“I’ve started playing guitar again,” Kendall said to me last night at the Vietnamese restaurant we went to with Eva and Jack, after they helped us demonstrate some basic swing moves for the local TV station talk show.
“Really?” I held his gaze. His life has changed because of me.
“Last night my roommate and I were singing-”
“They sing every night!” Eva cried. She is staying at Kendall’s place for a week, following up her New Hampshire camp experience with tourism in Boston.
“Last night we sang ‘Mr. Jones,’” he finished.
“Without me?” I bantered, the internal switch flipping, emotions tunneling under before anyone saw.
It wasn’t his reaction to our showing at Wicked Lindy, nor his mother’s confidence, that has done this as neatly or entirely or distractingly as the fact that I made him play: I believe that he loves me. And so I despair.
“I feel like we’re not connecting, like I can’t feel your hips. There’s a disconnect right here.” Kendall leads it again. We are at J. Bucket practice, one week after Labor Day. “Do you feel that?”
Even though I am not looking in the mirror for once, I can see the sheepish tension in my shoulders as I answer, “I don’t know. I think I need to warm up. I feel like I haven’t danced in days.”
I find a midtempo Basie tune on my iPod and we dance to it.
Number one is relax. Number two is find the floor. Three is center, over your feet. Feel the connection through your ring finger. Let your pecs engage. Don’t kill the momentum. Breathe. Follow. Where’s the floor. Relax. Find center. Keep your arm loose. Go. Keep going, keep going. Keep turning, with the velocity he gave you. Love the connection. Oh yeah, hips! Let’s see if I can find that stretch. Where is it?
He says, “Cool.”
I say, “Was that any better?”
All of a sudden he sighs and turns away. Then he faces me again and exclaims, “I don’t want to evaluate you!”
“Okay,” I say. I’m scared. He’s not supposed to lose control. I’m the one that gets to fall apart and repent and await his judgment. What happens now?
What happens now is Babs. As Kendall tries to lead me through some of the material we learned at camp, Babs helps diagnose what Kendall is doing wrong. She keeps saying how ridiculous the footwork is for the follower. Kendall’s manner is not that welcoming to her but she perseveres, neutrality and lightness pervading her comments and demonstrations, until it’s time for Kendall and me to go teach class at Springstep.
We are down two flights of carpeted hotel stairs and out the revolving door before I find the courage to say, “I’m sorry if I made you mad earlier.”
“Well, we need to talk about us.”
“Ha ha ha, that’s funny.”
We get in his car.
“Do you want to talk now?” I say. “Or -”
“We need to really connect, to move like one person. And that’s hard because we dance together every day. If we mess up it’s not a big deal, you know? It’s like Bonnie says, variations come from fuck-ups. It’s like, oh, I didn’t have my balance so I put my foot there, and that turned into something awesome. I need inspiration - that’s what I get from these dance weekends I go to.”
He misses dancing with the best gals in the world. He wants me to inspire him now. I’m more scared.
“What did you think of the stuff we were trying tonight?” he asks.
“I was just trying to be a blank slate, to follow as best I could, so you could do what you wanted to do.”
“I think the time for that is over. You have good ideas. You don’t give yourself enough credit.”