Continuation of A Dance Story – I Dance Pretty One Day | Part 2 by Bryant Hankins
The more I danced, the more I wanted to learn. I wasn’t content with just doing a simple Rumba box. I wanted to learn the more complicated steps. If I was going to do this, I wanted to do it all out. My wife on the other hand was just in it for fun and didn’t really care about learning new moves.
I mentioned to Emilio my desire to learn more advanced moves and he introduced us to another instructor at the studio that would help us to “Be more competitive” (whatever that meant). He told us only that we could really learn a lot from her and that she was from Brazil. I soon learned that dance instructors are all from outside the US and have names that end in ‘a’ like Adriana, Gabriella, and Michalina. I imagined a whole business of importing slim European instructors to teach dancing to the obese and wealthy Americans. Here in America we ignore the arts for most of our lives and destroy our bodies by working in cubicles. Then we spend that money hiring young Europeans to teach us to dance. It made me proud to be part of the land of the free.
Our new Brazilian instructor was named Arianna. Her curly blonde hair, tight fitting clothes, and glasses reminded me of a naughty librarian. I can only assume it’s part of the dance studios business model. Not only must you be able to dance, but you must have the right look and persona. I imagined dance studios modeled after the Spice Girls. This one is the rebellious one, this one is the sporty one, and this one is the smart one. Which instructor best fits you? When you choose your instructor, you also got to choose which dance routine you wanted to perform. The routines often involved elaborate costumes and attire. Did you want the teacher and schoolgirl routine or the routine with one guy and two girls? That one’s extra, but it’s a very unique experience!
I learned that each instructor focused on a different aspect of the dancing. While Emilio focused on arm movement and theatrics, Arianna was a stickler for posture and keeping our head up high. We couldn’t take two steps without being told to “look up”, but with her accent it sounded more like “luke up”. We would be dancing the cha-cha and double checking to make sure our feet were moving in the right direction and would hear “luke up!” from out of nowhere. I heard it so much it started to haunt my dreams. I’m sure “luking up” was just one of those things that took time.
In an attempt to fix my posture, she even put what looked like a medieval torture device on my back. It was a piece of metal that went on your shoulders and across your back. Then your arms went on top of it and were held rigidly in place. It supposedly corrected your posture and put your shoulders and head into the correct position for dancing. She would bring it out and put it on me like a yoke on cattle. Then we’d have to dance together in front of all the other students. It seemed like a bizarre hazing ritual because no one could look cool while dancing with this device strapped on. My suspicion is that it worked more from humiliation than anything else.
She pushed us much harder than Emilio did. Under all of this dancing pressure, my wife and I began to crumble in different ways. She all of the sudden got busy at work and often would have to miss our dance lesson. I went the other way and started to succumb to Stockholm syndrome where you begin to identify with your captors. The more they corrected my dancing and told me to “luke up”, the more I wanted to prove that I could do it. Yeah, I’m a terrible dancer now, but what about after a bit of time? I’ll show them!
In a classic example of Newton’s first law of motion (each action has an equal and opposite reaction) just as I became more obsessed with dancing, my wife became less interested. This posed a bit of a problem since, as the saying goes, it takes two to tango. Our instructors had a solution though. I could dance with Arianna and continue to move forward in my dancing. Then when my wife rejoined, I could more easily guide her through what she had missed. It seemed like the perfect set-up. What could go wrong?
Arianna was always smiling, enthusiastic, and excited to dance. Whenever I arrived at the studio she always greeted me by name. It was so consistent that I was sure it was part of her instructor training or from a sales book — clients love to be greeted by name! Everything was always super positive and every text she sent me had smiley faces, winks, or hugs. She regularly told me that I was making amazing progress and she was really looking forward to our lesson! I was 99% sure she said that to all her students.
I mentioned my goal of wanting to get better and she convinced me that the best way would be to train for a dance competition. I was concerned that I didn’t know enough yet, but she said she talked to the studio owner and they both agreed that I would be ready because I was making great progress.
“You will definitely beat some of the other competitors!” she said, “Even other students have commented on how well you’re doing.”
I was unconvinced and was beginning to doubt my own sanity. Was this a form of gaslighting? Weren’t they highly incented to make me think I was making progress and really good? I tried to put it out of mind and focus on getting ready for the competition.
