As a kid, I danced to please my mother.
Now I dance to get out of this
Zelensky Replaces Defense Minister, Citing Need for ‘New Approaches.’ I crawl out of my bed and jayrun towards a last-century fieldhouse built on the money of Will Weightman. He was a quinine king from England. Now he is a body decomposed at Laurel Hill, his bones resting in a concrete vault.
A face peeks out from the heavy wooden doors of Weightman’s red-brick disciple, “Ballroom dancing?” My chin goes down in a nod. A hoarse voice instructs me to take the stairs, go through doors and to my left. What it doesn’t instruct me is to stare at faces of basketball players from past decades covering dark walls. Carpe diem, boys.
Voices reach me, getting louder with each step towards them. My hands dive into a backpack they drop on the bleachers probing for a cold steel bottle the contents of which runs down my throat, supplying sweat and letting live.
My eyes scan over unknown bodies. Someone small and graceful, like a ballerina, wearing a black top, black flowy pants and tan satin heeled shoes for girls who danced standard, offers to write my name on a sticker so that people don’t have to look in my eyes when meeting me but at my left breast.
“Welcome to ballroom dancing,” from the center of the basketball arena declares a woman whose big brown eyes radiate vitality. A hair tie and plastic pearls tame her grayish-reddish-brown wavy mane. Wide smile exposes her white teeth. The Energized Woman wears a black top with multiple thin straps encircling her shoulders, black pants and black training leather shoes with a cubic heel worn by boys who danced latin, coaches, and girls who practiced. From the height of its shoulders collected like wings of a bird taking off and extended neck, her athletic posture faces those who decided to attempt moving to a new set of rules for which it holds authority. The Energized Woman introduces waltz. Relaxed eyes and reserved smile of her partner who stands slightly behind her, obliquely endorse everything she says. This Contented Man wears a black T-shirt, black pants, and black leather shoes with a flat heel worn by boys who danced standard. Penn Latin and Ballroom Dancing club members sit on the bleachers clothed in darkness enlightened with knowledge that black is the default color of ballroom dancing. The uninitiated wear fair- and bright-colored tops, skirts, and shorts. They look cheerful, diligent, and lost.
I wonder what they are doing here.
I wonder what I am doing here.
The Energized Woman and the Contented Man represent all the dancing in the world. They have to defeat heat, fear, and the constraints of motion to convince us that we have more choices of laws to follow in moving our bodies through space. They have to convince us that we can learn to resemble them. They don’t seem threatening.
The Contented Man’s finger taps a phone in his hand and the hasteless enchanting sound from the speaker fills the room fully, spilling out of its doors and windows. The Contented Man lifts up his feet one by one, tapping the rhythm. He counts. One. Two. Three. The feet of the Energized Woman repeat confidently. Tap. Tap. Tap. The feet of the brightly dressed crowd repeat timidly. Tap. Tap. Tap. The Contented Man nods expressively and slices the air in front of him with his hands to each step. He looks happy. He smiles. He says we are doing great. The timidity wears away fast. The Contented Man then shows how to box step. One. Step forwards with a left leg. Two. Step to the right with a right leg. Three. Bring feet together. Then do the same but with opposite legs. One. Two. Three. And then the same backwards.
I am afraid that, because I wanted to forget dancing, I did.
I am wrong.
One. My knees remember how to bend. My soles remember how to slide on the parquet. My thighs remember how to transfer weight.
Two. My feet remember how to be collected. My toes remember how to raise my body up.
Three. My legs remember how to do it all over and over again smoothly. My back remembers how to stay straight. My shoulders remember how to stretch in opposite directions, lifting up my arms in a frame.
The crowd transforms into a line that glides across the floor to music back and forth with frequent patient stops. Directions from the Energized Woman and the Contented Man slip my attention which anticipates music. May there always be angels to watch over you. My upper body tries to resemble a boat calmly rocking in the storm. Unconsciously. To guide you each step of the way. My legs try to create the waves oscillating forcefully but the rubber sole of my sneakers trips on the waxed tiles. I want to float but I bump into the floor instead. Sweat stains my blue long-sleeve. I promise myself to wear black if I’m ever dancing again. To guard you and keep you safe from all harm. Loo-li, loo-li, lai-lay.
The music stops. “Find a partner,” shouts the Contented Man. People who step forward lead and those who step backward follow. “Thank your partner and rotate.” I try to stay alone. People who eventually touch me ask for my name, look at their feet, my feet, in the distance, or in my eyes, stay focused and calm or smile and giggle, make me smile and giggle, but nobody harasses me. One of my partners, who seems very concentrated, remarks, “You definitely danced before,” which reassures me that my body remembers. If others say it remembers, then how could it not.
I ask the president of the club how I can become a dancer again.
She tells me something about “syllabus” and “bronze” and “silver” and “gold” and I wonder what the hell does this all mean.
