Two decades ago, when I dated the woman who would eventually become my wife, she suggested that I’d have a better chance of getting her to the altar if I learned how to dance.
She hails from Cajun country, where the two-step is very much a part of the culture. I come from a long line of Germans, a people not known for physical grace.
Anxious to get the girl, I agreed to those long-ago dance lessons to seal my engagement. Our instructor explained that anyone able to count could easily master the two-step. That didn’t assure me, since I was a newspaperman who, like many journalists, had fallen into the trade because of poor math skills. In my version of the two-step, I looked like I was trying to stamp out a campfire. Moved more by pity than admiration, my sweetheart agreed to marry me, anyway.
Life took us away from dancing. We busied ourselves with making careers, a home, raising two children. Twenty years passed.
Our daughter and son, though not yet on their own, don’t require quite as much of our time. Last year, my wife suggested that maybe we should try dance lessons again.
She had apparently forgotten how badly I’d fared the first time. Creative amnesia, I’ve found, is useful in keeping families afloat. Our ability to forget how difficult it is to do something allows us to embrace it a second, a third, a fourth time. It’s why, for example, people decide to be parents more than once.
For Christmas, lacking a better plan, I gave my wife the gift she’d asked for. Beneath the tree, among other presents, was an invitation to a six-week course in ballroom dancing.
Weekly classes started in January. I noticed a small advantage in returning to dance lessons after so long away. Now in middle age, I’m no longer capable of embarrassment. I didn’t blush in shame, for example, when the instructor looked my way and announced that private — by which he meant remedial — lessons were available to those who needed it.
Advancing maturity brings its own complications, though. After a certain number of birthdays, one worries not at all about injured pride on the dance floor, but quite a bit about injured cartilage. A quiet relief touches me when I realize, at the close of each lesson, that I’ve successfully navigated an orthopedic obstacle course.
Dance classes haven’t made me into Fred Astaire, but the rules of the ballroom are worth remembering for any couple this Valentine’s Day weekend:
- Hold your partner close, but allow the other person room enough to thrive.
- Quickly say you’re sorry if you step on your partner’s toes.
- Don’t expect perfection. Working together takes lots of practice.
- Do your best. Even if you’re a dunce, your partner will give you points for trying.
Danny Heitman is on Twitter, @Danny_Heitman.