At the Century Ballroom

Old brick building, steep wooden stairs, people of all ages and ilk spilling from ballroom or bar. At 8:30, the salsa lesson starts, led by a plump woman in black who divvies us into “Leads” and “Follows.” Leads on the outside ring; Follows the inner. Goes without saying the Follows are We the Ladies. Some of us done up to make our sex proud. Lovely to see Seattle women dress up. The men? Ah, a mixed bag. It’s like a Sock Hop meets Dancing With the Stars. The men are gawky, nervous, handsome, swarthy, pasty. They have firm handshakes; they offer tentative apologies in advance for stepping on toes. They are petrified of getting it wrong; they are graceful. Some are openly happy to be in a ballroom full of women. Some are too self-conscious to have fun. It’s a weird communal form of sexual democracy. Thank god, though, we only have to spend two minutes per partner before we obey teacher’s command to “Rotate!”

I count the minutes ’til the lesson is over. Then dancers take the floor and Hombre and I watch the beautiful and the slick. We bust a few steps, a few tunes and conclude that we suck at salsa. Why is such a simple step is so hard to get right? Hombre disappointed that all his hot yoga hasn’t translated into supple hip movements. Our friend shows us the steps during the dance, and we both stare at friend’s feet like dumb rabbits. ‘Feel the music,’ friend says. I feel it! Love the syncopation and intricacy of salsa. But the feeling doesn’t make it down to my feet. Or, rather, I keep throwing in an extra step or two.

I’d probably suck a lot less at salsa if I kept my mouth shut. I feel the need to shout over the music, to carry on a sporadic, half-heard conversation with my dance partner. The best dancers let their bodies speak.

Still, suck or no, it’s exhilarating to be in a crowd of dancers. The older men, the seasoned Leads, are economical and elegant in their movements. The men are there to dance, and they scan the ladies, looking for partners.The women are there to dance, too. Again, it’s that sexual democracy in action.

Afterwards, our friends and I say, Yes, yes, we’re going to take salsa lessons, we’ll be out there on the ballroom floor someday, swaying and twirling. We’ve told ourselves this before, but maybe this time, it’ll take.

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