What I didn’t realize when I said yes was how all-encompassing this decision would be. It slowly started to overwhelm the other pieces of my life. My wife would mention that we should go to her gym and get a workout in. I’d respond that I have a dancing lesson the next day and really don’t want to be sore so I can perform my best. She would skeptically give me a look that was a cross between “who is this guy” and “I might just have to kill him.”
Each morning, I’d wake up early and practice my cuban motion and cha cha steps. It was like one of those action movies with a montage of someone working out, except mine was focused on dance steps so not quite as cool. When I got tired of practicing alone, I’d pressure my wife to practice with me. I’d make sure that I did the dishes first before asking. She would roll her eyes and begrudgingly practice a few minutes of the routine.
As Arianna and I started to spend more time practicing alone together, I wondered if problems developed with dance partners being attracted to each other. It’s like actors who have to spend a lot of time practicing love scenes. It’s fake, but it has all the signs of something real. While dancing you’re staring into each other’s eyes for long periods of time, you’re rotating your hips, and you’re touching each other a lot. Many of the dances require very close holds and tight body contact. Imagine a two minute sustained hug with chests touching while moving your legs in between each other’s and that’s basically the tango. Besides my wife and my mom, I’m pretty sure I haven’t held anyone else like that. I’m not even sure I held my mom like that.
One night while learning cuban motion I was having trouble moving my hips correctly. Arianna had me stand directly behind her and grab her black spandex clad hips while she twisted them rhythmically back and forth in front of me.
“Take a close look. Are you getting it now? Do you feel it?” she said.
I imagined this kind of thing had to cause issues. I asked Emilio if he ever had problems with his students being attracted to him or vice versa.
“No problems” he said “We always keep it professional.”
He said it very matter-of-factly, but I had my doubts. Weren’t two instructors at the studio dating or engaged to former students? I decided not to press the point.
He often talked about how he went to traveling competitions with his forty-something female clients.
“Oh yeah. It’s way more fun than these local competitions! We get nice hotel rooms and hang out by the pool and go dancing together.” he said.
I pictured traveling with Arianna to a competition and hanging out at the pool in our respective swimsuit and bikini. I would be in the middle of applying sun tan lotion to her back — because it’s important to be tan for a dance competition — then my wife would call.
“Sorry, honey, I can’t talk right now. Too busy preparing for our dance comp!” I would say.
After a trip like that, the only question would be how my wife would kill me. Would it be poison or an accident on the stairs? I gave it a fifty/fifty shot either way.
I was in it to learn dancing, but I had to wonder if others were in it for more than just dancing. Many of the clientele were older or widowed. All of the dancers were young, attractive, and sharply dressed. And after spending all that time together you definitely established a bond with your dance partner. Was this a form of companionship that people were paying for and getting out of it that they weren’t getting from other places in their life? Did it matter? I decided not to think about it too much. Besides, I had a tango to work on.
One night I arrived early for my lesson and saw Arianna dancing with another student. He was roughly my age, but looked a bit older. I’m blessed or cursed with always looking fifteen years younger than I really am. As they danced around the floor they appeared to be having a great time.
During our lesson Arianna informed me that his name was James and he had been dancing for about a year. Due to our age similarity he and I would be up against each other during the big competition. I thought that was unfortunate.
Sensing my concern she said, “Don’t worry. You’re progressing really well and will probably beat him!” Did she say that to all her students?
I assumed that just an hour ago she was dancing with James and said “There’s a new guy that you’ll meet tonight. You’ll be competing against him, but don’t worry; you’re progressing really well and will probably beat him!”
I was beginning to not feel as special as I once thought I was, but my illusions were truly shattered later in the week during the practice party. This is where all the students come together on a Friday night and practice their dancing with each other while watching dance performances. I had never been to one, but it sounded like it might be fun and would give me some practice dancing outside my lesson. As usual my wife had to work so I would be going alone. I was a little worried about who I would dance with because I didn’t know any of the female students well enough to ask them to dance. I mentioned my concerns to Arianna, but it was ok she told me because I could dance with her at the party.
“Don’t worry. We will have fun!” she added.
What I didn’t realize until I arrived is that Arianna really got around, and that there would be six of her other students also dancing with her that night who were also told “we would have fun!” So most of the night consisted of trying to make conversation with strangers while waiting to see if Arianna was available to dance. Often there would be a group of us standing together and she would saunter over and pick one of us to dance. It felt a little like junior high gym class where you’re just hoping you don’t get picked last for the kickball team.