Oh Mr. Sinatra how I hate you. I hate the lazy way you linger behind the beat and the casual aggressiveness with which then run it over. Most of all I hate how I feel when my feet won't obey the urge to dance to one of your standards.
January's dance update included a healthy reminder that I may never get the Jazz-age foxtrot. There's some part of my soul that doesn't want to accept the slow-slow-quick-quick-slow pattern. It hangs onto that second slow too long and then stumbles headlong into the first quick and my partner. Neither are amused by this miscue. They tend to find my two left feet a bit heavy on their toes and are in dismay at the scuffing of their good dance shoes. None the less I keep trying.
A good part of this month's vintage dance lesson focused on the diagonal sidestep, a handy tool in all the ballrooms I frequent. Traffic on the dance floor is a little like traffic at the Indy 500, it's supposed to be a constant, counter-clockwise motion, but all too often you'll find some contestant heading in a direction that's contrary to everyone's best interest. In situations like this a good driver makes use of two things: the brakes and the steering wheel. The dancer, on the other hand, uses delays and turns. If some clod decides to stop and debate politics in the middle of Mean to Me, you're abridged to veer left or right passing the offender with enough velocity to uncurl his hair or gracefully buy time until you're free to proceed, all while maintaining that fixed ballroom smile. If you're me, you turn hard, spin out, and clear pit row leaving a trail that a tornado would find impressive in your wake.
Sunday night we tried the foxtrot out at the Indiana Roof. The Director's Dance Orchestra had the stage, a mean bunch of musicians who, judging by the speed at which they played all their selections, are paid a flat rate. They stormed through every waltz as if it'd been written by Strauss and treated everything else like a lindy hop. Still, with Kelly's encouragement (and before the crowds arrived), I tentatively agreed to give the basic foxtrot a try. And this is where my hatred of Sinatra comes in.
You see, it's one thing to struggle through the beginning stages of learning a dance. In the beginning every dance is embarrassingly hard. You will trod upon your partner's feet, so it's best to begin each tune with a heartfelt and sincere, "I apologize for what I'm about to do to you." It's learning. You didn't come out of the womb knowing how to walk or talk and not one of us went from slobbering toddler to eloquent fellow about town without falling right on our keisters a million and a half times in the process. It's natural.
Imagine, if you would, attempting to learn to walk with some joker moving the floor on you at random intervals and occasionally opening a trap door or two. This, my friends, is learning the foxtrot to the music of Frank Sinatra. The man is a genius, a talent, and albeit an ass as a human being, a treasure as a musician. He performs verbal cosmetic surgery on a tune, nipping here, tucking there, and blowing up other bits with silicon. In the end the sum of his work isn't natural...but it sure makes you stare. This, is what I got into when I walked onto the floor at the Indiana Roof...Witchcraft, in more ways than one.
We didn't make it a quarter of the way around the floor. My left foot became well acquainted with my right foot, since they were occupying the same space most of the time, and soon I was considering hiring a private detective to find the "one". At the earliest possible moment I bailed for the seats and we sat out the remainder of the evening's foxtrots with me swearing under my breath and doubting whether I'd ever really get this dance. Later, when calmer heads prevailed, I realized it was just a bad turn, but at the time I felt pretty damned defeated.
Now, over 24 hours later, I realize it's not all disaster and failure. I look at the weekend's lessons and dancing and I know we're making good progress. The cross-step waltz is coming along and we added a grand total of three new moves to our repertoire (the "he-goes-she-goes", the promenade and spin, and the swing-out) and though we didn't add anything our tango passed muster...it's just a shame we didn't dance any of those.