Four Left Feet

October 02, 1994|By Madeleine Begun Kane

"Dance lessons can lead to divorce," said our instructor. Not her strongest selling point, but selling wasn't her goal. She simply wanted to dispose of a couple whose bickering was getting on her nerves. Did I sigh with relief when the embarrassed duo slinked out of the room? Not exactly. You see, the woman was talking to my husband and me.

Throughout our 16-year marriage, my husband and I have often enjoyed careening across the dance floor. Somehow, we've always managed to have fun even though we don't know a rumba from a rhomboid. But sometimes an especially graceful couple does inspire a spark of envy. "We really should take lessons," one of us observes, as the other nods and says, "Someday."

Last summer, when our vacation place offered a free dance lesson, it seemed like a good idea. We were there. The price was perfect. And goodness knows, we could use the help. So we took our clumsy but enthusiastic limbs downstairs, where the inn was holding a class. We were excited; we were about to learn to dance.

There were 30 other couples of varying ages, shapes and skills. And it soon became clear that they shared one trait; they all danced better than we.

It didn't bother us at first. We giggled at our missteps. We even laughed as my husband's spins sent me skidding across the floor.

But when the other couples began to catch on to that six-beat swing routine, our attitude began to change. As their movements started to resemble dance, my husband and I progressed from (( amused to serious to anxious, frustrated and enraged. He and I rarely argue. However, that night our public failure to get a single step right brought out the worst in both of us.

I now realize that we were angry at ourselves. But my manifestation of anger was directed at him, as his was at me. I saw my spouse as a rhythmically pathetic oaf, unable to do even the most basic step without inflicting physical harm. Surely were HTC I partnered with anyone else, I would have glided across the floor, arousing admiring glances and jealous looks. And my husband brandished an attitude that mirrored my own. It's no wonder we were banished from that class.

Why did we turn something pleasurable into such a negative experience? Who cares if I tend to lead? So what if my husband's feet are magnetically attracted to my toes?

I did some soul searching after that episode -- after we calmed down and made our peace. And I traced my behavior back to gym class, to my years as the classic class klutz.

Remember the little girl nobody picked for the team? I was that girl and, I suppose, deservedly so. After all, who wants an uncoordinated slowpoke? Who needs an undersized child who ducks if a softball drifts in her direction?

My dance-class stumbles sent me spiraling back to my time as a gym-class pariah -- a memory I'd managed to bury for years. Sure, I've experienced my share of embarrassment and failure during my post-childhood decades. But no adult experience so viscerally evoked that early humiliation as did our dance-class fiasco.

Once again, I was trapped in a large room trying to learn a skill that requires coordination. Once again, I was surrounded by people more sure-footed than I. Yes, throughout that dance class I relived my gym-class disgrace. The tears over being left out. Those sullen glances exchanged by unhappy classmates when I was inflicted on their team. And I turned my frustration against my husband. I desperately needed somebody else to blame.

Apparently, so did he.

After this revelation, I tried to talk about it with my spouse. I wanted to tell him that we shouldn't let our lack of grace keep us from doing something we enjoy. But he was reluctant to discuss it, so I didn't get very far. He did, however, admit to being less than a gym-class star.

I decided to do something far more useful than talk. The next night I greeted my husband with loud swing music and a living room cleared of chairs.

"Let's dance," I said as I grabbed his briefcase and tossed it out of our path.

Soon we were twisting and turning and thrusting to the beat. Nothing fancy. Nothing pretty or elaborate or correct. Just frenzied, joyful movement more or less in sync with the music.

We didn't do any discernible dance that night. We did something much more important. We had fun.

MADELEINE BEGUN KANE is a free-lance writer living in Bayside, N.Y.

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