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Dance To That

I could dance. I just couldn’t do it with anyone else. My grandparents visited us in Cape Town, they flew many hours from Barbados. One evening slow music was on the record player and my Grandfather was listening. Something gripped him, not the gout, but some urge to move. And Granddaddy could move. He was a small man, soft grey hair, parted handsomely down the middle. Black-rimmed glasses, a sharp nose and a naughty-boy smile. He liked to giggle. Even then (I was eighteen, maybe nineteen) I was a head taller than my grandfather. He took a hold of me and tried to get me to glide along with him, on the patterned carpet in our living room. I have rhythm it’s just… maybe the proximity to another body, or my mind gets muddled, my concern for not being too manly, for relaxing, for letting him lead. I was always taller than all the girls and most of the boys. Heck I was the substitute boy in PT when someone was required to simulate the masculine. I went to my matric dance with my two best friends. A week before the dance a guy did in fact ask me out. I told him no. I was seventeen, happily subsisting on a diet of silent crushes. Like I said I went to my matric dance with my two best friends.

Then my Aunt got married. And I was a bridesmaid. I was required to dance with my partner. A sweet enough Guyanese boy, but I also saw him cackling, with an onlooker during the dress-rehearsal, about how soft my hands were. Liar. Anyway. Wedding over and party on he approached me to dance with him. He wasn’t much shorter than me but the heels didn’t help. He looked genuinely enchanted which was encouraging for a shy gal like me. He asked that I try not to step on his toes. At one point I think he even counted out the beat for me. It must be a huge credit to my beguiling nature (or his masochistic one) that several songs later he came back for more. By nightfall he declared love, within a week my mother and I flew from Guyana back to Barbados, my love affair unconsummated and all but forgotten.

Perhaps, if my Grandfather could have stuck around longer, I would be a better dance partner. He did stress one thing that solved a decent amount of my troubles. See I love music and I have an ear for it. My piano playing is laughable but still when I really listen I hear all the layers and sometimes they feel palpable enough that if I raised my arms high up and wide apart I believe I could just drift along on a wave of sound. This is why I love to dance. Alone. Well Granddaddy said “listen to the base, the beat. Dance to that.” This was an immense help. But clearly not enough.

Now when I say I love to dance I mean I’m that person who, if the music is right, enters the dance floor and never leaves. Many an office party found my colleagues and bemused bosses walking past me on the dance floor and saying, “You’re still here, aren’t you tired?”. The next day I’m tired, my legs ache, but while the music is playing fatigue is held at bay. The problem is people watching confuse me for being a great dancer. Women and men sidle up and attempt to join me, they come in close proximity, they reach for my hand and all too late realise that we are now in trouble. I get instantly nervous, I’m trying to remember what Granddaddy told me plus I’m looking down at this poor person’s shoes, worried about them on their behalf. I smile apologetically which is confusing only for a few seconds then the person sighs and spends the rest of the song dodging my feet, they are polite when they take their leave and I am embarrassed and relieved. I should wear a t-shirt when I dance, forget skinny jeans and tank tops. The shirt would read: “Don’t do it. Just don’t.”

And yet in my head it’s perfect. Crazy Love is playing, Aaron Neville’s voice straining with all the emotion in the world. The dance floor, wooden, crowded but not uncomfortably so. The man I’m with is tall or short. He has a naughty glimmer and he is somehow arrested by me, he’s stuck; him and his shoes, happily my prisoner. We’re dancing. Wound about each other, parting to do something fanciful and expert, then coming back together. My fantasy even allows for the odd moments when he counts for me, counts out the beat.

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