“Carol, it’s time for you to get back on the scene,” Dan said. He was one of my best friends. “Come contra dancing, it’s a great way to meet ‘nice, eligible men’.”
“In other words, you’ll try to fix me up with some of your dancing friends. Won’t you?”
“It is kind of like square dancing, but with contra dancing you don’t have the same partner all night. You dance with one guy for one dance, then change partners for the next. And during the dance you’re dancing with your ‘neighbor,’ the guy next to you as well.”
“You didn’t answer my question. You just want to set me up with your friend, two-left-footed Larry, you keep telling me about.”
“No it’s nothing like that,” he protested. Then with a wink, “You come on your own and leave on your own, if you want.”
My heartbreak had healed and I was ready to start dating again, but I wasn’t the type to go to bars or speed date. Dan and I had dated a couple time, but we were better as friends.
“There are always more men than women, so we need more women dancers,” he pleaded, “especially tall pretty ones.”
After badgering me for a couple months, I ran out of excuses. I was completely hooked after my first night of dancing, eligible men or not. Everyone was friendly and welcoming even if I did not know exactly what I was doing.
Four months of dancing didn’t make me an expert, but it did mean it was now my duty to welcome the new dancers. With contra dancing women ask the men just as often as the men ask the women. But based on the first impressions some newbies had made upon me, I sincerely doubted I would find Mr. Right.
“Shall we dance?” I asked a guy who looked a little confused.
“Sure. What do we do?”
“I’m Carol. And you are?”
“Well Pete, we line up and simply follow the caller’s instructions.”
“I tried to get here in time for the new dancer workshop, but I was late.”
“You’ll be fine. Just pay attention. It’s easy.”
“Yeah, that’s what my buddy said.” Pete indicated his friend Joe, who waved at me.
Through the dance I helped him learn the proper direction to do a doe-see-doe and how to place his hands so they weren’t wandering where they shouldn’t go.
At the break I thought about going home. It was one of the rare nights where even the delightful music did not make me feel like kicking up my heels.
The next dance was one of my favorites, the “Wizard’s Walk.” I wanted to dance it with Dan, but there was Pete in front of me.
“Care to dance?” Pete asked.
“Sure.” I was too polite to refuse.
So, I endured the repeated mistakes of my second-time around partner, “Pete the Repeat.”
“I know you want the new guys to feel welcome, but does it have to be at my expense?”
“Whaddaymean Carrrrrol?” I had just caught him with a mouth full of veggie melt. We were catching a quick lunch at the Gypsy Meltdown Cafe.
“First, I felt like I was dancing ‘Groundhog Day’,” I said as I sipped my malted. “The caller left out a crucial move and it took three times to do the walk through. And that was without any music!”
“Yeah, he was having a hard time that night.”
“Even though I got to dance with you and Joe, it seemed like I spent the entire night dancing with every newbie.”
“SO? My shoulder is bruised from being turned the wrong way and colliding with Big Al.”
“Okay, so what’s so bad about a few wrong turns?” Dan asked as he stole a few of my sweet potato chips.
“Hey, stop that!” I swatted his hand.
“But you’re not eating them, you’re just yammering on.”
“Are your toes crushed like mine are?” I showed him my abused shoes. “Do these come in a steel-toed version?”
We laughed at ourselves and how both of us had probably done similar things to the other “regulars,” who were now our trusted and confident dance partners.
“Ya gotta learn somewhere, somehow, sometime,” Dan commented.
“Yeah, and with someone,” I replied, “preferably someone other than me!”
We chatted about how part of the fun of dancing is when even we get confused occasionally and find ourselves swinging with an unintentional partner.
“To dancing!” we clanked our malteds in a toast to all the new dancers we would suffer through, as we would patiently teach them how to do a “grand chain” or a “hey for four.”
A couple of months later, Dan asked, “See that blonde guy? He’s new, you should ask him to dance.”
Even though I was wary of dancing with newbies, I relented and I went off to ask the blonde guy to dance. As I did this I heard Dan say, “And I think he’s single.”
