Moping in a crowd seemed preferable to moping in my room. I started partner dancing with contra in May 1992. Janet had just given me the boot. I landed at Keith's house. I was feeling down. I heard about Folklife. I drove down check it out. It was easy to find parking.
Tick tock. I watched kids playing in the fountain for a while, then headed for the Center House but got drawn to all the buzz happening around Fischer, aboveground in those days. I walked in and saw long lines of dancers doing contra; I kinda knew what it was but that was all. It was interesting to watch all the interlocking human clockwork, so I stood there a while.
Watch what other people are doing and I'll help. The set was done, and I was turning to leave when a woman grabbed my hand and asked me to dance. I knew nothing of contra ways, but had put myself into a position where it was gonna be rude for me not to dance with a very pretty woman of about 60. I warned her I was an utter noob, but she said ah, it's easy.
Mesmer eyed. The contra dancers were kind and patient with my ineptitude, nudging and beckoning me through my first set. By then I'd been won over by the eye contact. Every, what is it, 32 bars? another pair of pretty eyes are gazing intently into mine, whirling and twirling between those eyes and my partner's eyes. I was mesmerized!
Lucky for me I had a plan that'd get me started with that. I danced contra the whole weekend. It soothed my achy breaky heart (I also tried a bit of line dancing). I got better. I learned to show up when a new band started to get some instruction. I probably got grabbed for a waltz or two, but mercifully don't remember. Contra wasn't what I wanted.
But I went right ahead with more lessons. Janet and I went ahead with our plan to take swing lessons with Walter and Nancyanna Dill, creators of Living Traditions. Janet disappeared from partner dancing after the one class.
Was I hooked? For the next few years I gorged myself on their classes. I did all their classes as a lead, as a follow, as a volunteer, and as a switch volunteer: dance either role and switch roles as needed if the lead-follow balance changed.
vive la différence. It was not just fun & games & hard work; there was plenty of misery too. Partner dancing is fucking hard, and it's harder for leads to get started with than it is for follows. Not because leading is harder, because the early stages of leading and following are different. Leads have to think, plan, and initiate; follows have to relax, pay attention, and respond.
In tango I was more just depressed and despairing about it, in proper tango style. Doing any physical activity head first, by thinking through the steps and ordering your body to do them, is bloody awkward. There's wisdom in the phrase it's easy once you know how. Once my body gets the feel of a dance move, I can relax and just do it. But I have to go thru the bloody awkward stage to get to the feel. This is rough in class, rougher at dances. Beginning follows can make progress by dancing with skilled leads. But skilled follows can do little for unskilled leads. I was miserable as a beginner at dances. I would often leave without having had a single dance. I went through it when I started dancing, then had to go through it all over again with tango. As a beginning dancer I was often on the verge of hot tears of frustration and rejection.
The heart beats in three just like a waltz. I started my partner dance adventure with swing dancing because I didn't know any better. Swing dancing seemed popular, there were classes available, well OK! But as soon as I got introduced to waltz, I connected with dancing a different way. I like swing, but I love waltz. There's something undefinable about waltzing, a je ne sais quoi. It's infused with love. The air in the room is more generous. People connect more easily. And waltz showed me the way to tango.
Making Waltz etcetera. There were dances that featured swing, but none featured waltz, so I had to create one. I included my favorite dance partner and a dance acquaintance in planning and owning my dance; that was a mistake. I would've been better off alone. But I didn't have a clue in 1998. At first we didn't have a name, it was just a place to go waltz. But then we discovered that dancing just waltzes got tedious; we wanted variety. Let's mix in some other dances. Based on that I came up with a name: Waltz etcetera.
Waltz etcetera occupied 5 different spaces during its 21-year lifespan:
I was just learning about websites in those days, and I made us one in 1999, the first site to occupy this domain. Our earliest occurrence on the Wayback Machine is from December 2000; it shows my second or third attempt at a logo, with this text:
A weekly dance focusing on Waltz and other traveling dances.
Monday evenings from 7:30 - 9:30 pm we dance to recorded waltzes and other traveling dances: fox trots, one steps, the occasional polka or schottische, and even the occasional non-traveling swing, Latin, or zydeco number. Our dance hall is the spacious Richmond Masonic Center, on N 185th at Linden, right behind Fred Meyer. We ask $4 per person to pay for the hall. We also teach classes in our favorite dances.
We had some lean times the first year. One night we had 7 dancers show up, 5 of them leads. But I liked dancing either part, and I encouraged everyone to try the other role. Everyone was good-natured about it, and it turned out to be a good night.
