On New Year’s Eve in 1965, her parents were most likely at a local dance club, socializing, drinking, and most importantly, dancing the night away. Her father was a Ricky Ricardo look-alike, and her mom, with her bouffant up-do and elegant cigarette holder in her hand, was a classic beauty. Later that month, stars still sparkling in their eyes, a baby girl was conceived. It was there, I believe, I found where I would dedicate my being.
Her mother continued going to dancing soirees that year with her father, and I felt the absolute joy of moving around in the womb to the rhythm of the music. When the time came, this tiny dancer entered the world, screaming and kicking as most babies do. Music and dancing are like lightning and thunder, butterflies and cocoons, living and breathing. Where there is one, the other naturally follows. Music constantly flowed at our house. As dancing shoes, I was going to rock her world.
As a three-time flower girl, she and I spent many hours dancing with relatives and strangers at family weddings. Sometimes she danced with the bride, playing with her dress train, pretending she’d be a princess, too, one day. Her dad would pick her to dance with, and I’d rest on his feet while the band played “Moon River” or “The Girl from Ipanema.” He’d hold her hands, looking down at me, his only daughter standing on his shiny black Florsheims. As dancing shoes, I had to start somewhere.
Oh, how I loved to dance. There was no professional ballet or modern dance training; she simply heard the music, and her body moved on its own accord. Her mom would lay on the bed and watch us dance to popular songs in the late 70s, and her mind drifted far away. Her arthritis started earlier than usual, and dancing into her golden years were not in the cards. I was sad her shoes were finished and shelved; they had good lives. Her mom enjoyed watching us as my dancer was giggling, pirouetting and prancing around the room on blue shag carpet as if she were a superstar.
I never assumed she was any good at it. At high school dances, she watched what other kids did and imitated them, turning their moves into her own, combining styles. At that time kids tended to dance in large circles of friends, watching each other from across the way. I picked up moves from everyone: real dancers, cheerleaders, other band members, the popular kids, and not-so-popular kids. After a typical school dance, she’d come home with blisters on her feet, her heals bleeding and stuck to the back of her shoes. With movies like “Dirty Dancing,” “Flashdance,” and “Footloose,” teens were encouraged to dance like no one was watching. A dancing revival.
During her college years, we’d go to night clubs with friends and felt perfect and free. Most clubs in the city closed down at 3 am, and she was part of that small group that saw what they all looked like when the lights were turned on: sweating, disheveled, make-up gone… which usually meant they had a great time. Dancing along the beach at night was another favorite pastime. Portable Discman in her hand, she was a star, moving in time with the universe. The friend she usually went with had his own music player and headset, and together they’d wend their way along the shore, merrily dancing to different tunes.
Her wedding started at 3 pm and ended at 3 am as we danced into the early morning hours. At that time, I was nothing more than a sequined pair of satin slippers.
She chose “Sunrise, Sunset” for the bride/father dance. As we moved together, I lifted her up to dance near his feet without any reservation. She danced with everyone, and the DJ kept spinning those high-energy songs we all loved so much. As I said, her extended family loved dancing, and they didn’t want to stop.
When she became Married: With Children, I was no longer part of the picture. I’d been kicked to side, scuffed and splintered, forgotten.
Difficult childbirth, post-partum depression, time constraints, and absolute exhaustion drained what little energy she had left in the day. The last thing she wanted to do was go dancing. Children may love the Hokey Pokey and Chicken Dance (I didn’t), but her feet hurt so much from working as a classroom teacher. I just had to remain quiet, hidden away in the deepest recesses of the closet. The dusty stereo stayed quiet, and her Walkman walked off while Simba and Woody continued playing on the VCR.
At times, I felt her thinking about me. At other weddings, she watched people on the dance floor, but couldn’t summon the urge as she did when she was younger. “I’m getting too old for this,” she convinced herself. “I don’t want to look foolish on the dance floor. This isn’t my music.” Her husband never cared much for dancing, so they’d end up staying at the dinner tables, tossing back a rum and Coke or a beer, and chatting the night away as the heavy music continued to thump in the background. I wanted so desperately to get out there.
As the boys grew up, they’d spend time at their friends’ houses or out camping in the woods. I could feel her need to move at home as if she wanted to crank the CDs up, but her husband’s sleep routine included sleeping at odd hours because of constantly changing shift work. Our dancing days shimmered in the distance, a summer mirage of the fun she once had, still so far out of reach.
Elusive and omnipresent, I watched her move just a little at concerts, standing in lines, or even vacuuming the house. I felt like a shadow standing just behind her, tapping her on the shoulder as if to say, “May I have this dance?” All her friends had families and lives of their own, and it seemed there was no one else among her family and friends getting married. Her joy was marred by the myriad responsibilities of adulthood. The opportunities for carefree dancing just dried up. I was no longer a part of her life as was nearly ready to call it quits.
And then they went on a special cruise. They weren’t the cruising type; they felt it was a cliché default for old retirees with nothing else to do with their pensions. It was during a short period of time Americans were allowed to go to Cuba as part of an “educational experience.” On the ship they were on, authentic Latin music was everywhere in celebration of the destination, music she had grown up with at family functions. The rhythm was gonna get her. I danced with joy thinking about it.
It was the drink package that helped her find me, always right there before her, and we couldn’t be stopped. It was as if she were seventeen again, just wildly flailing her arms and moving in time to the beat. A quarter of a century of cobwebbed energy uncorked and pouring out. This was the entire day. This occurred at noon as she was dancing alone in a 60º pool that was swaying in heavy waves as a DJ played hits on the top deck. This was on the stairs between dinner and the comedy show. This was closing down the dance floors at 4 am. This was alcohol on its best behavior for a week.
The floodgates had reopened, and dancing now become something she was known for (thanks to me). The dancing queen just wouldn’t stop and no longer cared what other people thought. One time at a small local music venue she danced for four hours straight, drinking what the server provided. Just before midnight, a random guy asked her, “What have you been drinking?” thinking she might have needed liquid courage to be the only one out on the dance floor at times.
“Um. Water, no ice.” She had me, her dancing shoes, and that was all she needed.
He looked confused, incredulous that it was just water that propelled her. She didn’t need margaritas to dance anymore; I was now completely molded to her feet. She had rediscovered the activity she needed to restore some long-forgotten happiness. She tipped the server $20, and he said, “I just brought you water.”
“Yes, and that’s all I needed. Thank you.”
Now? I have stayed close to her, never leaving her side. She dance-cleans, a term she uses to describe listening to a Bluetooth headset while Swiffering the house, raking leaves in the yard, or watering plants in the front yard. She doesn’t care who sees her; we’ll boogie on down to the mailbox in pajamas. Her parents are long gone, and the kids are in their 20s venturing out on their own. Her husband no longer needs certain hours to sleep, which means she often has Spotify on so loud you can hear it from the street.
I had returned this star to her galaxy, and I’m not going anywhere until she breaks a hip. Even then I’ll help her shoulder dance in a wheelchair, still solidly holding on her feet.