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The Mystery Dance

Standing before me is a dark haired, green-eyed man who is at least six inches taller than me, and a complete stranger. We’re dead center in a line of paired couples taking a Salsa lesson. Listening to the nervous chatter, I’m guessing most of the people around me are new to dancing. Up on stage, a dance teacher directs us to greet one another and join hands.

My partner offers me his hands, and I place mine in his. I can’t help but smile. I’ve felt these kinds of hands before.

“You’re a good dancer, aren’t you? You’ve been dancing for a while, huh?” I blurt out. The words slip out of my mouth before I can catch them and shove them back in. I see his eyes widen. I feel my cheeks flush. I’ve embarrassed myself again.

“How can you tell? Was it the way I walked over here or how I stand?” He laughs, but I can see I’ve caught his interest. How the hell did I know?

Sometimes, I wish I could control my thoughts before they jump out of my mouth. Okay, I think, I’ll have to tell him

“Actually, I could tell the minute you took my hands. I can’t really explain it, but I’ve found that when a guy holds my hands like this he’s always a good dancer.”

I’ve been dancing Salsa for almost a decade. I know these hands. His hands speak to me of confidence. They tell me that he will give a clear lead and yet be light enough where I can spin easily. But there is an extra element to it that is beyond my ability to describe, all I can say is that it’s obvious to me when I feel it. From my experience, men with this type of touch are the most creative. I know he will bring out the best in me and that I will learn something from him. At some point tonight, when the lesson is over and the real dancing starts, I will experience “The Mystery Dance.”

What is the Mystery Dance? It’s when everything in the universe comes together perfectly, the stars align, heaven touches earth, and for one magical song I am partnered with a stranger who takes me to another level in my dancing. I’ll follow effortlessly and borrow something from him for a single dance. It could be his grace, speed, creativity, lightheartedness, or something I never knew existed. Afterwards, a new idea will spark in my head, and I’ll grow from the experience.

Why do I call it a mystery? I coined the phrase, because I can never predict when or with whom it will happen. I can dance for months (or years) without a Mystery Dance, and then one night a stranger will grab my hands and there it is. Sometimes, he’s short, tall, young, old, geeky, suave, hairy, bald or more likely a mix of several of these. It can be in an LA club or in a dance class in a sea of beginners. But one thing is always true, I know it the moment I feel his hands, and I am never wrong.

I think life gives us Mystery Dances outside the Salsa Club too. We try something or meet someone, and it just clicks. Our mind is open to a new idea of ourselves, another direction to go in, and creativity flows. Whatever it is, we are drawn to it.

How can you recognize it in real life? Never forget. You’ll know it’s a Mystery Dance by the way it feels.

Dance with Me

I am not the same dancer with all partners. Nope. I wish that I were, but in real life, that is not how it works. I react differently depending on who I’m sharing the dance with.

Some partners cast a spell that convinces me I can do anything on the dance floor. My body feels loose and free. I follow like I have a psychic link with my leader. My creativity has no bounds and ideas come out of nowhere. I am at my best.

With other men, my body turns to tin. I am the Tin man dancing Salsa. I clink and clonk as I struggle with stiff arms and legs. Nothing works right. I spin around the dance floor asking,”What’s happening to me?” I don’t recognize myself. My creativity is gone. I am trapped in a tin can.

Why? I shake my head, shrug my shoulders, and wonder. A typical Salsa song lasts only five minutes. How can I change so much in such a short period of time?

The partner I dance best with laughs at our mistakes. He smiles even when I miss his lead. He holds my hands with just enough grip to give clear directions, and yet it’s a light touch so I don’t feel restricted. This type of leader gives me opportunities to play with the music and dance on my own.

On the flip side, I dance my worst when my mistakes seem to upset my partner. My body stiffens if he tries to correct me verbally. If he grips my hands too hard, my arms tighten. If he never lets my hands go, then rigor mortis sets in. I wait for some opportunity to express myself, but it never happens.

Could it be that certain types of people bring out the best in me? If it can have such a profound effect on the dance floor, then how much more of an impact could those closest to me have in shaping my life?

