I used to watch my Aunt Ulca and Uncle Judd dance together and dream about having someone sweeping me across the dance floor. As a little girl, family functions seemed regal, extravagant, elegant, opulent, and fun. Adults were beautifully dressed, happy, graceful, laughing. They all seemed to have charmed lives at those celebrations: a 25th anniversary party, wedding, or retirement dinner. There was always dancing, and in my lower middle class family, they were held in simple settings like the VFW hall, the back room of an Italian restaurant, or a church basement. But to me, it was the Plaza Suite.
There was a child’s table where my siblings and cousins were cordoned off during dinner. The waitstaff would serve us and, in my memory at least, we conducted ourselves as miniature adults, sitting through the courses and speeches and joke among ourselves. Yes, we had speeches at family functions. My father was often the emcee and I would be confused by the adoration of him. The beaming relatives of this youngest son, who worked hard for an education and successful career, laughed as if he were Johnny Carson. As immigrants for whom English was a second language, he was the one who had achieved the American dream. It was a different perspective from the one I had formed as offspring, and allowed me a glimpse of the complexity of his persona.
Well fed and regaled, the dancing would start. Was there a band? There must have been, otherwise where would the music have come from? It was way before DJs, and I can’t remember any piped-in music. The band must have been small, possibly just a man with an accordion, but the dancing captivated me. Couples that seemed to hate each other that afternoon (read, my parents) would be transformed into movie stars, gliding with their feet in synch, little twirls and flairs, a head tossed back with laughter as some new step was introduced––it was charmed. At some point the men would take the kids to the floor and, depending on age and height, sweep us around with our feet atop their’s so we could learn the steps. It was all magical to me, but I could not take my eyes off Ulca and Judd.
Judd was very tall and Ulca was tiny; there had to be a two foot height difference. In fact, when Judd sat down and Ulca stood next to him, they were almost face to face. When they danced, her arms were reaching up to his shoulders fully extended above her head. It seemed impossible they could be graceful together, but their movements were perfect and seductive and she’d glance over her shoulder in a provocative way that was completely uncharacteristic of the woman I knew. I desperately wanted to grow old dancing with someone like that. Though others were equally beautiful on the dance floor, Ulca and Judd also loved each other. That was a novelty in my family.
When I married, I begged my husband to take ballroom dancing. He refused, with the argument that he was already “a very good dancer.” Ok, he could get out there and move to the Beatles, sure, but I wanted to dance the fox trot. I wanted to really waltz, not just do the bear hug and sway back and forth (though that was better than not dancing at all.) I wanted to be Ulca and Judd. I formed a team with a girlfriend, who also wanted a husband who could dance, and with a little subterfuge (“Jim said he’d go if you went!”) we got the four of us signed up. It was fun! We were good! We were well on our way to checking off that childhood dream of mine, and then he left.
Family functions now rarely include dancing. Weddings seem to be the only time that happens, and those are few and far between. There are no couples that transform into Fred and Ginger before my eyes. The era of the weekly weekend community dance is long gone and that romance eludes me. I wonder again why I was born into the wrong century.
On the train to Sacramento, this kind and attractive man asked me what I missed most about being married. I had known him for all of one hour, and the question seemed deep and intimate. Perhaps it was his voice or his intensity, or that I was already falling in love, but no one had ever asked me that before and I had to catch my breath. There was so much I missed about being married but it was all jumbled into one packet labeled: That Was Then. I had to think. What did I miss the most? Not what I missed about the man who deserted me, but what I missed about being married. Much different. Three things tumbled out of my mouth and “Dancing” was one of them.
Later, when the train had deposited us late at our destination and he had disappeared into the crowd, I thought, “I don’t have to be married to dance! Why did I say that?” In fact, none of the three on my list required marriage as a prerequisite. I wondered what he thought of my list, never thinking I’d have a chance to ask him. I wondered what he missed about being married and why I hadn’t asked him? That train ride was too short! I thought I’d never see him again.
I realize now that it’s not just the dancing I miss, it’s dancing with the one I love. That stranger on the train is the one I see myself dancing with now. No begging, no pleading, no power struggle, no trickery. Just a simple question of what makes us happy. How bright and sparkly the future appears. I feel dear Ulca smiling down on me. I hear her raspy voice telling me it was worth the wait.