Framed photos of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, frozen in elegant poses, welcome me to my first dance lesson at Parma’s American Ballroom Centre.
Several couples glide with ease across the hardwood floor as music reminiscent of Frank Sinatra croons in the background. Their spins are smooth, black heels hitting every step, far from their partner’s toes. Their faces are calm, devoid of the strained expressions I produce when attempting any dance beyond the sophistication of the electric slide.
My dance partner and I exchange tentative glances as the instructor shuffles the ladies into a line. I lean over and whisper to the woman standing on my right, then my left, inquiring whether they had danced the fox-trot before. They had.
I was the new kid at school.
Tonight’s lesson, the fox-trot, is fortunately well-suited for beginners, establishing basic moves such as the box step and promenade, which are built into many other dances.
The five other couples are dressed in casual to semi-formal attire. On the advice of several dancer experts, I’m dressed to move.
And move I did — in the wrong direction.
“Slow, quick, quick,” chants the instructor, reinforcing the box step.
It became our mantra. My partner and I hum it aloud together, attempting to keep step. Eventually in the lesson, our humming dies down and we’ve ceased bumping heads attempting to watch every step. The sequences flow naturally; our bodies mysteriously seem to have caught on.
With five minutes left in the group lesson, the instructor weaves through couples, observing each more closely, fixing mistakes and adjusting posture. When it is our turn for the coaching, “Dirty Dancing” quotes break my concentration: “Look, spaghetti arms. This is my dance space. This is your dance space. ... You gotta hold the frame.”
Johnny would have had a rough time with me.
Private dance lessons help address the nitty-gritty of working my arms into shape. I stand close to the monitor where my instructor, Rick Harmon of American Ballroom Centre, plays disc jockey, pointing out the difference between the sounds of tango and the cha-cha. Then leading me by the hand, he escorts me to the dance floor to experiment with moves for each dance he introduces. The fox-trot, waltz, swing and cha-cha are good places to begin, he says.
After just two private lessons and a handful of group lessons, you can expect a good introduction to ballroom dancing. Harmon recommends 10 private lessons if you want to become competent in a few ballroom dances.
It doesn’t take long before you begin to feel as though you’re being inducted into a family — one that dances much better than your Uncle Al. Don’t be surprised if you become addicted. You may find yourself practicing the rumba everywhere from the bus stop to the bathroom at work — where Ginger and Fred won’t be watching over your every step.