“Shall we dance?” I asked before the next dance started.
“Sure. Thanks.” The blonde guy said and grabbed my hand.
“I’m Carol. You are?”
The band then started to play “Swinging on a Gate,” a traditional Irish reel.
A little while later, when I finally got a chance to “swing your partner” I asked, “Have you ever danced before?”
“Yeah, but it’s been a few years. I’ve been busy.”
“What do you do when you’re not dancing?”
“I own an art gallery downtown.”
“Nice.” I replied as he stepped on my toes and spun me the wrong way. Even though he said he knew how to contra dance, his feet certainly did not!
Adding insult to injury, with each “balance and swing” he flirtatiously thrust his nose to mine, enveloping me in a cloud of volatile fumes.
I promised myself that I would never dance with “Andy the Drunk” again, even if it meant I had to sit one out.
“Hey Carol, where you going?” Dan asked. “Why you leaving so soon?”
“I’m exhausted. I am never going to dance with one of your newbies again!”
“Why what happened?”
“Andy the Drunk is what happened.”
“If I had dropped out I would have ruined it for everyone else and I couldn’t do that. So I just held my breath anytime he came close.”
“Oh, that bad?”
“It was shear torture. I’m going home.”
“I wonder who will be here tonight,” I thought to myself as I skipped thought the rain drops. Then, as I got to the church door, the sky ripped open soaking me. “Oh well, I’ll be dancing up a storm and dry out in no time, no one will be able to tell.”
As I went down the hall I tried to fluff up my wet long hair. I heard the band tuning up as the caller taught the new dancers some lessons.
“Hi Carol, looks like the storm got you.” Dan was sitting at the door taking money for tickets.
“Yeah, but I’ll dry out quickly,” with a twirl I showed him that I was ready to dance.
“You look like a wet poodle - watch out!” Dan watched me slip and kick the table. Everything on it went flying, including me.
“Looks like as if I’m more the entertainment tonight than a dancer.” Holding up the money bag that landed on my lap I asked, “Would you like a ticket?”
Dan tried hard to not laugh, but a deep roar burst forth.
“Would you like a hand?”
“Why for you to just stand there and applaud?” I teased. “Help me up, would you?”
“There are some new dancers tonight. I’d appreciate if you made sure they felt welcome.”
“Right now it seems like I’m the one who needs some lessons.” I brushed off my ego and straightened my skirt.
“See the tall guy with the beard? He’s new. Ask him to dance?” Dan suggested. “But maybe when you’re a little more, umm what do I say, umm more presentable?”
“Come on Dan! The last guy you suggested I dance with was three sheets to the wind.”
“Carol I didn’t know he was liquored up. He seemed like a nice guy. What is his name?”
“Nice guy? Nice guy my you know what!” I said. “Remember, Andy… Andy the Drunk?”
“Oh yeah. Well, I’m really sorry about that,” he said, then quickly added. “But that was two months ago.”
Tall, dark and handsome was easy to spot in the crowd. “He is awfully cute.”
“Maybe he’ll sweep you off your feet,” Dan said. “If you get my drift.”
I always enjoyed dancing with men my height or taller, but I wanted to pick with whom I danced.
I ducked into the bathroom to primp myself. I looked like a drowned rat.
“What the hell, I’m here for dancing right, not speed dating!” I said to myself.
As the dance lines were setting up, I looked around the hall to see who was not yet partnered up. Quickly I realized I was the only woman without a partner. From the other side of the hall, Andy the Drunk was making a beeline towards me. To my left was “Tall Guy with the Beard.” Couples forming the dance lines blocked me from escaping back to the bathroom. I swallowed hard.
“Shall we dance?” I politely snagged Tall Guy by the sleeve.
“Sure!” he said and took my hand, escorting me to a place in line.
Dan was going to hear about it if this guy was boozed up also. At least he was cute, I thought.
“Hi, I’m Roger.”
“New to the area?” I asked as we did the initial walk through.
“I live in Boston.” His answer made my heart sink.
“Oh, what brings you to Annapolis?”
