Patrick Swayze died yesterday at 57, of pancreatic cancer, after a nearly 2-year fight. I remember being surprised by his prowess in the film Dirty Dancing, not realizing at that time that he was trained in ballet and modern dance from childhood, nor that he had begun his career in musicals. A number of his films were rather forgettably tough-guy action flicks, but he was far more accomplished than that.
Do you remember this scene from Dirty Dancing, where Johnny teaches Baby about the dance frame? He makes her realize that the frame (the space you enclose with your arms) is set up with resistance from each partner. At one point he taps the center of his forehead and tells her to focus there.
Before our wedding last fall, BP and I took dancing lessons for the traditional First Dance. (Our song was "S'wonderful", the Diana Krall version). I had never danced before, although BP had, and since this meant she knew how to follow, I learned the lead. We worked and worked on a very short rumba routine. When our instructor first taught us about the frame, I tapped my forehead like Patrick Swayze and told BP to focus there. I still can't believe that in 3 short months we managed to arrange a rather traditional wedding AND learn to dance while working full time at our very demanding jobs! And I still remember us hiding for a moment for one last practice on our way up to the reception, and the surprise on my Mom's face when she realized we were really dancing (we'd kept our lessons secret).
In any case, we loved dancing, and have continued our lessons since then. We're still rank beginners but it's a wonderful and surprisingly strenuous activity--particularly for the upper body! It's also quite challenging to remember all the steps and moves and little changes that signal to your partner what's happening next--the slightest change of pressure, a subtle drop of the hand is enough. You have to be amazingly connected and attuned to each other, so it is a quite intimate experience. Every time we dance, we begin with pushing our arms against each other into frame like Johnny and Baby, and I tap my forehead like he did. And when we nail a routine, it's grand.
On NPR this morning, they featured Swayze in an interview commenting how much he love to dance with his wife, and how sad he was that his stardom made it difficult for them to have that private moment. They quoted him as saying he never connected with anyone so much as when dancing with them. Fifteen months ago I wouldn't have really understood that. Now, I do.