When Peter sees the room number, he cries “Faux-faux-faux!” Apparently this is an old pro-ball reference of an 80’s-era player predicting playoffs victory in three series of four games.
Kendall throws open the door. He’s wearing something that might be a suit jacket over T-shirt. “We’re out of Jack,” he announces.
I chide Kendall about missing the jam and then begin chatting up Deanna, his latest love interest. Peter starts talking about basketball with one of the dancers who is old enough to remember the 80’s.
Kendall interrupts my conversation with Deanna. “You’re not shitting me. There was a jam?”
“Yes.” I glance down at my hand because he has given me a plastic cup, into which he is now pouring Diet Coke, without my having asked.
I lift my eyes. “Where were you, baby?” I accuse.
“Up here in the room, having a lot of fun.” He sets the 2-liter bottle back on the table among the ice bucket, chip bags and alcohol jugs, picks up the one labeled Captain Morgan and splashes some of its contents into my cup.
“Oh, who’s the lucky girl?” I ask.
He hesitates, as though about to answer that question, then lists lindy hop rock stars. “No, actually Tommy, Tina, and Lauren were all up here drinking…. It was nuts.” Kendall pours Peter’s drink. I go over to Deanna, who’s now standing next to the farther bed.
“What are you wearing?” I’m eyeing her bare, 21-year-old shoulders. She’s tied a scarlet ribbon around her black hair, and framed her lustrous green eyes with powdery shimmer. Smokin’, Kendall has described her, while driving me home from an air steps lesson.
“Just a top,” she answers me, pulling down the elastic neckline, “and a bra. It’s a French cut.” She indicates the black and green lace cutting straight across the halfway mark of her breasts. “I used to work in a lingerie shop.” She covers up and studies my chest. “What are you, a 32C?”
I disabuse her of the flattering guess as the men in the room, excluding Peter, whoop and catcall over her glimpse of bra. I quiz her about support. I hate bouncing, but I feel so unsexy in a sports bra.
“They’re gonna bounce,” she shrugs.
Suddenly I remember her plunging neckline and bouncing boobs in the video of Wicked Lindy last August.
“Let’s go. Party’s over,” Kendall announces, replacing the caps on the jugs of rum and vodka, pitching the empty gallon-container of Jack Daniels. “I’ve gotta throw this fucking girl in the air.” He nods in my direction while looking at Peter and his interlocutor, who are still discussing basketball.
Time slips by as I dance with guy after guy. Even the ones I don’t know are good. It’s late enough that the bad ones have gone home. Many of the leaders now mix balboa into their lindy hop, so I apologize repeatedly. To the ones from Montreal, I say, “I’m coming up to Canadian Swing Championships in a couple of months!”
After some more dances with rock stars, one in the West Coast Swing room, I return to the Lindy Living Room intending to describe my exploits to Peter, but he is still talking basketball with the guy from Kendall’s party. The two of them are over near the coats. I descend the stairs to dance some more.
Soon afterward I notice Kendall fulfilling his mercy requirement with a chubby, clingy gal in a red dress. She is from some New England state. She looks familiar but I am forgetting her name. Since she’ll be an easy act to follow, I begin plotting a casual course in their direction. Just as I finish thanking my current partner, though, someone presumes to take my hand, and I know before I behold his aren’t-you-lucky smile that it’s Kendall.
He’s not a pretty sight, wearing a gray dri-weave shirt that probably used to be white; jeans; and scuffed Aris Allens. His hair is puffy on top, growing out. He has nothing on Peter in the looks department. The song is slow, and Kendall brings me in, and I use my mantras. Sometimes I stay on one foot after a turn or pass, letting the beats go by, sending energy down the outside of my arm, yielding to the next direction. I use a roll, a shake, click, or twist as I follow, and he does his now familiar nod. I’ve started to do that too, when guys lead inventive patterns.
A few dances later, the late-night DJ throws on a song that rips. People start clapping, forming a circle around one couple. Kendall and I lose no time, jockeying at the edge. “A-frame, then lamppost?” he asks, and I holler in the affirmative. At the first opportunity he swings me out. Then we tuck turn and snap into tandem Charleston; I already know to allow the platformed handhold without initiating it. In my mind I am saying, “Push down, shoulders down, push down, shoulders down!” They still feel rickety, but no one can see them because my feet are over everybody’s head as I kick out in a straddle, the backs of my knees facing the floor far below. A huge whoop goes up from the crowd.
Down. Swing out. Swing out. Kendall goes, “Yeah?” and I go, “Yeah.”
Stretch. Trust. Push off his hand and back, fly, land, wait for the lead.
Fuck - it was slow.
In the next instant, Kendall and I are are back at the inside edge of the circle, high-fiving. He smacks my butt, getting a good handful of right cheek. I thought we’d only done OK, so I start talking to him before I realize that there are rock stars in the middle of the circle, flying through swing-outs and air steps.
Joe, the guy with whom Peter has been talking all night about basketball, lofts his partner in an enormous arc. The move looks like a lamppost except the girl pushes off his head and gets much higher.
Kendall asks me, “What did you say?”
“Never mind; I’ll tell you later.”
Josh from Baltimore swings his wife Hannah into the circle, her peach tafetta skirt swirling like a pinwheel in a hurricane. He throws her in a one-armed flip over his back, full of velocity. I’m screaming.
Then the rock stars begin going in: young lindy hoppers who have won enough competitions in the past to judge them now. They enter the circle two by two. When one couple starts swinging out backwards - opposite foot, opposite direction - Kendall and I cry “OH!” simultaneously. He starts slapping the floor with his hands. My jaw stays open for the next five minutes because the DJ has put on an even faster song and the rock stars know all the accents in the music, illustrating them with jumps, spins, flips, or perfectly timed stops and dramatic facial expressions.
“I’m glad we were the opening act,” I say to Kendall when this song ends, and I cross the circle to congratulate Josh and Hannah.
The crowd’s frenzy only increases, though, in response to the next song, even faster than the last. Dancers good enough and brave enough to rise to this occasion command the middle of the circle as spectators yell and stomp, laugh and clap. The rock stars show off bits of old routines, new routines; they dance on their own, or in partnerships with girls flying high through the air, or in groups of five or six as they recap authentic old moves from Harlem, all at ridiculous speed.
My favorite lindy hopper and instructor, Bonnie Jackson, from Baltimore, stands at the circle’s center and signals to the DJ, who is also her dance partner. He puts on the music from the 1941 movie Hellzapoppin’, which contains the fastest, most spectacular display of acrobatic ensemble lindy hop ever made. The madness here at Tea Party continues as above, except faster and crazier, culminating with Bonnie herself in the middle, her silver high heels flashing as she Charlestons, shaking and vibrating every part of her body.
No one can top that act. The circle finally dissipates.
Kendall walks up to me and says, “That was all I wanted. That was all I wanted.”
He is talking about our A-frame and lamppost, the first tricks in a jam that began now twenty minutes ago.
I know he is still drunk. He hugs me and we start dancing to the slow song now playing, my sweaty temple next to his jawbone. At first he leads small movements and slow movements: hip vibrations followed by long stretches away from each other. When he crouches low, facing me in open position, I mimic him and then we shimmy foward and back, laughing.