“When are you going back to the US?” asked Alex, who had been one of the more vocal students in the lindy hop class that evening. He wore big glasses, greased hair and very long sideburns, rockabilly style.
I leaned across to glance at his watch. “In nine hours. My flight leaves at 7am.”
The others reacted, quite understandably, that I should give myself more time to appreciate their beautiful city. Indeed, the bar in which we sat had already impressed me. Called Mogdaliani, it glowed quietly orange from dimmed recessed lighting, by which my gaze could wander casually over the film noir posters completely papering the wall. On our large rectangular table stood an enormous candelabra, glorious with layers upon layers of melted and hardened wax. I looked up; even the ceiling was covered with fascinating photographs and lettering in all possible shades of gray.
Across from me sat Jonathan, graciously hosting me for the night after having participated in my classes in Münster the previous weekend. He is a good friend of my good friend Olivier, the only man in Madrid who was ever able to throw me reliably in more than one air step, go on stage with me and pull off a great show. Although from France originally, Olivier had been studying in Madrid for five years, until he fell in love with a German gal (Nadine). Now he lives in the Ruhrgebiet. Thanks to the couple’s efforts, plus a former student of mine who encouraged the Münster lindy hop organizers to throw their marketing weight behind my workshop, I had been in Germany for over a week.
Olivier and Nadine understood my desire to go back to the States to reunite with my boyfriend, but I didn’t try to explain the whole story to Alex or the other Germans in attendance at Modigliani. I just smiled and said I would be back to visit Düsseldorf properly someday.
Over local beer and a little food (chili, pasta), conversation naturally centered around our favorite dance, the lindy hop.
“Sometimes, when I do a move,” Alex said, “I want to make sure I’m leading strong enough, but I’m worried that I’m leading with too much force.”
“A lot of guys think about that, but strength can be very good. You have to use it correctly and then it works great,” I said.
“How do I do that?”
“Use your right foot.”
“You know when you start a move, for example,” I began, “you usually do something with your left arm, like lift it up or use it to push the follower. But if instead, you push off the earth strongly with your right foot, while staying connected to the girl, she will feel a very clear lead that is also a lot of fun for her.”
Olivier, who was seated to my left, was smiling; I saw this out of the corner of my eye. He had heard me talk about this so many times before, I felt a little bad. Jonathan’s expression appeared on the pleasant side of neutral. The rest of the company, though, regarded me quizzically.
“You’ll have to show us,” said Alex.
“I’d love to,” I answered.
“We have to finish our beers though,” he rejoined.
“Seems fair to me,” I said.
“In the meantime I’ll tell you all a story,” said Alex, “about the Suzy Q.”
“OK,” Olivier laughed.
The Suzy Q is a move from vernacular jazz. Like many steps, it came originally from Africa and was passed down through centuries of slavery as those in bondage sought to preserve some of their spiritual practices. Dance was integral to spirituality and communication in West Africa, and that’s why we in the Americas have so many African dance moves today. The Suzy Q has always been a favorite. It involves stepping to the side while swiveling the feet and knees in and out. There’s a move by the same name in salsa, which entails a more parallel and closed movement of the legs. I like both versions.
“I was at work one day,” continued Alex, “practicing my Suzy Q.”
“What do you do at work?” I asked. “I mean, besides dancing.”
A bit of his explanation got lost in translation - I don’t speak a word of German, unfortunately - but Olivier stepped in with his multilingual skills to help me understand that, more or less, Alex worked in a warehouse.
“I didn’t know that some Japanese clients were coming that day, to tour the place,” Alex said next.
The other Germans, plus Jonathan (who is from Philadelphia), began to laugh.
“Did they see you?” asked Olivier.
“Well, it was so funny,” Alex answered, “because as I was practicing, this group of Japanese executives and their interpreter were coming around the corner. Then all of a sudden I looked around and there they were in front of me!”
After our collective mirth had died down a bit, Alex added, “And the best part was the interpreter said, ‘Oh, you’re doing the Suzy Q!”
“So he was a lindy hopper too?” I asked.
“Yeah,” said Alex. “He was like, show me that, how do you do that?”
The table erupted into laughter again.
“Well,” I said, “I’ve always thought that if nicotine and caffeine addicts are allowed to have their breaks at work, it’s only fair for dance addicts to have theirs too.”