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   a    o n e    a n d    a    t w o

---   C A R O L E   W A T E R H O U S E  

My hand.                      Your hand.

Our instructor grasps them tightly and gives each a little shake as though to make sure all the fingers are awake, listening. Then she intertwines the two, positioning each finger just right. We watch eagerly, waiting to see what transformation will be born from this.

Now muscle up.

We both smile, the words out of synch with this tiny woman. She seems aware of it too, her voice deepening unnaturally.

This is proper dance position. Think of it as putting yourself in a constant state of opposition. You have two square feet of roaming territory you can call your own. Your job is to defend it. Understand?

Her hands continue to mold us, me especially, the neck tilted to the left, the back arched. And while she does this, I can feel something emerging inside me, some other woman, her delicate lines and graceful curves drawing themselves beneath the broad flatness of my back, the spayed fingers of my hand. You smile, perhaps seeing it, too. We both stare at the muscles of my arm, the way they bulge more than yours.

The waltz is the mother of all dances. Don't ever forget that.

We take our first steps:

My box.                       Your box.

My steps. Your steps.

They overlap, but only to a degree. We move together but at the same time push each other away. Maintaining opposition. We are starting to understand what this means.

And it shows that we have come to the right place, that this is more than just another activity meant to fill that white space separating us, that void we never discuss but that whispers individually to us. Learning how to maintain the proper degree of opposition. So this is where you come for lessons in love.

No. No. No. No. No. You've lost it already.

She repositions us, the neck that has moved back straight again, the shoulder that is sagging forward. Your problems seem simpler. Stand tall. Be straight. A military father's advice. I suspect I would be more comfortable doing your part.

She gives the arms one final shake. Remember. Now try again.

Our steps are tentative. We tally up each other's mistakes, as though that's a number we can mark off our own. It is the contra-movements you like best, a preference for steps done in reverse. I know that will be the case as soon as I hear their names. You would build a complete contra-life if you could, one full of contra-diction and contra-love.

You'll see. eventually it will all be smooth, natural. And once you get the basic steps down, we'll vary the rhythm. Instead of a steady and even one--two--three, one--two--three, we'll rush the one and two, then pause majestically right before the three. It will add beauty to the movement and suspense, a wonderful sense of surprise.

Like placing blueberries on your cornflakes instead of serving them up plain.

I feel the hesitation in your step. Then you stop completely and I see the two sets of eyes, both yours and hers, staring at me over separate pairs of eyeglasses. I say nothing more aloud but think, you should have noticed by now that after all these years of marriage the only surprises left are the extra morsels of food I occasionally think of, little delicacies that I sprinkle across your plate.

Shall we move on to a slow rumba?

The position is more open than in the waltz. We both hesitate as we count out the new rhythm. I remember first, can feel your feet following a half-second behind mine as you try to work out the pattern.

Remember the pauses, the steps that are left out. That's the hidden secret behind the rumba.

We think this over, all the words left unspoken, broken phrases never said. We know we are heading into dangerous territory. Our steps become careful, cautious, as though the floor has suddenly become covered with broken fragments of glass. I concentrate on the rhythm of the practice tape our instructor has put on:

One two three four

One two three four

   sidestep        sidestep         sidestep         sidestep

mother-in-law mother-in-law mother-in-law mother-in-law

And then, as though suddenly reincarnated from some undefined point, my thoughts an incantation, she is there, dancing with us. I feel her pushing on my shoulder, nudging me away from you. She uses the breadth of her hand to measure her success, the amount of space that separates me from you. Here she is, living proof that stereotypes are true. Never would I have imagined myself thinking these thoughts years ago, but that's what I've come to see that middle-age involves, watching your own life gradually evolve into a television sit-com.

But then I feel you there, pulling me closer, giving my arm an instructor's shake. For a moment there is no drifting apart, just our steady opposition. We take a few more steps, surprisingly in synch, the movements becoming open, free. You add an extra hop to your step, sometimes on the third beat, sometimes on the fourth. Our instructor frowns over your shoulder, but I admire it. Your sudden confidence. Your freedom of expression. Your complete and total willingness to look like a fool.

Slow slow slow slow slow slow down. The rumba isn't just a dance. It's an exercise in flirtation.

She shows us new positions for our heads. We are to look away from each other, sneaking only occasional glances, our eyes catching each other for only split seconds at a time, the attitude haughty, challenging. We do slow the rhythm down, the movements of my hips become suggestive, and as I pass in front of you our arms are bent to form a tiny window that we peer into for our longest glance, one that lasts a full half-second.

And that's where we see it, that we are dancing this one too well. Where are all these hints of passion coming from? We've never seen these before. Why does this appearance of seduction come so naturally?

We turn. I respond with a quick twist of the hips. You guide the motion, but in short thrusting jerks meant to knock me off my feet. I keep my control, smiling ever so sweetly, not at you, but at some undefined spot over your shoulder. You turn, more and more abruptly, your eyes looking, trying to catch a peak at this other person, the one you imagine just behind you. We circle round and round, but he constantly remains one step out of range.

Yes. Yes. Yes. You are beginning to understand.

We move on to jive. Your leads into the spins are abrupt. I respond with kick ball change, kick ball change--emphasis on the kick, which I perform dangerously close to your shins. I see you mimicking the swivel of my hips, your motion full of unspoken words. Here. This is how ridiculous you must look to him. I add in another kick, this time skipping the ball change.

Wait. Wait. Wait. Wait. Wait. Stop completely. Can't you see everything is falling apart?

You and I stand staring at each other. No rumba sneaks and peaks here. The glare is pure cha-cha.

Let's go back to a quiet, calm waltz. She rushes to change the music. Remember, the waltz is the mother of all dances.

I feel your arms wrap around me, your strength, something I haven't felt in our waltz before. Your power could be meant to punish or protect. I tilt my head back into my beautiful woman position, allow my spine to arch in your hands. Our hips meet. Feeling me give into you this way, making the curves of my body match yours, you seem to understand that the threat was never real.

Before we take our first step, you grasp my left hand, the one that is raised, and slowly tilt it back and forth. And it's that movement that catches me. A hand-held wave good-bye, as though we are collectively parting with something. But not both of us. It is your hand that is clearly in control.

I think about this as we take our first step together. Then another. And another. At the fourth, you stumble over me, your chest against mine, pushing me down. And I know before our instructor even shakes her head what mistake I've made, that I have surrendered all sense of opposition, have allowed you to take your two feet and plant them firmly into the very center of my soul.

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