The Times will occasionally feature reports from the field by readers experiencing events or classes we’ve listed. Recently arrived from New York, new Times contributor Jenny Klion decided to check out ballroom dance. Seen an event listed that you’d like to try? Write us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sunday night. Black ruched dress, white platform shoes, an Uber pickup, and I’m there at the Portuguese-American (P.A.) Club in Oak Bluffs, ready for my ballroom dance lesson. This has always been on my bucket list — the ballroom dancing part — so after another review of The Times’ event listings, I was down to check it out.
Turns out, this tight-knit group of dancers is really cool, engaged, and willing to teach and learn. Janet Holladay is “the force” behind the year-round weekly sessions, and according to in-the-know student Beth Kehoe, Jack Burton is the man who made it happen 25 years ago. Apparently he’s still there every week, and last Sunday night was no exception. Luckily for that; he really took me under his wing, which was fine, because I only stepped on his toes once.
At the P.A. Club I was introduced to several variations of the foxtrot, an extended version of the rumba, a little bit of cha-cha, a coupla waltzes, and a smattering of tango, but honestly, this new girl was getting dizzy going round and round, and had to sit that last one out. I also discovered that white plastic platform shoes are not the ideal footwear for dance, as I stared with some envy at the super-feminine ballroom dance shoes that most of the women were wearing.
Going solo to class was also no problem. Once we learned a particular step, as demonstrated by elegant hotshot instructors Tom and Dorothy Newton, there was a rapid changing of the guards: The men moved in a counter-clockwise direction toward a new partner. I must have danced with at least eight different men, and all seemed pretty patient with my newbie status. Well, there was one exchange with an attractive man that went something like:
Me: “Hi, I’m new.”
Him: “Me, too.”
So off we rumbaed, but I nearly lost it all when he immediately added, “But I do know you’re supposed to follow me.”
So another thing I learned: I’m not good at following others. This caused me to constantly break the “frame,” which apparently is the most basic rule in ballroom dancing. Together, you and your partner need to create a frame between your bodies while dancing, with the touchpoints being both arms, and the energized connection between them. You don’t lead with your arms though, you lead with your torso. And I’m not supposed to lead anyway! In the case of ballroom dancing, the men lead and the women follow.
I really don’t have a problem with that theoretically — in fact, it was kind of a relief — but putting this into action was another story. At one point I talked to Janet about the male/female dance dynamic, and she told me the new generation of ballroom dancers, the “up-and-comers,” were becoming more fluid and interchangeable with this status quo. Meanwhile, though, I’m not an up-and-comer (I’m more of a “been there, done that, now I’m older” type of person), but good to know.
Another thing I was schooled on: the “collecting” of your feet, which ultimately translates to something like you’re either on one foot or the other, and you have to pay attention, so that you don’t step off on the wrong foot. I confused this element many times in one section of the rhumba, where you’re twirling backward over and over again, but when I finally got it right, it felt very satisfying.
One very generous dancer, Tom Carberry, ruminated on ballroom dancing as a metaphor for life, so I guess in the end my most important lesson tonight was: Try not to step on any toes, but if it happens, at least make sure you’re wearing the proper shoes.
Ballroom dance, every Sunday night, 6:30 to 9 pm, P.A. Club, Oak Bluffs. Couples or singles. $3. 508-696-8428; BallroomDanceMV.org.