Being in a giving mood has him taking dance lessons

March 04, 1999|By Joel Huffer

Remember what happened when you announced that you were getting married?

It seemed that everyone you knew - married, unmarried, divorced and remarried - felt inclined to offer their unsolicited advice.

[cont. from lifestyle]

You heard things like, "Marriage is a two-way street, you know?"

"There's no more 'me first.' Now it's 'we first,' " people said.

And of course, the old standard, "It's all about give and take," popped up every now and then, too.

Certainly each of these cliches is true, but it's the last one that recently hit home for me.

It was Valentine's Day weekend, and I - a husband of 2 1/2 years - was in a giving mood. Now, I find myself taking ballroom dance lessons.


If only those people had been a little more specific with their advice ...

My first real "cultural endeavor" (that's secret code among men who think "dance lessons" sounds sissy) started when my wife Helen and I canceled a weekend ski trip to Pennsylvania. Mild mid-week temperatures had forced the closure of many of the resort's slopes so, rather than settle for a mediocre getaway, we decided to revamp our Valentine's plans.

I figured some flowers, dinner and a romantic movie should just about cover it. Right?


Some of Helen's friends from work had been pursuing a "cultural endeavor" called swing, and invited us to join them one Friday night. I wasn't real big on the idea, and for several weeks I successfully managed to avoid the outing.

But on this weekend, with an assist from Mother Nature, my luck had run out.

Helen really wanted to join her friends, so I decided to give it a try. It was time to trade hitting the slopes for swinging like a dope.

The fateful Friday arrived, and Helen's friends agreed to drive the roughly 40 miles to Hollywood Ballroom in Silver Spring, Md. I saw this as a good thing, because I surely didn't want to waste my gas money.

We reached our destination shortly before the scheduled 8 p.m. lesson - uh, "endeavor" - and, like an athlete before a big game, I surveyed the competition. Don't ask me why. I knew going in that I would be the least coordinated person there.

Soon after, Steve ("Ladies and gents, I'm your DJ and dance instructor") Ferrara arrived. He looked strikingly like '80s rock star Rick Springfield, with a touch of master illusionist David Copperfield thrown in. I was hoping he possessed some of Copperfield's skills, because making me look good truly would require an act of magic.

He lined up the men and women on opposite sides of the room and began his instruction from the center of the floor. He walked us through the basic steps using terms like triple step, release move and sugar push. For a minute, I thought maybe he had watched too much professional wrestling.

The instruction was pretty painless (of course, it wasn't my toes I was stepping on) and lasted a little less than an hour. Confident we were comfortable with our newly acquired swing savvy, Steve sent us on our merry way.

The instruction was only the half of it. Three hours of "open ballroom" (that's secret code among experienced dancers for "let's laugh at the beginners") followed.

We watched as people twisted and twirled to the cha cha and fox-trot. We watched as they shuffled and swayed to the samba and waltz.

And then, it happened. Steve, now serving as disk jockey, called a swing.

I gathered myself, took a deep breath and walked with my wife to the floor. I ran through the steps in my head, smiled at Helen, took another deep breath and let 'er rip.

Much to my amazement, I actually could do it. I wasn't Arthur Murray, but I wasn't too bad, either.

Two weeks later, we decided to go again. We went with the same friends and this time learned the hustle.

The instruction seemed easier, and I noticed I wasn't the least coordinated person there anymore. Of course there were moments when a swing crept into my hustle and vice versa, but that was OK. I was still learning.

I never thought I would say it (especially in print for thousands to read), but I sort of enjoyed the whole "dancing" experience.

Something about it still confuses me, though. I'm a swinger and a hustler, and my wife loves every minute of it.

I wonder why nobody told me that about marriage.

Joel Huffer is Design Editor for The Herald-Mail.

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