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The Struggle to Write | 2010 | Tomorrow of Its Strength

01.26.10 5:56 p.m.

We dance round in a ring and suppose,
But the Secret sits in the middle and knows.  

-Robert Frost


Swing Vote

She really is a very good dance partner.

The nameless hipster woman tells us that it doesn't matter if Jacki and I are any good so long as we are having fun. "For all we care, you can just do this the whole time." Then she launches into a finger waggle, limb flailing mockery that manages to be coordinated and skillful. One would have no trouble putting her on a crash diet, ditching her facial jewelry, and turning her into a convincing flapper.

"If I could dance like that," I assure her, "I wouldn't need you to explain how to do the basic step again. Could you, please?"

Jacki and I focus on our footwork for the first few attempts, though we bravely dance through our awkwardness and lack of skill. Her personality and general confidence forces her to try to lead, so I repeatedly offer appropriately period threats, such as beating her with a sack of Valencia oranges until she learns her place. I can't tell her that she belongs barefoot, pregnant, and making me a sandwich, since she is too short without her heels. Dancing is tricky enough without having to compensate for her lack of height.

We laugh and gambol, finally gaining muscle memory enough that we can dance while having a conversation. I tell her that we need a montage, so I can suddenly have fancy footwork, though none is coming. She teases me about not spinning her - the only other bit of swing dancing we asked to be taught tonight - because I have trouble remember to move my feet while I do it. In response, I toss her away at the end of every song. There is something between Jacki and I that is ideal for this sort of activity, a familiarity that allows us comfort enough for her to admonish that my hand is supposed to stay on her bra strap, as described to us by the initial instructor, and for me to tell her that I think I am better when I am trying to push her over. She is goodly enough to recalibrate to suit me and to stop me and move me away from the furniture I am constantly in danger of backing into. I can imagine few other of my friend with whom I would relax enough to make sufficient mistakes to improve. And improve, I intend to. I've lived too long saying I am one day going to learn to dance.

I solicited female company for this dance, because I need to learn with someone and felt that preserving heteronormative equilibrium would be for the best. This was somewhat unnecessary; there were easily three women for every man, though most of them were plainly months (or decades) ahead on me.

Sara the Goode, whom I had not seen almost since graduation from grad school four years ago, is there and helps instruct us. She dances with Jacki and I watch their feet so I can attempt the spin with some conviction. She later squeezes me against her, chiding that I have spaghetti arms and that I have to hold my partner more tightly so I can better direct her.

As we are about to leave, a red-haired woman - a stranger of whom I have taken no prior note - approaches me and asks for a dance. In another context, I might take this for flirtation and become skittish, but not here. Jacki encourages me to stay, but it is too cold out and I need to drive her to her car. I turn to the woman and tell her this, adding, "Will you be here next week?"

"Next week and every week."

"Then I promise you will be my first dance next week." Because, of course, having tried something new and brave, I am now intent to make this a regular part of my week.

Her eyes are unconvinced, but she nods. I am pleased to have a partner in reserve next week, for however long I can delay her from finding a better partner.

Soon in Xenology: Maybe a job, Jinx and Kestrel.

last watched: Arrested Development
reading: The Catcher in the Rye
listening: Mark & James

The Struggle to Write | 2010 | Tomorrow of Its Strength

Thomm Quackenbush is an author and teacher in the Hudson Valley. Double Dragon publishes four novels in his Night's Dream series (We Shadows, Danse Macabre, and Artificial Gods, and Flies to Wanton Boys). He has sold jewelry in Victorian England, confused children as a mad scientist, filed away more books than anyone has ever read, and tried to inspire the learning disabled and gifted. He is capable of crossing one eye, raising one eyebrow, and once accidentally groped a ghost. When not writing, he can be found biking, hiking the Adirondacks, grazing on snacks at art openings, and keeping a straight face when listening to people tell him they are in touch with 164 species of interstellar beings. He likes when you comment.

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