Andersen: I saw a man dance with his wife
I grew up in the prime of the rock era, but I never grew to like rock-era dancing. Gyrating to the primal beat was not for me. The “slow dance” was where I felt like I was dancing because then I was actually touching my partner.
My life as a swing dancer started in the ’70s when a friend in Gunnison told me we were going to the annual Cattlemen’s Days dance. When I asked about the type of music, he waved off my concern: “The band plays two kinds of music: country and western.”
I wore a straw cowboy hat with jeans and a flannel shirt and walked into the smoky bar beneath a sea of Stetsons placed squarely on every guy’s noggin. The band was doing justice to a Merle Haggard cover, and the bar was busy.
We grabbed a couple of Coors drafts and edged around toward the dance floor where there were couples swinging, twirling, high-stepping and shuffling. Now this was dancing.
The men all looked handsome in their jeans and dress cowboy shirts studded with ivory buttons. Their faces were dark and weathered because they had been out riding, roping, branding and castrating steers in the Colorado sun. If they removed their hats, the bald heads among them glowed white.
The ladies were equally attractive in tight jeans and colorful blouses, some wearing western skirts that swished around as they spun on the arms of their partners. They were beautiful dancers in a western sort of way, authentic and sincere. I was instantly envious.
Suddenly someone was pulling on my arm, a women I knew at the college. “Come on,” she smiled. “Let’s dance!” It took a while to work out the steps, but with a good teacher it was easier than telemark skiing the North Face. From then on I was hooked on the two-step.
Soon I was snapping this “gal” back and forth, mixing in an occasional twirl. “Hell, this aint hard. Gimme another beer … with a shot of whiskey!” By the time the bartender called last round I had become a country swing aficionado — or so I thought.
Dancing for me really started years before when a hippie friend back where I grew up in suburban Chicago gave me a vinyl record set of big-band jazz he had inherited from his parents.
I listened to every record and felt an immediate nostalgia for swing jazz and crooning vocals. My mom showed me a few steps and I was ready to trip the lights fantastic. Problem was, there were no partners my age, and the only ballroom was in a far western suburb.
I convinced a buddy to double date at the Algonquin Ballroom, a far departure from where we rocked our souls at the Electric Theatre downtown. There was a small orchestra, a smaller crowd, and a huge, empty dance floor. With enough drinks, I coaxed my date to step out for a rather clumsy waltz and realized that not everyone’s a born dancer.
Undaunted, I tried again by taking a sexy blonde to the Wrigley Building for a late-night dance after a plush dinner at the Playboy Penthouse (that’s another story). Everything clicked and the results were beyond my expectations. I called in sick to work the next morning with the strains of Benny Goodman still echoing in my ears.
There were other memorable dances, like swing dancing in leather lace-up tele-boots at the old Timbermill at Snowmass after a big powder day. It’s amazing what you could do in those old leather tele-boots.
A few years later came a potluck dinner where I met my future wife. She was trying to illustrate a dance move when I stepped in and took her in my arms. That led to the Silver Queen Ball, the culmination of those early dancing years, jitterbugging to the Bill Perish Orchestra in the ballroom of the Ritz.
Today, my wife and I dance every chance we get, thanks to the Symphony in the Valley and the dinner dances they sponsor. Swing dancing is the most enjoyable couples sport we know — well, almost.
Paul Andersen’s column appears on Mondays. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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