Waltz etcetera dance classes. My dance partner and I had been dancing together for several years. We'd learned cool stuff, and we'd worked together long enough to get good at what we knew. Waltz etcetera dancer liked our moves and asked us for classes. Teaching was never part of our plan; we just wanted a dance with lots of waltzes. But we gave it a try, and classes & workshops became an integral part of Waltz etcetera. We started our first class, Intermediate Turning Waltz, in September 1999. That timing set the tone: summer's over, it's back to school, here's your first dance class for this school year.
Divergence. My dance partner lost interest in dancing; she would come to teach the class with me then leave. That left me and the dance acquaintance sharing DJ duties. At first that was fine; we had the same background and liked the same kind of music. But in 2006, after I surrendered to my wisdom, my musical tastes started to evolve. That led to divergence; we no longer liked the same stuff.
Buyouts. I won't bore you with the details, but I bought them both out the partnership and took control of the dance. That was not a financially wise decision. For that matter, starting the dance was not financially wise. We didn't collect money at the door, we just put out a can and encouraged people to donate, letting them make their own change from the can. What can I say; we were idealistic.
Greed v. growth. My life has been a series of financially unwise choices, starting with majoring in Comparative Mythology, then with abandoning my cushy state job to move to Boulder. I choose growth over greed in the clutch. But I've not always been immune to greed.
Tango. In 2010 my sweetheart Lynn and I decided to take tango lessons. We were attracted to the dance, but both hesitant at first. It's so famously difficult, and I'd seen it seemingly eat dancers alive. They stopped dancing anything else and started looking pale and morose, like vampire victims. But we were young and full of juice, and we had each other's backs. Lynn and I were in a poly relationship; this was to have a profound effect on my life in tango. I've written that I don't do well with poly, most notably in Boulder. I don't do well if someone is trying to impose poly on me. It's different if it's my idea.
I was a poly widow, Silver explained: poly with only one partner. She's my source for all things sexually alternative; I've lived a vanilla life. She's a treasure. Lynn has a family, and her family has first priority; I wanted it that way. I also wanted Lynn, like I've never wanted anyone. Being with her broke new ground for me, pushing me to make progress with love.
The full potential of partner dance. We dove into this murky world and found it just as frustratingly difficult as everyone said it would be. But also irresistible. The more I saw and struggled with even the most basic elements of tango, the more I began to see that this is what dance can be, what all the other dances were leading up to.
Don't be a dope. But I didn't buy into the morose culture of tango, the slavish aping of all things Argentine. Just like I didn't buy into swing culture (eyeroll). Aping the lifestyle, fashions & bad habits historically associated with a dance has nothing to do with dancing, it's just boneheaded mimicry. I was particularly annoyed by something I called tango face. Dancers, usually guys, would wear a peculiarly pretentious expression while dancing, a mixture of ersatz soulfulness and superiority. Pathetic.
Miscegenation. Lynn & I immediately started mixing bits of tango into all the other dancing we did, like waltz, blues & non-tango Latin dances. A bit of tango enriches other dances. Lynn & I began incorporating tango principles and vocabulary into all the classes we taught.
A taste of tango. We taught workshops in stripped-down tango: a simplified framework that gave students a taste of tango. A few went on and tried the real thing; most were happy with the taste we gave them.
The unhappy side. That was the happy side of my early years in tango. The other side is where our poly status made things difficult. I have a lifelong tendency to really dive into a new thing. Lynn & I were taking a class; I added classes on two other nights when she was not available. And that was fine, tho' I missed my favorite partner. Milongas were unhappy. In the 10s I felt driven to go dancing every night. I was using dance as a crutch. My life was dominated by heavy drinking. Being home alone in the evening was where the emptiness of my addicted life caught up with me. I went to milongas alone, and I was miserable. When I stopped drinking in 2016, that should've changed, but it didn't; I'd become a dry drunk. All the broken ways I'd related to the world as a drunk continued, just without alcohol.
But now I had more clarity. Booze was no longer clouding my thinking. I saw that the poly arrangement wasn't meeting my needs. Now I wanted to be with Lynn a lot more than she was available; the relationship wasn't fitting sober me like it had fit drunk me. But it was still the best relationship I'd ever been in, by far.
The same was true for her. I was no longer the person she'd fallen in love with. Booze made me more outgoing, dramatic, flirtatious and voluble. I talked a lot when I was drunk. The relationship wasn't fitting her as well either. Tensions began to grow between us, and they intensified during my yearlong pot glut in 2019. We broke up right before the pandemic hit.
But our connection is deep and resilient. Through the early months of the pandemic, broken up and separated by social distancing, we hung on and kept the connection alive. We accepted not being lovers anymore; we don't work as a couple. But we are dear friends.