I am at my best surrounded by people who encourage creativity, laugh at mistakes, and appreciate teamwork. I become less of myself around those who are critical, controlling, and leave little room for self expression.

I think I’ll keep this in mind as I go forward in life.

What about you? Who brings out the best in you?

My advice? Dance with them often.

My Mother, My First Dance Teacher

My mother dancing at the Flower Festival June 1993

My mother was my first dance teacher. To this day, I can reach back to what it felt like watching my mother dance in front of me as I tried to follow. We’re in our old house. I see the blue carpet on the floor. Hawaiian music surrounds me. My mother is twice my size with long black hair taking three steps to the right, followed by three steps to the left. Her hips sway as she moves side to side. I hear her voice telling me, “Bend your knees more.” It’s a vivid memory, as if a part of me is still there dancing with her.

She began teaching me to dance the hula when I was five. She taught me that the hands tell a story, and that when we dance, we share the story with others. In the Hawaiian culture, the hula carries the history of the people remembered forever through dance. I was taught to smile, make eye contact, and to enjoy the dance, because that is what draws people in. Some of this I learned because she told me. Most of it I learned from watching her.

My mother was the only hula dancer in our small town, so she was the entertainment for every luau. I was the one she would throw in front of the audience when she needed to make a costume change. I’d be in a flower mumu dancing to the “Little Brown Gal in Hawaii.” I don’t remember being scared. I only recall having fun. My favorite part of the show was at the end. The audience members would join us on stage to learn a song. There would be lots of laughter. That is what I loved most.

My mother was always well-prepared. We practiced for every show. She had back up music for every song and even carried an extra sound system in the car. But once the show started, she would always tell me not to worry. Whatever happens, happens. Enjoy yourself and the audience will too. If you mess up just keep going and smile. They’ll never know.

I’m much older now. Mostly, I dance Salsa and Bachata. But in my heart, I am my mother’s hula girl. Dancing will always hold a story whether it be one of happiness, sadness or gratitude for being alive. I feed off the energy of those around me and add my own to the mix. I practice to be the best I can, but when I dance with others I simply relax and enjoy. Whatever happens, happens. Come to think of it, that is the way I live my life too. In both dancing and life, my mother is my first (and favorite) teacher. Always.

The Dancing Writer

Dancing and writing are the funky glasses I wear in life that gives color and depth to the world around and within me. One grounds me to the physical sensation of being alive. The other invites me to launch my imagination and explore endless possibilities. Dancing inhabits only the present, whereas writing exists forever on the page. And so I dance and write between now and forever in a playful way, living life in the moment and writing down what I learn.

Okay, so that’s the fancy way of saying both are just so much fun! I honestly don’t recognize myself if I don’t dance and write. This blog is my way of sharing what I love. My life is far from perfect, and I’m fine with that. What could be more boring than being perfect? No, I’ve had many bumps and bruises along the way, and skinned knees from kissing dirt after a tumble. Countless times, I have ended up hopelessly lost. And yet, here I am still standing, wearing my funky glasses.

I’m sure this blog will be about many things, because life is just so damn interesting, isn’t it? However, there is one question that is closest to my heart. I’m sure it will show up in my writing wearing disguises here and there, and when you spot it you’ll say, “Yep, I recognize that character.”

So, I’ll ask the question here. Are you alive?

Please tell me you’re not among the living dead. Zombies are all around us. I talk to them every day. Instead of seeking brains, the modern Zombie just wants more. More of what? Well, more of anything that will fill that void of not having enough. More time to get things done, more youth, more goodies, more money, more perfection, you get the idea. I was a Zombie for many years. I died taking care of everyone else. Never even noticed, I wasn’t even invited to the funeral. I just lost touch with that feeling of aliveness that comes from slowing down and breathing life in.

Somewhere along my twisted travels, I’ve come back from the undead. I dance and write, and I don’t think Zombies are capable of doing either of those things. So as long as I keep writing, you can rest assured I’m alive.

What about you? Did you check? If you found a heartbeat, then I hope this blog inspires you to keep exploring your own curiosities. If you didn’t find a pulse, don’t panic. Zombies are welcome here too. The more you hang out with the living, the more likely you’re heart will recharge. I’ll even let you borrow my funky glasses.