By PATTIE BAKER
"It's like driving a car, guys," the Teri Garr look-alike dance instructor (find a dance school) says, and the four men in our class, including my husband, smile in recognition of the challenge ahead. They grip the steering wheel-our backs and outstretched right arms-and accelerate across the linoleum floor of Room 13 at the Spruill Arts Center as Anne Murray's "Can I have this dance for the rest of my life . . ." lilts on the CD player.
I, of course, gasp, knowing that I have to hold on tight to the seat belt, close my eyes and pray when my husband, or anyone, is driving. Control. I like control, all my pontificating about yoga and letting go aside. But here I am, in class number two, and if I want to be able to do this, to dance with my partner, my husband of 15 years, I have to follow, follow, follow, like that "Try to remember those days in September" lyrics from The Fantastiks. So I do the only thing I can think of. I close my eyes, hold onto him, and sway. Step, two, three. Step, two, three.
A cool song called On the Verge from a little-known contemporary band named Big Blue Sky comes on and we finally foxtrot in unison, step, step, step together, rock step, step together. We both feel it, the ease with which we are finally dancing.
"We're like that couple in Portland," I tell him, and he knows exactly who I mean, from eleven years ago, when he took a cross-country trip after law school and I flew in to drive from San Francisco to Seattle with him (although I missed most of northern California as we hugged the coast on hairpin turns because I was gripping and praying). In Oregon's Portland Courthouse Square, known as the City's living room, there's this weather machine that predicts the weather every day at noon. The day we went, a Cajun band was playing and a couple, probably mid-40s, was dancing "like no one was watching," to paraphrase that magnet I have on the refrigerator. We stood and watched them for ages. I believe we even videotaped them. I think we saw a glimpse that day of the future, and what it could be, in all its glory, although I don't remember at all what the weather machine predicted.
"You're leading again," our instructor says to me, week three, during the jitterbug. I can't close my eyes during the swing dances and my overwhelming desire to be in charge gets in the way again.
"You're dragging him along," she says. She has no idea how true that is. I have definitely dragged him to these classes that I have always wanted to take at an arts center that I pass in my daily travels, receive class schedule catalogs from in the mail, and even found as a five-star listing on Kudzu.com. My husband has yet to complain; I am actually the one who complains first.
"I'm sort of dreading going tonight," I had told him a few hours earlier. It's Sunday, and this is the night I like to settle in and read the paper, to catch my breath for the week ahead.
"Whatever you're feeling pales in comparison to what I think," he replies, hitting the remote control's pause button on the Bears Game, the Yankees play-offs, the Giants.
"Lucky for you there's TIVO, baby," he says, heading towards the car.
The least I can do is follow.
Week four, our final week at dance class, comes with a problem. My husband is sick. I wait all day for him to bring it up, that he really cannot go tonight, but he never does. I finally say, "Maybe my mother can go with me," but he blows it off. He's going. Anyone who put bets on this one, whether I'd even get him to go in the first place and whether or not he'd last all four weeks, would have lost big.
"This is like Dante's seventh circle of Hell for you tonight, isn't it?" I ask my husband as the East Coast swing's endless shuffles, back steps and turns work us both into a sweat.
But at least he gets to lead.