Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Saturday Night at the VFW

With my husband working out of town, I'm always looking for entertainment on the weekends that he doesn't fly home. My criteria: fun, affordable, and wholesome. When my girlfriend invited me to Saturday night ballroom dancing at the VFW downtown, I was intrigued, but skeptical. "Seriously," I asked, "the VFW?" I was picturing old geezers in faded army uniforms pushing walkers and oxygen tanks around the floor. But my friend, a very hip 50-something single, assured me that I would enjoy it. She knows I love to dance.

Dancing is in my blood. I even have a couple of chorus girls and a Rockette in my lineage. My parents were the Fred and Ginger of their social set, and my dad started me on the fox trot as soon as I was tall enough to dance with him without standing on his feet. My husband loves to dance too, but he's more of a freestyler. He wooed me on disco dance floors, and he still moves like no one I've ever seen, but every once in a while I long for the structure and predictability of ballroom dancing. So I took the opportunity, put on my dancing shoes, and went to meet my friend.

For ambiance, the VFW has next to nothing to recommend it. The dance was in a big institutional hall with a bandstand at one end and a bar at the other. The dance floor was huge, with a perimeter of long tables and chairs, and the place was packed. Scanning the crowd, I saw mostly 50 and 60-somethings: totally my demographic. A really good live band, the Archers (also 50 and 60-somethings) filled the air with covers of everything from Rock to Swing to Latin. And people were dancing. Really dancing.

I spotted a few couples who had surely been dancing together for years -- they floated from move to move with practiced familiarity and grace. But even the dancers who weren't polished had obviously taken some ballroom lessons. Everybody knew the steps, the turns, the variations, the footwork. The guys knew how to lead, and the girls knew how to follow. I was in my element and I couldn't wait for someone to ask me to dance.

I stood at the edge of the dance floor tapping my foot to the music and trying to look approachable and friendly, but after ten minutes I started to feel, again, like the skinny, pimpled adolescent with glasses and braces who had wallflowered at lots of high school dances. I forced myself to stand up straight and not look desperate. My heart sank a little more with each song that saw me standing, partnerless, on the sidelines. Was I destined to always be a wallflower at a dance with my peers?

Finally, one of my friend's regular dance partners approached me and asked me to dance. Did she put him up to it? I didn't care. Out on the dance floor I easily followed his lead, adding a few flourishes learned years ago at the many Bar Mitzvahs and wedding receptions where I had honed my skills. I must have completed some kind of unspoken initiation, because once I demonstrated that I could indeed dance, my dance card filled up and I didn't sit down until the band quit at midnight.

Some of my partners were experts, some were beginners, but they were all serious about dancing. They led me through fox trots, rhumbas, two-steps, and cha-chas. They twirled me through energetic swing dances. They waltzed me around the floor and I imagined myself in a hoop skirt and crinoline. Each gentleman politely thanked me after our dance and led me back to where he had found me. I felt, finally, like one of the popular girls.

At the end of the night, I ducked into the ladies' room and glanced at my reflection in the mirror. I was flushed and disheveled. My hair was damp and my clothes clung wetly. I was out of breath. My feet hurt. And I was utterly spent and happy. So, if you're looking for me on Saturday night, you'll probably find me at the VFW. I'll save a dance for you.

Deb recommends:
Saturday dance at Kelly Ingram VFW Post 668
8:00 pm - midnight
1801 11th Avenue North
Birmingham, AL
Admission: $5.00
Cash bar

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