Skip to main content

Grey Sparrow Journal and Press, as of January 31, 2018 will move to

Issue 30, July 31, 2017
Contact Us

Ballroom Dancing


by Hillary Tiefer




Anita struggled to zip up her dress.   She had liked the sheen of the gold satin when she had purchased the cocktail dress for the Christmas party at Rogue Valley Motors, where her husband, Jerry, had been a car salesman.   He had been fired two weeks later and hadn’t worked since.   That was seven years ago and four years since he had divorced her.   The dress was tighter now, clinging, and showed her stomach like a bread loaf.   Sacks of skin drooped from her arms when she lifted them.   She opened a dresser drawer and removed the crocheted scarf that her sister, JoAnne, had given to her as a birthday present.   It would go well enough, being black with gold sequins and had long, delicate tassels.   She wrapped it over her bare shoulders and folded it across her stomach.   "That will have to do," she said to herself.   


 "Mom, what the heck?" Her daughter Katie’s mouth gaped while she stood in the doorway of the bedroom.


"Why do you look shocked?" It was okay for Katie to wear short tight dresses that revealed plenty of cleavage and molded her butt.   Her dates couldn’t keep their eyes off of her despite Anita’s presence in the room.


Anita was jealous of her daughter and also proud of her.   Even with Katie’s busy social life she had been an honors student at South Medford High School.   In the fall she would join her brother, Peter, at the University of Oregon, where he was attending law school.   All of Anita’s kids were highly motivated.   Her other son, Matthew, had won a soccer scholarship and was a star athlete at Linfield College in Northern Oregon.   Her youngest child, Julie, was destined to attend a top school, maybe UC Berkeley or Stanford in another year.   Anita had proved Jerry wrong when he once said, "So, you don’t want to spank the kids, huh? Let me tell you, Anita, you stink as a mother."


She remembered those months after Jerry had lost his job, when they and their four kids were forced to live with her in-laws.   One night at the dinner table Jerry’s mother, Dottie, said, "Well, gee whiz, these are modern times.   Some men are meant to be stay-at-home dads and some women are meant to go out and earn the bread."   Her eyes were fixed on Anita.   Anita ran out to the back porch and sobbed.   When she calmed herself she knew that in a way Dottie was right:  she would have to win the bread.   Jerry was not dependable.   She had then taken night and online classes in business and finally landed a job with Edward Jones Investments.   


She smiled at Katie.   "I’m no beautylike you.   Getting old isn’t fun."


"May I ask where you’re going?"


"I’m taking a class in ballroom dancing."


Her daughter giggled until she cupped her mouth with her hand.   She rushed into the room and put her arm around her mother.   "I’m sorry—I didn’t mean to laugh at you.   It’s so cool, Mom, that you want to go dancing.   But don’t wear that dressit can’t even pass for vintage.   And that scarfbohemian does not become you—no offense."


"It’ll have to do for now.   You’ll help me pick out something better later."   She walked by Katie, who still gazed at her as if struggling to comprehend this transformation in her mother.


Anita surprised herself with this decision.   When she had seen the poster on the community board at the library, announcing Melinda’s Ballroom Dancing School just opening, she had told her friend, Carol, "I have always had a secret desire to do ballroom dancing."


"Why secret?"


 "Jerry hated to dance.   When I got an invitation to my niece’s wedding the first thing he said was, `I’ll go as long as I don’t have to dance.   Don’t make me dance, Anita.’   So, I had to resign myself to watching."


 She had rented DVDs, some of Fred Astaire and Ginger Roger movies.   Others were purely about the dance:  the foxtrot, mambo, cha-cha, and Lindy.   With her daughters, she’d watched those dances that were more in vogue:  the West Coast swing, Zumba, tango, and salsa.   Katie and Julie had sat on each side of her on the couch, just as enthralled.   Once, the girls popped up and danced their version of the tango across the living room carpet, both trying to make elegant kicks and holding each other’s arm out like a spout of a teapot.   Anita clapped and laughed and was also worried they’d knock down a vase on her coffee table.   When these last kids, her two daughters, would leave for college she’d miss them.   She’d have empty nest syndrome with a vengeance.


"Go for it, gal."   Carol shoved her elbow into Anita’s arm.   "We’re not getting any younger.   I say cha cha cha."


Anita had stared at the poster showing an elegant blond-haired woman in a sweeping red gown in the arms of a handsome, dark-haired man, wearing a tuxedo, his hand spread across her bare back.   "Yes, I . . .  I will."


After she parked her car in the city lot she remained sitting in the car, a boulder of reluctance keeping her there.   This dancing idea was crazy.   Yet, she had yearned to do this for some time.   She knew it wasn’t only the cha cha, the foxtrot, and the mambo that enticed her.   She envisioned that man’s hand across the woman’s bare back.   She craved the touch, that intimacy she hadn’t shared with Jerry in years.


She left the car and walked toward the building.   The dance studio was upstairs and in the lit windows she saw a crowd of men and women.


As soon as she entered the room, Melinda, a statuesque, platinum-haired woman, at least in her seventies, said "welcome" and pointed to the rows of folding chairs facing the dance floor, which were mostly occupied.   Melinda wore a scarlet gown over her gaunt frame.   Her sparkly eyes, heavy with mascara, showed a youthfulness Anita felt she herself had already lost.   "Don’t be shy," the woman said, smiling from lips plastered ruby red.


After Melinda announced that they find a partner for the first dance Anita was amazed when a man as handsome as the one in the poster approached her.   It was as if a fairy godmother had taken pity on this more than middle-aged Cinderella.   He was dressed in a black silk suit, looking dapper, and had thick wavy silver hair.   His blue eyes met hers when he said, "Shall we?"


 They were both clumsy at first and laughed as they tried to follow Melinda, who was shouting, "Slow, slow, quick, quick," while dancing the foxtrot with a student whose head came up to her chin.   Anita liked the way her partner’s warm hand held hers.   She could even feel his other hand spread across her back covered in satin cloth.


As Melinda shouted "back, back, side, close," Anita felt her movements were now effortless, so naturally coordinated with his.   They were meant for each other.   They’d go out together on a date, dinner and dancing—all that she never did with Jerry.   And she imagined him sitting at her dining room table, by candlelight, sipping wine from a crystal goblet she never owned, and he was smiling at her.   Afterwards, he’d take her hand and lead her to her bedroom.   Her chin felt the soft silk of his jacket, and she admired the nice curve of his chin and the slight shadow where he had shaved.   She even smelled his lemony cologne.   Could this be really happening to her? She heard Melinda’s "back" command, but this time Anita stepped on his foot.   "Oh, I’m sorry," she said.


By her ear he whispered, "It’s quite all right."


This man, who had introduced himself as Rick, was her partner for the entire evening.   She relished the embrace of his arms, and even though her heart palpitated with fatigue as much as excitement, she was sorry when the lesson for the night was over.   She would live in anxious expectation of their next class.   It was only when Rick grasped her hand to shake that she noticed his marriage band.   She felt a painful twist in her stomach.   It hadn’t occurred to her that a spouse would come alone to a dance class.   But, of course, he couldn’t have been interested in her.   Her imagination had gotten the better of her.   "Where’s your wife?" she managed to ask.


He laughed.   "She thinks she’s not graceful enough.   But she told me to go and have fun.   So I am."


"My husband was the same way—he hated dancing."   But she had never gone alone.   She couldn’t force a smile.


**Image of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, RKO Publicity, Smoke Gets in Your Eyes, 1935