26 July 2010

Ballroom blitz

My senior year of college, I somehow fell in with some of the people in the college's folk dance group. They'd drag me to practices and events when I had a little extra time, and because I actually had learned ballroom dancing, polka and schottische, foxtrot and waltz, reels and squares, sometimes I'd be asked to fill in for an absent member.

In the spring, the folk dance group, along with the combined orchestras of my college and another planned to sponsor an event, a waltz night. Part of the evening was to be a dancing exhibition, and my friend LK came to me and asked me to be his partner, promising that I wouldn't have to give up any time to practice.

I begged off with various excuses: I was taking 4 classes to finish up my degree (3 was the maximum), I was writing my thesis, I was working 40 hours, and what do you mean there'll be no practice? I could waltz, but I wasn't that good.

It would be fine, LK soothed. You know the basics. Just let me lead.

But I groused at him that I didn't have time, and besides--age-old woman's complaint--what was I supposed to wear? It wasn't like I had a ball gown just lying around my apartment.

Petit fours, LK teased me. Pastries. Food would be served. It was a Saturday night. And, he finished, he was sure that I could find something to wear.

(I frequently helped LK doll himself up before he and his gang of friends went clubbing in West Hollywood. Because he was only a little taller than me, he could squeeze into my shoes, and frequently borrowed my pumps to go dancing. LK loved me for my clothes and makeup and scintillating banter. Our friendship was, quite purely, friendship.)

You said there'd be no practices, I pouted.

Just let me lead, he said.

I studied dance for years and I'm a control freak. It's very hard for me to follow.

Eventually, though, between LK's cajoling and my own desire to do something other than study and work, I agreed to join him. Then I went over to my sorority house and rummaged through the costume closet until I came up with an ivory satin ball gown that, paired with my own character shoes, would serve. I'd worn the dress once before for a sorority event, and I knew it was long enough for me, though it had been made for a slightly smaller busted woman. Still, it was a pretty dress, form fitting from the bodice down through the hips where it flared out into a gored skirt that would look very nice while I was dancing and wouldn't tangle around my legs.

The night of the event, I slipped into the dress and held my breath while my roommate zipped me in. As I cautiously let my breath out, she observed that I was well and truly corseted by the dress alone, and we agreed that it was fortunate I was slender enough not to need the girdle I'd dragged out just in case because neither of us were sure how I'd have gotten another layer between me and the dress, it was so tight through the hips. I sprayed and pinned what hair I had into the world's tiniest chignon, applied some lipstick and headed off to the "ballroom."

LK, resplendent in his tuxedo, looked relieved that I'd actually shown up and in character, escorted me gallantly to the refreshment tables. I laughed, without breathing, and pointed out that if I ate or drank anything, I'd undoubtedly start popping seams.

"You look lovely," he hissed in my ear, "so shut up!"

For spring, it was a very warm and still evening, and the unairconditioned dining hall was even warmer, though someone had thought to open the French doors and windows. I felt a little trickle of perspiration course down my spine, and I saw LK surreptitiously wipe his palms on his trousers as the professor who directed the folk dance group announced the start of the exhibition dancing and all of us who were dancing gathered in a circle in the center of the room. Then she announced that we'd start with a dance I hadn't bargained on. I glared at LK as he quickly explained the pattern, including a small jump...and a lift.

"You can't lift me," I whispered furiously at him. Not only were we near the same height, I was wearing heels, which put my center of gravity in an awkward place.

"I know you're strong enough to do most of the lifting yourself," he replied blithely, baring his teeth at me in a grin through his facial hair. "Just follow me."

Famous last words.

LK was an excellent dancer, and in truth, I found him pretty easy to follow, when I was paying attention. If my concentration slipped, I started steering him, which he didn't appreciate at all. In this case, I had to pay attention, since I was dancing something I didn't even know.

We made it through the first figure, and I clenched my teeth and my abdominal muscles as I kicked my legs hard to get enough elevation to clear the first lift, grateful that the cut of the skirt was full enough to disguise my slightly flailing legs. I heard LK grunt a little, his hands hard around my waist as he pushed me into the air while I kicked. And in midair, I felt his grip slide just a little on the satin of the dress. As we started the second figure, he met my eyes, looking a little alarmed.

"Sweaty palms," he whispered, swiftly swiping his hands down my hips, and then we both turned to smile gaily at the audience, also dressed in costume, watching us. I remember, quite clearly, one older woman sitting on a balloon-backed chair, wearing what for all the world looked like Victorian widow's weeds, nodding her gigantic hat in time to the music, the rim banging gently into the grey-bearded gentleman standing behind her. For an eerie moment, I felt transported to some far away time and place.

And the band played on. And we prepared for the second lift. Which we got through with LK's hands digging painfully into my rib cage.

Third figure and LK was sweating freely, little drops of moisture dotting his dark beard and moustache. I found that I was perspiring gently through my dress, with the slightest damp patch forming just below my bustline while I suspected another at the base of my spine.

"Follow me," LK hissed, and I realized that I wasn't, that I was starting to panic a little, and I concentrated on the next lift, which we survived through lack of elevation. Fourth and final figure I thought, as LK dragged me close, and whisper-screamed in my ear, "I love you, you are beautiful, but FOLLOW ME, DAMMIT!"

My buddy, beating me with both the carrot and the stick.

While trying to give him the lead, I stumbled over one of his feet, and so was late on the kick. His wet hands slid round my waist, unable to get purchase on the slippery, damp satin, and I felt my body go into freefall...

...until he caught the fabric on the back of the dress with both hands, grabbing the fullness where the skirt flared just below my hips. And held me in the air, by the dress, until the lift was finished. I remained very still, clutching his shoulders, fearful he'd drop me, fearful the already straining dress would give way. As he carefully set me back on my feet, I felt a single stitch pop in the princess seam running along the right side of my torso. We stared, eyes wide, at each other for a moment, and then turned to acknowledge the audience applause.

I remember little else about that evening. I know LK and I danced for at least another hour, but there were no more lifts, just the occasional tiny pop as another stitch gave way in the princess seaming of the bodice. Later, after we staggered up to the dormitory where LK lived, I collapsed in a damp heap in the dorm hallway, and our other friend SJ appeared with a bottle of frozen vodka, which he offered to me and LK in turn. We both refused and demanded that SJ bring us water instead.

Sitting across from me on the floor, LK pulled off my shoes and started to rub my feet. It was the closest I was going to get to an apology for his subterfuge about the first dance. I will take the foot massage any day.

SJ returned with water, and lowered himself down next to me, while other friends gathered to hear about the evening.

"You look lovely," SJ said ironically, fastidiously eying my disheveled self. I examined the little hole that had opened in the dress, small threads trailing down the bodice.

I let my head drop onto his shoulder and yawned. "I looked better before L. tried to kill me."

"L," SJ chided in his best school marm voice. "Why did you try to kill A?"

"A. was very wonderful," LK replied, humbly.

"So were you," I laughed. "You caught me!"

"You dropped her?" another friend inquired.

"No," LK replied, quite precisely, "I caught her."

We grinned at each other.

"But, damn, girl, you can NOT follow," he continued, justifiably peeved. "Next time, I'm wearing the dress."

Go listen to some good music: "Ballroom Blitz" from the album Desolation Boulevard by Sweet. And so ended my brilliant ballroom dancing career.

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