When my parents danced, their marriage played out on the dance floor. The two moved together in rhythm, my mother throwing flirtatious little grins over her shoulder as dad spun her, my tall father’s body like a comma so he could lean close and whisper in my petite mother’s ear.
The two anticipated each other’s moves and the dance floor would empty around them as other dancers’ energy flagged. My mom and dad danced every dance at every wedding and every Mardi Gras ball and every party.
Like many girls, I learned to dance atop my father’s feet. Jitterbugs and waltzes and crazy turns and dips.
When it was time for my first school dance, my mother watched from the sofa while my father and I turned methodically around the living room, all of us laughing at my mis-steps.
“Just watch my eyes and not your feet,” my dad would say. But gazing into his eyes was an intimacy for my mother and nothing I could sustain without breaking into nervous giggles.
Later in life, I took dance lessons. Salsa and ballroom. Country western line dancing. I could cha-cha and boogie on cue. I couldn’t wait for the next family wedding so I could take my dad to the dance floor and finally keep up.
And, finally, a cousin married. That night, after many dances with my mother, my dad held his hand out to me while my mother, fanning herself, went off to get a cool drink.
I faced my dad, right hand loosely clasped in his, left hand perched on his shoulder. The music started. And I stepped on his feet. And then he stepped on mine.
“Sorry,” he said with a wince.
And, the secret was out. My dad didn’t know dance steps! My one-two-three-cross was at cross-purposes with the dance he was trying to lead.
“I just dance,” he said, shrugging.
We stumbled through the rest of the song and then, with relief, my dad reclaimed my mother.
It would take years – years of watching my parents swoop along the dance floor – before I realized that dancing isn’t about the steps. It’s about improvisation. And feeling rhythm. And trusting someone enough to follow, even when you’re not sure where the heck they’re leading.
Dad’s been gone for two years now and I’m still dancing. I’ve gotten pretty good at leading, but I’m still a novice at that following stuff. On and off the dance floor.