2012-01-04 / Excursions

So, you think you can’t dance?

w. deanPULLEY

A classic contest of wills. The online ad teased “first private lesson free,” but it was from a dance studio. Would my love of a bargain overcome my fear of the feet?

Strange that I don’t dance. I like music. Enough to travel thousands of miles every year to attend festivals, seek out the most arcane recordings of artists that interest me and plug into littleknown Internet streams. Even started college on a music scholarship. I have a similar interest in women. I’ve been fortunate enough to enjoy frequent proximity to both in the past and still manage to avoid dancing. Adverse selection was bound to catch up with me.

That’s why I’m planning to even up the odds this year by learning to enter and exit a dance floor without causing injury. I’ve tried classes before, which greatly impressed me with the instructor’s ability. To dance, not teach. My feet somehow refused instant playback. I warned Cindy-Lee Overton about my disability, but she just laughed. Cindy- Lee runs 1st Danz studio in Fort Myers, and was as good as her ad. She and her dog Dallas met me for a half-hour starter session.

1st Danz studio resembles a high school gym decorated for the prom, invoking searingly painful... what? just me? Ok, 1st Danz holds modest covercharge parties every week to help students use what they’ve learned in a social setting, and offers some free group instruction before those events. With all this free stuff, how do they stay in business?

“People like what we do, and they come back for more” said Cindy-Lee. “Our job is to get people out of lessons and onto the floor, but they love the process.” Likely story. I’m looking for the exits. Cindy-Lee isn’t having it. “Stand up, time to dance” she commands. Did I mention that she started her career in New York City? “We start with walking. You know how to walk, right?”

Turns out my previous instructors left out a couple of hundred steps. Cindy-Lee has me walking across the floor beside her, in time to a Sinatra tune. She mixes up the timing slightly, but we’re still walking. After a few variations, she’s ready to walk backwards in front of me. Apparently, we’re now doing a primitive Foxtrot. My brain freezes at the realization and engages stumble mode. “Keep going,” she says “Don’t stop because you made a mistake.” Good thing, ‘cause I’d be stopping a lot. After banishing my brain to the time-out corner, my feet resume the simple pattern. An elementary combination of motions, but in such an alien context that my body jerks and lurches in defiance. Cindy-Lee is not deterred. “It’s all done in layers,” she explains. “Get the muscle memory of the basic form down, then add to it.” Not an ounce of pity in this one. She burns through my veneer of discomfort and urges me on, giving awkwardness no quarter.

Counter to my experience, people from little kids to seniors engage in dance as an expression of joy. Cindy-Lee mentions that historically, people dance (and drink) more during hard economic times. She gets all ages through her doors, especially those who are ready to do something about making their life better. Failures are rare, but she does see one type that can be prone to drop out. Successful people in middle-age are used to proficiency and recognition in all they do. The process of incremental gain can be so frustrating for them that a few don’t stay the course, even with positive feedback.

Don’t think that’s my issue. I’m just mental. Weird that I can draw and build, write and bike with a natural flow — but this simple activity freezes my neurons. I’ve done a lot of public speaking, approach strangers even when they’re backing away and never know when to shut up. There’s probably a valid psychological basis for the idea of dancing filling me with dread. I hope I never find out what it is. Wearing it down until resistance is futile seems like a reasonable approach.

Cindy-Lee and I run out the rest of the free half-hour doing just that. Private lessons run from $50-$75 an hour, incentive to overcome the beast and engage in group therapy. Those are just $15 per session, much less if you buy a bundle. Lots of other options as things advance, but I think I’ll save up in favor of a little more one-on-one. I haven’t learned to dance, but I am learning that I can learn. ¦

— Cindy- Lee Overton can be c ontacted via www.1stdanz.com

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