By Vincent Corso
I was looking for something fun to do with my partner, Becky, near Valentine’s Day. I was hoping for something that we could do together that would bring us closer. And then someone suggested a dance lesson.
Hmm, I thought – for the many years that we have been together, I can count on one hand the number of times that we have graced the dance floor. And those times are all a little hazy, often at the very end of wedding receptions.
Sure, we have danced side-by-side at many concerts, but the idea of formal dancing was not something that ever crossed my mind.
But, it sounded like a fun and different way to do something together, so after convincing Becky to join me, I called up Dance Harmony in Pleasant Gap and asked owner Kevin Fee if he could please help me (and Becky) learn how to dance.
Kevin squeezed us in for a Monday night East Coast swing dance lesson. He teaches many styles of dance, including ballroom and Latin, and is a certified ballroom dance teacher. Kevin knows his stuff.
When we walked in, Kevin was finishing his earlier lesson, and an elegant couple was gliding across the studio floor in sync with the classical music playing from the speakers. It was beautiful; I looked over at Becky and joked that I would be just as good. Becky quietly laughed at the first of what would be many jokes that I would make at my own expense throughout the night.
I tell jokes when I am nervous and excited, and as we stood ready for our first dance lesson, I was a little of both. Becky and I are more the types to spend our free time on the trails hiking and camping. And, while Becky had taken dance lessons as a kid, I spent my youth playing sports and getting dirty. Dance was not on my radar.
I am not opposed to dancing; I remember the joys of twirling around the dance floor with my cousins at family weddings when I was a kiddo. But, I also remembered the embarrassment of stepping on the toes of a partner once at a middle school dance.
I came to face my fears, and Kevin was great from the start, keeping things fun and moving fast. In the end, I realized I had nothing to be nervous about.
We started apart, working on the basic footsteps for a man and a woman.
Luckily, Becky was up first. She seemed to be a natural, picking up the steps quickly without effort. She said all those hours in group fitness classes following instructions must have paid off, and I could see why it would help. I, however, like to work out by myself, and I was up next.
I followed Kevin as we both looked in the mirror doing the inverse of the steps that Becky just mastered. Kevin explained how I was to shift my weight as I transferred from step to step.
After a few missteps, I got it. I liked the way that Kevin let me correct myself and didn’t dwell on a mistake. After we learned the steps, we needed to get the timing down.
Kevin explained that the rhythm we needed to follow was “slow, slow, quick, quick, slow.”
Again, Becky picked this up quickly; with Kevin’s instruction, I got it faster than I thought. He repeated it until he was satisfied that I was ready to move on.
Next was learning how to hold our partner. Now we were getting somewhere. In swing, partners grasp the outside hand in an underhand hold, which felt a little unnatural at first, but made sense as we moved along. The grip was to be loose but firm in the arms. My right arm then held Becky where the shoulder meets the arm and her arm followed mine to the back. Our bodies then formed a V-shape out toward our holding hands; that opened up as we went through our steps.
I was a little nervous as we prepared to move together, but with Kevin’s help I was able to follow the steps with Becky. Now we were ready for music, and Kevin counted us off as “Pretty Woman” by Roy Orbison played in the background. I had to fight my urge to sing along with the lyrics and focus on the footwork, but it was fun as Becky and I danced away.
We weren’t done, however; we needed to learn to make some turns.
I had the “easy” job – on our quick-steps, I was to lift my arm out and up and lead Becky through a turn as I continued on with the steps. Then I was to bring my arm back down and lead her through a turn in the other direction before I led her back into my arms.
It all seemed to make sense and we were off again to the music. After the first few attempts, I could not remember what to do with my feet as we made the turn, but as we came together I was able to pick it back up.
Soon, I figured it out – kind of. At one point, Becky had to remind me that I was not supposed to be moving my upper body with the music, but I couldn’t help it: I was getting into it.
After a few turns, we were off dancing like we were at a 1950s sock hop, and I was spinning Becky around with confidence and a sort of grace. We smiled and talked as we danced around the floor to two songs. It was very pleasant.
The more we practiced, the better I felt. I would lift my arm and turn Becky and then bring her back into my arms. I felt like Fred Astaire.
After a few more spins, it was time to wrap up, and we thanked Kevin as we headed back out into a winter snowstorm. The hour-long lesson flew by.
Becky and I were smiling and laughing about the lesson the whole ride home. We talked about what went wrong, what went right, and how great of a teacher Kevin was. Becky said I wasn’t quite Fred Astaire, but that she was impressed with how fast I picked it up.
All in all, it was a great way to spend a Monday night with the woman I love.
Thanks for the lesson, Kevin. Maybe we will show up for the monthly dance at Old Gregg School.
Vincent Corso is a staff writer for Town&Gown and The Centre County Gazette.