||SSQQ-01: The Beginning
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|It’s Zhila’s fault, I think to myself, as the number six subway leaves Brooklyn Bridge station. If I make a fool of myself on the dance floor I can blame her. It was all her idea. I never wanted to come, not at first, but she persuaded me. “We’ll go at lunchtime,” she said, “You’ll get over this.”
How hard can dancing be, really? Why am I so afraid of it? Stupid question. If it was a rational fear then it wouldn’t be called a phobia and that’s what I’ve got. A phobia. Do I think people will point and laugh when I wobble around like a disorganized sack of potatoes? Definitely. Will they? Probably not. Makes no sense, no sense at all, but knowing that doesn’t make it any better. Phobias are baseless. It’s like spiders.
At each of the three stops, when the doors open and close, I mentally carve notches along my path to doom. I’m glad we’re standing. Holding onto the shiny pole and fighting the jolting and swaying as the train rattles its way to Houston Street gives me something to do that takes my mind off my impending destiny.
Another notch passes with every step as we climb the stairs to street level. Maybe this was how those soldiers felt in the trenches during the First World War just before they went over the top.
We pass the fresh fruit and flower stall and then a newsstand on the corner but I hardly notice them. A young man in a suit casually flicks away a lighted cigarette butt but I can’t even summon the enthusiasm to issue my usual scornful glare.
The walk to the studio happens in silence. My silence. Zhila’s bantering on about something girlish and I’m trying to ignore her and act cool but really it’s like the first day at school. At least I haven’t pissed my pants.
I know I should feel more appreciative – grateful, even. Zhila found the coupon for introductory lessons at the Fred Astaire studios in the New York Times so, for the knockdown price of $25 between us, we get two half-hour private sessions, a couple of group classes and a party. I can’t imagine what a dance studio party is, but if it comes with beer, I’m in. The rest of it sounds pretty fearsome.
I get the impression that, on the dance studio scale of things, this is something of a financial teaser to persuade people like me through the door. Well, not people exactly like me, because my reluctance is so great that I also need the physical accompaniment of someone like Zhila, who shows no fear. Maybe it’s her Middle-Eastern background. Iranians have more to worry about than music.
It’s only two blocks north of Houston St but a part of me wants it to be further so I could get used to the idea a bit more. My dance experience so far is limited to the occasional drunken bump ‘n’ grind slow dance at the end of the night at a disco so coming to the Fred Astaire dance studio is a paramount decision and I need several environments to work it around in my head. I considered it at great length at work but that doesn’t really count because it’s safe and isolated in the bank. Then I tested it out on the subway with a degree of success but now I need to think about it in the fresh spring New York air and I don’t think a couple of blocks is enough for something of this magnitude.
“666 Broadway,” Zhila says, breaking into my fear-driven daydream. Despite my trepidation, I find it amusing and somewhat ironic that the studio has that address. We’ve arrived.
It’s on the second floor – the first floor, as we’d say in England. This is one of the differences that freshly imported British expats find to moan about but it makes perfect sense to me. Give the ground the number one so the next one up becomes two and so on to the top and no one gets confused unless there’s a mezzanine.
I’m still concentrating on my internal debate over floor designations when I find that I’ve traversed the stairs and the hallway on auto-pilot. We’re standing at the reception desk where a tall Asian girl without a trace of an accent has asked a question that I didn’t hear and now I feel stupid.
“Have you danced before,” she says and I’m wondering whether this is a repeat of what I missed or the sequel to it. I can’t see a way of finding out without confirming my idiocy so I pretend it’s stand-alone.
“Only when I’m drunk. Ha ha.”
That didn’t seem as funny out loud as when I tried it in my head a nanosecond earlier.
“Just, erm, just…” I begin in an attempt to say I was joking, but she interrupts with a smile.
“No need for that – it’s why you’re here. Let me get your instructor.”