“I’m an artist and have a show here.”
The dance’s swings were long enough to chat intermittently.
“Do you contra dance there?”
“No, I haven’t been dancing in ten years.”
“Well, you certainly still know how.” I replied as we did a “mad robin”, weaving in front of and behind the other dancers while keeping eye contact.
“How did you hear about the dance?”
“From Andy,” he said. It was Andy the Drunk, of all people, who Roger indicated had told him about the dance.
Roger further impressed me when he successfully twirled me to put a flourish on “bending the line.”
“How long is your show?”
“Two weeks.” He said as we “gypsied,” circling each other without making contact, his eyes twinkled as he gazed deeply into my eyes. “You should come see it.”
That twinkle ignited a spark inside of me. Perhaps I would finally be able to thank Dan for pointing out a newbie with whom I should dance.
When the dance was over Roger politely thanked me for the dance and we found new partners for the next dance. Dan was off the hook; dancing with Roger the Tall Guy had been enjoyable. And he was certainly delightful to look at. But he lived in Boston and I lived here in Annapolis. Oh well, better luck next time…
On the break I was changing into my street shoes, as it was time for me to go home. I had to get up early and staying for the second half of the dance would make me tired at work the next day.
I did not see him coming, but there standing next to me was Roger.
“If you get a chance, come see my show. It’s running through next week.”
We chatted for a few minutes about how Monday was my day off and maybe I could swing by.
“Hopefully you can come,” he said with an infectious smile, “especially when I’m there.”
All evening I had heard him inviting others to his show. Was he just trying to drum up business or was this an invitation with other implications?
On my way home I dismissed any interest he might have in me, we lived too far away from each other. And I certainly was not looking for a long distance relationship.
“Oh well, better luck to me next time,” I said out loud to myself.
“I hope you don’t mind that I called,” Roger said.
“No, no, not at all,” I stammered, “but how did you get my number?”
“I had to bribe Dan.”
“I hope you didn’t have to promise too much.”
“No, just free admission to my show.”
“But I thought you said it was free to get in?”
“But he didn’t know that!” Roger obviously already had Dan figured out. “Can you come to the gallery tomorrow rather than Monday?”
“I think I might be able to manage. I have a some time in the middle of the day.”
“Could I take you out to lunch?” He asked.
“I’m not sure I have that much time.”
“I found a great sushi restaurant,” he said. “That is if you like sushi.”
“Oh, I love sushi!”
“Thanks for lunch, Roger.”
“Thanks for the beautiful company, Carol.”
Roger extended his bent elbow for me to take as he walked me back to my car.
“I had a really nice time. Can I call you again?”
“Sure,” I replied. Even though he lived hundreds of miles away, Roger was quickly sweeping me off my feet. And to think that I might never have danced with him because he was a “newbie”.
Beep beep beep.
“Hope u got 2 work ok”
It was a text from Roger. “How sweet,” I thought.
“yes” was all I my clumsy thumbs managed.
“ttyl?” Texting was new to me. I hoped he didn’t think I was a Luddite.
“Yes, talk to you later?” he replied.
“okay ttyl” I managed. I was going to need a new phone with a qwerty keyboard if this relationship was going anywhere.
My favorite band, the Contrarians, was getting ready to play again after their 15 minute break. I had heard them for the first time a year prior, when Dan had told me to ask Tall Guy with the Beard to dance.
Tonight though, Dan looked lonely, which made me sad. It was an evening when no one should be sad—the wedding cake was delicious and the dance was fantastic.
Just as I was about to ask Dan to dance, I heard Roger say behind me, “Care to dance, Mrs. Greenwood?”
I wanted to dance with my dear friend one last time before I moved to Boston. Instead I took my new husband’s outstretched hand for the band’s choice of “Crockett’s Honeymoon.”
“Thanks for everything, Dan,” Roger said. “Oh, and see that redhead over there? She’s new to contra dancing, you should ask her to dance.”
I winked at Dan. He smiled as he strolled across the floor with a spring in his step to ask “The Redhead,” “Shall we dance?”
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