In grade school, dancing consisted of holding someone too tightly and swaying from side-to-side, in dim light, until the music stopped.
When you’re in your 20s, the hug and shuffle just doesn’t cut it anymore. But unfortunately, it’s a technique that I’ve continued to employ, until now.
With invitations to three weddings sitting on my hall table, I asked Ottawa dance instructor Dan Labelle to show me some moves.
He takes my right hand in his left and instructs me to put my left hand just above his bicep. The hand on the arm acts as a speedometer, said the Fred Astaire Dance Studios franchisee. “You can feel the man’s body move forward.”
With the arms solved, we tackle the feet for the foxtrot.
“Bring your right foot back, then your left foot back and your right foot to the right side,” he said.
The left foot closes in to join the right foot.
As someone who constantly mixes up lefts and rights, I stomped his foot almost immediately.
“Sorry,” I said.
“Occupational hazard,” he smiled.
He whirls me around the room for the waltz.
If trying not to trip wasn’t distracting enough, I’m conscious of all the other couples in the room, spinning around us like quarters on a tabletop.
Labelle’s so confident of his space, he makes it look like a walk in the park.
Labelle asks me what I usually do for fun and before I know it, we’re twirling effortlessly. It occurs to me that I’m being distracted.
He likens dancing to learning a musical instrument or using a keyboard — with practice, the motions feel more natural.
“It’s not so much brain memory as it is muscle memory,” he said.
“I can tell you have good flexibility, because you were taking larger steps,” he said. “And you’re strong, which is a good thing. You follow well.”
Apparently, this makes it easier for the lucky guy who might find himself as my partner.
“If you’re dancing with someone and her arms are noodle-y, then it makes it hard to lead,” he said.
As challenging as I found it, I don’t have it as bad as the guys, Labelle said.
“They have to learn to lead the ladies,” he said.
“Teaching a gentleman how to dance is like teaching them how to swim. For ladies, it’s like teaching her to float.”