Monday, June 27, 2011

Swing to Salsa: Tripping My Way to a Good Time

I didn’t grow up during the fight for gender neutrality like the kids of today.

When I was little the majority of boys I knew played hockey, and the majority of girls took dance. My parents didn’t enroll me in dance because I was a girl and that’s what girls did. They’re not those kinds of parents. They enrolled me in dance because I loved it.

I have always loved to dance. I would spend hours twirling in front of our winter coat wardrobe with the full-length mirror on it with my mother’s silk scarves. Spinning, leaping and trying my damnedest to look like a Swan Princess or a Fairy from the Nutcracker. As I got older my interests broadened and dance took a back seat to swimming, art, sailing and marine biology. Eventually the only dancing I did was when I was at home by myself, music turned on full blast.

About a year ago I saw a Groupon for swing classes at a studio on Yonge Street. Thoughts of dance classes past came fluttering back to me, and I longed to be back in a studio. It scared me that I couldn’t remember the last time I had taken a class and that, even though I didn’t want to admit it, I didn’t dance when I was home alone anymore. Where had my passion for dance gone? Left behind with other childhood dreams and habits, my appreciation for a good twirl was a ghost keeping company with memories of catching toads and hiding in tree houses. I wanted it all back. I wanted to dance again. And then, like some scene from a movie, I closed my eyes and saw myself in a hospital room speaking to my grandfather. He passed away a couple years ago, but I remember this conversation I had with him like it was yesterday.

I had gone to visit him after his brain surgery, and still a little befuddled from the drugs, he asked me if I still had the bicycle he’d given me. He’d given me that bicycle when I was 7 or 8, so I was confused as to why he was remembering it and bringing it up now, but I answered him “yes”. He told me “that’s good” and then he said something that almost made me cry: “I can’t ride a bicycle anymore.” I saw my grandfather, who’d always been a busy and active man, try and come to terms with the limitations of age and illness. I saw him looking at the IVs in his arms and the monitors over head and thought he must be wondering where all his freedom and time had gone; wishing that he’d spent more time on his bike. I sat there looking at this Groupon and thinking that I didn’t want to grow old and say that I couldn’t do the things that I loved anymore. I would dance again.

I signed my boyfriend and I up for swing dancing in April and have been taking classes since. I was so excited for our first class. Seeing the studio’s wooden floors and full-length mirrors made me feel like I was home again. Then the instructors came in and started our lesson… this was not what I was expecting. The instructors didn’t look professional, they gave poor direction and split my partner and I up. I had trouble following along, finding the rhythm and kept screwing up. Had I forgotten how to dance? How the hell did this happen!?

A month of classes went by with little improvement. I was getting frustrated and instead of being excited to go to class, I dreaded it. What step was I going to mess up this time? Which stranger that I was partnered with was I going piss off tonight? After our month of swing, I never wanted to go to a studio again. On the way home from our last class my boyfriend and I were approached on the street by a person offering free trial dance classes at a studio only blocks away from our apartment. I took this as a sign not to give up just yet and that’s when we started taking Salsa.

Love to Dance studio on Eglinton was where I got my groove back. I hadn’t forgotten how to dance; I was just in the wrong studio with the wrong teachers. With clear instruction and my partner by my side I was finally feeling the joy from dance like I used to. My boyfriend and I even started dancing alone at home again, with the music on full blast of course.

In our last class the instructor split us up and pared me with an older gentleman named Ron. I learned that he had been a ballroom dancer and that he was just learning Salsa now for fun. Ron is in his late 70’s and when I was dancing with him, again, I was reminded of my grandfather. In the end, he wasn’t well enough to continue doing the things he loved most, but I think if he had he would have been a lot like Ron. Dancing with Ron taught me a lot of new moves and by the end of the class he was twirling me around like I’d never stopped in the first place.

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