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Thoughts While Walking the Dog
Memories of a Jewish Childhood
By Lynn Ruth Miller

Learning the Steps

An old dog may not be able to learn new tricks,
But any dowager can cha cha cha.
Isadora Duncan and Lynn Ruth

Music has the same effect on me that the ignition has on an automobile.  Once it’s turned on, I have an irresistible urge to get moving.  Dancing draws me as if it were a magnet.  When I could barely toddle, I just loved those afternoons when my mother and her two sisters rolled back the rug in my grandma’s house and put a ragtime record on the old Victrola.  My Aunt Hazel used to pick me up and dance with me like I was an electrified doll.  She swung me around her waist and high in the air and while I wiggled my hips and waved my arms to the pounding beat. “That child is adorable!” my aunt exclaimed when I twirled around the living room and crashed into the upright piano.

“YOU ARE PULLING HER ARMS OUT OF THEIR SOCKETS!” exclaimed my mother but neither my aunt nor I heard her warnings.  We were mesmerized by the pull of a heavy drumbeat and an alto sax.

When I became a teenager, the hottest thing going was Les Brown’s “Shanty in Old Shanty Town” and I couldn’t keep my feet still when I heard it play. I would swivel and clap and ache for someone to dance with me.  However, when a young man dared to take me in his arms and attempt to match his steps to mine, the result was not dance; it was combat.  I looked like I was launching an intricate strategic maneuver and my partner reacted as if he were massacred. I had plenty of rhythm all right; the problem was I DID NOT KNOW THE STEPS.

My father took me dancing on my sixteenth birthday and after a crippling execution of “St. James Infirmary,” he limped back to our table and glared at my mother.  “No more!” he proclaimed.  “I am sending this klutz to Arthur Murray!”

“She obviously doesn’t take after MY side of the family,” said my mother.

My father looked at me with great distaste.  “Nor mine,” he lied. “Maybe someone professional can help her.  Dancing is a necessary social skill. . especially with her looks.”

Now my mother was really insulted.  “You’ve always said she was the living image of me!”

“Don’t be ridiculous, Ida,” said my father who knew when to retreat.  “You have red hair and are graceful as a ballerina.  This kid wears braces and has two left feet. It will take a real professional to solve her problem.”         

He called the dance studio the next day and the receptionist said, ”Now, now, Mr. Miller.  She couldn’t be that hopeless. “

“YOU haven’t danced with her,” said my father.  “I did.  My podiatrist is recommending surgery.”

“I see,” said the receptionist.  “In that case, we need an expert trained to deal with The Awkward Age and we have just the man.  How is seven Friday evening?”

And that was how I met Glen.  Although Glen was at least thirty years older than I, he became my shining star.  I adored him as a prisoner worships the savior that sets him free.  Glen, with infinite patience and tact, TAUGHT ME THOSE STEPS. He leashed my bouncing feet into the discipline of the Magic Step and all its variations. We fox trotted to “Lead me to the Moon” and tangoed across the living room floor to “Jealousy,” he in his three button suit and me in my blue jeans and baggy shirt.

Ah, Glen!  Dear, dear Glen!  Our times together will always remain a glorious memory.  His image is forever illuminated in my heart.  It was he who became the magician able to groom me properly for La Belle Dance.

Sadly enough, Glen taught me so well that no one could keep up with me after I graduated from his eight-week crash course.   I was forced to divorce two husbands before I realized that on the dance floor as well as through life, I am destined to go solo.  My feet hear their own drummer and the entire male population is out of step with me.

However, now that I am of a certain age, I have had to give up so many things:  my sense of taste, the location of my face and my memory.  Miracle of miracles, the love of dance has not left me, and I cannot bear relinquishing it along with everything else.  I am willing to buy sturdier shoes and trust to my own dexterity to avoid the random misplaced toe or crushing heel.  However, if I thought the pickings were slim when I was young and fashionable, they were verdant compared to the selection at the retirement homes.  The senior roster is almost blank.   The single dancers from my generation have either dropped dead of over exertion or malnutrition or both and there I was at the No Partner Needed Mixers swingin' whatever I have left with no one to whirl me across the dance floor. (Note the past tense)

Well, in times of old, I would have accepted this loss as my destiny but not now.  We are into a new millennium after all and opportunities we never dreamed possible in the fifties, abound today.  Determined that somewhere on some undiscovered dance floor there would be a place for me, I joined an over sixty dance class and managed to learn a few new routines they weren’t doing back in the fifties when Glen took me in his arms.  I learned far more than new steps; I learned style.  At my advanced age, one’s feet can do a variety of things but the facial expression must be just so.  In this age of image and effect, if you look like you are dancing, the battle is won. Although I admit I still fall and stumble, I do it with a raised eyebrow and a brilliant smile.  There is no doubt that I can execute the waltz, the tango, cha cha, meringue and a touch of swing faster than anyone else on the floor.  Indeed nothing is impossible to execute, including your partner, IF YOU KNOW THOSE STEPS.

If music doesn’t jazz you up and rhythm doesn’t make your feet tap the floor, you are missing a lot of fun at any age.  Dancing is a wonderful form of exercise.  It can make you feel beautiful and have fun at the same time. Indeed, when you move to good music and meet new friends, you don’t feel like you are working out at all.  You feel like you are having a wonderful time.  And that, after all, is what ballroom dancing is all about.

 Broccoli is good but dancing is better

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