart hurt. From both the new and the old stories that have been with us for centuries, of poverty unvanquished, war unending, the inhuman treatment of our fellow man, torture, famine, drought...a virtual tsunami of bad news.

Anger and rage succumbed to the impotence of knowing how little I could do, or how to alter the landscape. To make a difference. I left the cursor blinking, the healing words I might possibly share to help heal you or me, a dreadful dearth of vowels and consonants. Besides, I was not even sure that I might be heard above all the rhetoric, the shouting, the finger pointing and the blame.
So, as some might say, Elvis has left the building. I have a few errands to run and truth be told, I am running away from home.

Or perhaps, towards it. All I know is that all I can hear is the hum of my tires on the pavement as I make my way across town.
I need to drop off a form at the Community Center for an upcoming event. It is a warm summer day, and surprisingly the parking lot is half full. Odd for a week day, especially as it is that limited space in August, when classes are back in session, all summer activities have come to an end, and the new Fall schedule has yet to begin. I step into the foyer and casually dismiss the card table set up with flowers and a sign up sheet. A young man is seated at the table, his flip flop crossed feet poking out underneath a perfect complement to his I-Am-So-Bored expression. I barely brush the shoulder of a woman, a tiny woman, dressed in her Sunday best, with a corsage pinned to her shoulder.
I am so deeply sunk into the funk of myself, that the music I hear floats past me overhead. I hand my envelope to the receptionist, but must pause as she is finishing up a call. I rap my fingernails on the wooden counter between us. I do not know how to rap, musically that is, but I become aware that indeed, I am rapping, lightly tapping in a rhythm to the beat of the music. Music coming from where? We trade my envelope for a receipt, exchange mindless pleasantness, and I turn away towards the door.

Then I hear it.

A band.

A Big Band.

From a bygone era, emanating from inside the gymnasium. The sunlight is bright in the foyer, but standing in the doorway to the gym, I can see that the interior is barely lit. Softly lit, the lights dimmed to a hush.

As my eyes adjust to the darkness, I see the tables. Informally set, but sitting at each, a person here, a person there. To my right a small card table, decorated in a pale paper tablecloth, with a punch bowl for a centerpiece and surrounded by pinkie handled cups. Just like the one my mother used on special occasions, for company, usually filled with ginger ale and lime sherbet floating on top.

Music. I know this music.

I am humming along and my fingers are wrapped around the door jamb, and I am keeping time. Keeping time to a different but a soothingly familiar time. A steady swaying soothing beat, emanating from the far wall of the gym. I expect to see a Dj or a record player, maybe a boom box, but instead there are five. Five red velvet podiums of various sizes, one in front of each musician. On each podium, the name of the band scrolled in gold lettering. And behind each one, live, right here right now, musicians, dressed in matching red velvet blazers and tuxedo pants, the black satin stripe down each side of the sharply pressed slacks, matching their cummerbunds, and the whiter than white cuffs of their ruffled shirts moving back and forth as they sway while they play. In unison, back and forth, the trumpets and the horns, back and forth.

Music. I know this band, or ones just like them, the Big Band guys, Jimmy Dorsey, Cab Calloway, Lawrence Welk. Harry James, Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, and Count Basie. I learned to dance to them, my little girl feet atop my father’s shiny shoes, whirling around on a Saturday night. Fast forward, in Junior High, Monday night, six lessons for six weeks, in the basement of our elementary school, when the boys wore white gloves, ‘cause their hands got kinda sweaty dancing in the embrace of a first crush, while we all stepped on each other’s toes, to the one-two-three one-two-three of the waltz playing on the record player in the corner. Partner dancing. Up close and personal, sweet and slow and steady swirling and twirling.

My toes are curled up tightly in my shoes, as I look down at the floor beneath my feet, parked on the red line that separates the foyer from the wooden gymnasium floor. I am transfixed. Afraid to move. I see them.

Couples. Couples dancing in the soft light. Ten, maybe, fifteen all together, moving in sync. Some show signs of flash. Quick steps and sharp turns. Twirling out and spinning back. Others are gently held, dancing delicately and lightly on their feet, gazing up at one another and smiling.
They are smiling. I am far far away, but I sense the light in their eyes and my eyes fill with tears. I am dressed in denim crop pants and old white gardening sneakers. I reach down and tuck my tattered t-shirt into my pants, as if to point out even more loudly that I am not suitably dressed.

