Dancing Through Time
Ripeness Is All
Arthur Chandler, 2014
Stage One: Parental Pressure
When I was in later junior high/early high school (can’t recall exactly when) in Lubbock, Texas, my mother decided to enroll me in a social dance group called “The Stardusters.” As you can imagine, the nature of the group and the name had negative cool value among the people I hung out with.
We young gentlemen and ladies were taught the box step, and maybe some others, so that we could hypothetically negotiate the floor on social dance evenings. I hated these enforced soirées; and I imagine that the girls I was forced to dance with inwardly groaned when I was shoved in their direction by well-meaning but essentially evil adult proctors.
I can’t remember how I eventually weaseled out of these sessions. Possibly I feigned death.
Now I remember: I hid out in the men’s restroom where the adult harpies cound’t reach me.
Stage Two: The Fantasy
Jeanie and I had watched some old Fred Astaire and Bo Jangles movies, and decided that we would try to learn tap dancing. After the first class, I was struck down by a wrenching backache (beginners at anything seem to injure themselves by over-enthusiastic but incorrect movements). When I was dosing myself with pills and ointment the next day, Jeanie returned from a visit to her doctor and announced that she was pregnant.
End of dance fantasy.
Stage Three: “Visible Music”
About twenty years ago, Jeanie’s parents gave us a cash gift for “whatever we wanted.” We decided to spend it on a package deal that included private dance lessons, group classes and dance parties – this on the assumption that, if we only took one lesson at a time, the temptation would be to quit if/when the going got rough, but if we had already paid for the whole deal, we would feel obliged to “get our money’s worth” and keep going.
We went at it, not with youthful enthusiasm, but “grim, middle-aged determination.” We continued studying, practicing (in our living room and at ballrooms), studying dance how-to videos, and even going out to salsa clubs and honky-tonks that featured swing music. Our first dance teacher remarked that it usually took adult beginners about three years to “get it” – a correct prediction. “Get it” meant, in this case, to have enough basic patterns in muscle memory, and enough skill in leading (me) and following (Jeanie) to spend the now-liberated attention on styling and dancing on top of the music.
In our early 50s, we enjoyed Latin dancing most (cha-cha, samba, etc.). But to do those well, you need a crisp sharpness to your moves that we just could not execute at our age. Over time, we have come to enjoy the kind of dancing known as standard, or smooth: waltz, tango, foxtrot, quickstep and Viennese waltz. Overall, we can do some 14 dances. But our favorites are bolero (slow and romantic) and Viennese waltz (very fast and joyful), and Night Club Two-Step (easy and smooth).
I’ve always loved Viennese culture, and especially the music (what other city can boast of this quality line-up: Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Brahms, Strauss senior and junior, Mahler and Schönberg?) One of the most elegant features of Viennese society is its longtime tradition of hosting balls – well over a hundred in a single season lasting from New Year’s Eve until some time in February. All kinds of organizations host these events: journalists, philanthropic groups, lawyers, all branches of the military, hunting societies, etc.
The three balls that we attended – the Florists’ Ball, the Pharmacisits’ Ball, and the Vienna Philharmonic Ball – were immense in scope (over 1,000 people at each event), and sumptuous in their settings. They are very formal: gowns for ladies (see attachment), tails for men (tuxedos are considered low class and ill-suited for dancing). The balls start at 10:00 p.m. and run until 5:00 a.m. Though there are several rooms for dancing, they are all – especially the main ballroom -- quite full, even at 3:30 in the morning, as we discovered.
No matter: the whole feeling of dancing in a supremely elegant ballroom in beautiful Vienna made every evening feel like a whirl through the heavenly gates.
Written in 2008; revised, 2015