Monday, March 29, 2010

It Don't Mean a Thing...

I was in college in the late '90s, and among other things, that was an era when swing music was just coming back. It was just post-grunge, and we were going from sullen and flanneled to peppy (in a campy kind of way) and dolled up. It was surprisingly exciting, to feel like we were doing something new, in doing something old. I had been wanting to try it for a long time, but if you've been swing dancing, you've seen those girls--red lipstick, high heels, swinging dresses, and feet that move faster than I could ever possibly manage without falling on my face. But one night, my friend Elizabeth and I decided to try it.

Though there were a lot of places one could go swing dancing in the Twin Cities, many were populated by people who'd been around when it was popular the first time--which was cool, but not really the kind of people we were looking for. So we opted for this strange little bar on the edge of the city. This was not the kind of place I would have expected to go swing dancing. It was the kind of place I would expect to get stuck to the floor in some sort of unidentified goo and end up leaving in terror as more and more unsavory men decided I was the girl of their dreams. But once a week, they had a swing band there, and the entire atmosphere changed.

I had never actually tried swing dancing, though the dance scene in "It's A Wonderful Life" had convinced me at about the age of 7 that this was something I had to try, and that I would automatically be wonderful at it. We didn't have dates, so we spent a few minutes standing off to the side while she taught me the steps, and then we sort of hovered and watched the couples. It was amazing to watch these couples move in such tight rhythms, their bodies so precisely timed and yet so, so free. And one man in particular stood out. He moved from one female dancer to another, always asking politely if he could dance with her, staying for one song, then moving on. He wasn't tall, slender, or wearing an impeccable suit. He was short, stocky, and sporting a white T-shirt. But the way he danced was amazing.

Eventually, as he made his way around the room, he asked if I would like to dance. Not accustomed to anything I was seeing in this strange place, I wasn't sure what to do, but I said yes, and he led me onto the floor.

To say he danced well would be a tragic understatement. I, who had learned these steps a mere half hour before, spun around on the floor with him like I'd been doing this forever. He held my hand and my waist just tight enough, as though promising that he wouldn't let me fall. Back and forth we danced as the music bounced and swung. He spun me, turned me, dipped me. I, in my black-and white polka-dotted Donna Reed dress, felt invincible, as though that feeling I had been searching for my entire life was actually within reach. He smiled and made me feel beautiful, not as though I were uniquely special to him in all the world, but as though he was able to see the thing that makes us all beautiful and bring it out of us so we could see it too.

When the song ended, he walked me back to my table and my friend and moved on. I never saw him again after that night and never danced with him again after that one time. Perhaps if I had, he would have turned out to be kind of a creep, and I wouldn't have actually been that good a dancer, and the whole experience would have become another run-of-the-mill life experience. But I didn't, and none of those things happened.

I've been thinking about that a lot lately. My life has seemed sort of out of-sorts. Nothing in particular, just a general sense of being out of step with the rest of the world. My brain and my body and the rest of the world all seem to be on different timetables, and I never feel entirely right. But then I think about that night, about that one dance, and there was a time when I felt as though I was moving perfectly, as though every moved I made was filled with purpose and beauty, perfectly in step with everyone else. And I think, if I felt that way once, even if only for a moment, perhaps I can find it again. It's certainly worth trying for.