For once again, as it has so often this week, my heart hurts.

Because I...

I want to dance.

I want to be someone’s partner and I want to be on the dance floor and I want to stand on someone’s shoes, or take someone’s hand and be transported to a simpler time, a gentler place so sweet in my memory standing here, that my teeth hurt too. I am gritting my teeth, willing myself to remain rooted to this spot, to not intrude, for this is the Monday Afternoon Once A Month Dance Club for Seniors and I was not invited, I am not properly dressed for the occasion, and I do not have a partner.

I see her. The woman sitting solo at one of the tables, gazing as am I, at those on the dance floor, wishing she was out there. I send up a tiny prayer, a puny little hope, that she will be seen. That she will be found wanting, and asked to dance. An answered prayer, as a man dressed in chinos, sporting a bow tie, leans down and whispers in her ear. He steps back, extends his hand, and she takes it. Together, hand in hand, they stroll to the edge of the dance floor. He places his hand on her back, as she rests her hand on his shoulder and they dance. It is a small moment, a quiet ritual, a gentle reminder of a faraway time, and I summon all my courage and walk into the darkened hall.

I am trembling as I sit in a chair at a table near a tall man with wavy brown hair, his hands folded in front of him, as though he is waiting, waiting just for me. I introduce myself and his name is Edson, but his friends call him Ed. I call him Edson, because I do not have any white gloves, and my palms are sweating as I am nervous, to have committed such a social faux pas, as to crash such a lovely party.

Edson speaks to me so quietly I can hardly hear him...

Would you like to dance?

He extends his hand, I mutely nod, and we do. Just a few stumbles until I match my steps to his, and then I just let go. I hear the music, feel his strong guiding hand on my back and it all rushes in. The joy of the dance. With a partner. For here, at the Monday Afternoon Once a Month Dance Club, you don’t need a full time partner. Many partners, of these seniors, are no longer with us. But here, on this dance floor, anyone and everyone can be your partner. For this moment in time, I am Edson’s partner and he is mine. I may be bragging, but we cut quite the rug. So to speak.

For the next fifteen minutes or so, I dance with several partners, the waltz, the fox trot and the two step. Very little conversation, just dancing, together, the Big Band Boys in the background, and a healing of hearts.

Some of you, out there, think you cannot relate.

That the Big Band Era is foreign to you, that the Monday Afternoon Once A Month Dance Club is simply the silly antics of aging seniors.

No, no not so. 

For everyone of you has a parent, or perhaps a grandparent, or has seen a movie about the Depression, World War I and II, the Korean War. You have heard these tunes, you have seen these steps, you have poked through old albums, suffered slides and home movies, but somewhere in time, there is a resonance, a touch of familiarity. My dancing partner, my father, my dancing mentor, and many of yours lived through some of the toughest times in history, and are able to read today’s headlines just as well as you or I.

I am sure their histories are filled with headlines almost as appalling as the ones you and I read this week, but here, in this room, they find refuge in the arms of another, in mismatched sets, in a few stumbles and stutters, but with patience and kindness, easing into the ebb and flow of the dance.

One step. One single step at a time.

I bow to my partner, and make my exit. I promise to return, on another Monday Afternoon. Only the next time I will dress for the occasion. And I might, I just might, bring a partner along to share.
As I step into the foyer, the young man in the flip flops sits slouched in his chair, just as I left him, only this time he is wearing headphones. I tip one up, as I lean down to him and whisper, “Do you dance?”

He shakes his head at me incredulously, as I add...

You should. You really should.

Remember the tiny woman I bumped into earlier on? The one in her Sunday best with the corsage pinned to her chest? She grins at me, extends her hand to him, and says, “Yes hon, you should, you really should. Let’s dance.

The last I saw of him, he was on the dance floor with more partners tapping him on the shoulder than he could handle, and he was smiling.

I have a proposal for you. Wherever you may be.

Meet me at the Monday Afternoon Once A Month Dance Club...

We’ll dim the lights...

Put on a little music...

Put down all of our differences...

Extend a hand...


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