Instructor. Just the word makes me want to turn and run. She gets up and drops about a foot and when she comes out from behind the desk I can see she’s short so she must’ve been sitting on a high stool. For some reason, no doubt due to male inadequacy or something equally politically incorrect, that makes me feel a whole lot better.
Within a moment of two she comes back with middle-aged guy whose belly significantly overlaps his belt and turns his shirt buttons into weapons. His name is Scott and right away I can see that Zhila’s not happy. She puts a new piece of gum into her mouth and begins to chew ferociously, looking this way and that and suddenly I realize the truth of why I’m here. She wasn’t altruistically trying to help cure my dance terror and she doesn’t want a lunchtime adventure with me as a possible precursor to something more. She simply wanted a wing man so she could come here and meet a hot instructor. Scott, with his prominent jowls and overhanging mid-section, isn’t what she had in mind.
He takes us into the studio area and my nerves return in waves at the sight of the polished hardwood floor. Fortunately, the only people in the room are the three of us and about eighty-nine reflections along a wall covered in mirrors. I wish the reflections weren’t there, but I guess there’s not a lot I can say if they want to watch.
Scott explains a basic Foxtrot step and it sounds simple enough, mathematical even. Six counts of music across three footsteps, starting with the left foot. Slow, slow, quick-quick. Forward, forward, left-side.
I never thought dancing was logical and the very concept gives me goose bumps. This is nothing like what I remember from places where everyone wiggles their hips and waves their hands in the air in a random fashion to Hi-Ho Silver Lining. This could be wonderful – it has rules. It’s what I do, after all. Finding a correlation between moving to music and my computer background might make this easier than I thought.
Zhila’s neither listening nor doing much of a job at concealing her disappointment that Scott’s not a stud. When we step through it, all at the same time, she doesn’t seem to have it right. Maybe walking backwards is the issue. Scott tries to help by walking backwards alongside her and repeating, “Back, back, right-step.” Then he takes her in a dance hold and she seems better but when he makes us couple up together everything goes to pot.
I’d been wondering about holding Zhila anyway, since she’s pretty fanciable if you can get over the me-me-me little girl attitude. Besides, it’s spring and there’s a certain degree of lustfulness in the air, helped not a little by a slinky beige top that runs off her shoulders like a waterfall. We manage half a step before I tread on one of her feet and give the other shin a pretty sharp kick and all ideas of romance are gone.
“Fuck,” she says through her gum and gives the impression that it hurt. Scott tries to placate her but, not being Chippendale material, she’s having none of it and marches off to the ladies room to inspect the damage. While she’s gone he tells me it wasn’t my fault – but what else could he say – then takes me through the Foxtrot thing a few more times. It all seems pretty easy, even with music, and then Scott grabs hold of me and does the girl’s part. That feels pretty weird, given his size and the stale cigarette quality of his breath, but at least I don’t kick him.
We have time to do it several times in a row by the time Zhila gets back, but she hangs around at the side, briefly watching us, but mostly staring out of the window. A few minutes later she announces that she’s going back to work.
“We’ve only just got here,” I start, but she’s adamant and lies about being busy. She expects me to go too but that’s not going to happen. Not even her waterfall blouse is enough persuasion.
“So I’ve got to go on the subway by myself,” she says, and her voice has changed from professional adult to little girl lost. It’s probably the only time a man’s ever said no to her but, now that the ice of a thousand years is broken and I’m on the floor of a New York dance studio, there’s no way I’m leaving. Within a few minutes, Scott and I are looking at each other in the otherwise empty studio, alone with our multiple reflections.
“If you want to continue with your little package,” he says, obviously unaware of the sexual meaning of that word to an Englishman, “We’ll have to get you a female instructor for next time.”
This seems like a fabulous idea and one that I hadn’t considered. Not only will a female teacher be, well, female, but she’ll probably have female friends. The idea of that party starts to become attractive.
And it’s spring.
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