I get out of Weightman searching for waltzes on spotify. No, I don’t want Tchaikovsky or Strauss or Chopin. I add “ballroom” and “standard” and “slow” to find a ‘proper’ 29-bars-per-minute international slow waltz. The eerie music in my headphones detaches me from the rhythmless reality. As I walk, my legs are trying to slow down, bend and rise on tiptoes but my mind prevents me from looking ridiculous.
I get inside the Van Pelt library, press “4” in the elevator, and pulse with my knees. Waltzing between the stacks, I plan how my feet will pretend to stumble and go back to normal steps if somebody appears. My fingers and eyes dance through the books, looking for Sophocles, but I feel like a fairy flying through the archives of incantations.
During the constraining walk home, distantly familiar songs awaken memories of past floating attempts. Horcha-a-at Hai Caliptus. I jump over the steps and close the door behind me. Shoes off. My left leg holds the weight, the back stretches upward and deflects to the left, shoulders extend, arms freeze in a frame. Hagesher Lasira Vereah. My body tenses up, pulses, moves through the hallway and up the stairs. Like a bird gone mad in a cage, I wave with my hands disorderly. Hamaluah Al hamaim. Waltzing, I clean my room which I have not done in months.
The dance spell doesn’t wear off when I wake up. At Irvine Auditorium, someone cheerful takes a photo of me and asks me to put a sticker with a name on myself again. EmSachs Rehearsal Room, named after Emily whose body didn’t let her live long enough, has no windows but a mural with a girl in a blue dress traveling through purple swirls of dancers. A couple in the center of the room bounces, spins, and swings to jazzy music. Their dance reminds me of jive from latin but they calmly smile at each other. Their bodies are tense to an extent but they appear relaxed. I have never before heard of lindy hop.
People in red, green, and pink “West Philly Swingers” t-shirts come up to me and others in our average uncategorizable shirts and ask us why we decided to try swing dancing and who we are. Then they arrange themselves in a circle that fills the room and suggest we do the same. The Lindy Man and the Lindy Woman show several ways to shake our bodies to warm them up for yet more shaking. They divide us into people who put their arms on backs and start with the left leg, like the Lindy Man does, and those who put their arms on shoulders and start with the right leg, like the Lindy Woman does.
I put my right arm on the back of my partner.
Rock step. Step backward with a left leg, leaving it there until the triple step, and step on the right again not changing its position.
Triple step. Stand on the left leg, right leg, left leg.
Step on the right leg. Step on the left leg.
Triple step. Stand on the right leg, left leg, right leg.
“Thank your partner and rotate.”
Rock step. Triple step. Step. Step. Triple step.
Turn after a rock step and during step-step to get around your partner and complete a lindy circle. Rotate. Turn to the side after a rock step to hold your partner’s hands in an open position and rock step instead of step-step, opening an arm, to do a flip flop. Rotate. Do another rock step, triple step, step, step, triple step. Then slap the floor with your feet doing pam padam padam padam. Fool around. Go up or go down.
I don’t know how to fool around but I can look like a mantis when I dance. My forelegs have not touched so many people in my lifetime like they have touched today. Slippers keep falling off my feet and jeans are so thick that my legs feel like they are in a sauna. I promise myself to never wear slippers or jeans if I’m ever dancing again.
At the end of the class, the Lindy Woman puts her right arm on the Lindy Man’s back and starts the little combination we’ve learned with her left leg, while the Lindy Man puts his left arm on the Lindy Woman’s shoulder and starts the combination with his right leg. “People who led now follow and people who followed now lead. Try it! Five. Six. Seven. Eight. Rock step…”
I put my arm on my partner’s shoulder and start with the right foot. Rock step. Triple stop. Stop. Stop. Stop. My brain desperately calculates what dozens of my partners did in the past hour. I apologize for stopping. My partners apologize for stopping. The class stops. Social dance starts.
Social dance etiquette: Ask, “Would you like to dance?”
If someone says “no,” let them be.
If they say “yes,” ask, “Would you like to lead or follow?”
What if both people want to lead? Or follow? Nobody explained, but I think… Give in. Or go find someone else.
Somebody in a green t-shirt asks me if I would like to dance. And then two more people. I choose to follow because my body doesn’t know what to do. It needs to be told what to do, or yelled at, or forced to. Otherwise, it does nothing.
Apologies pour out of my mouth. “I’m sorry.” “Oops.” “I’m sorry.” “Ah.” “I’m sorry.” “I don’t know what to do.” “I’m sorry.” “I am doing it wrong.” “I am so sorry.”
When I don’t understand what’s going on I turn because turning is fun. Then I say that I’m sorry.
I walk home pensively. The Wise Woman told me to start dancing to gain control this past spring. I don’t feel in control.
Didn’t I just start dancing?
No, I didn’t. I am not decisive. I went dancing because she told me to.
This summer, when I contemplated trying dancing again, I asked my Friend Who Is Much Better Than Me In Not Caring What Others Think (Probably), “If you could do anything in the world without having to work and sustain yourself, what would you do?”
“Do you want to take dance classes?” I asked, because my body can only function within federations.
“No. I don’t want to take dance classes. I just want to dance.”
I don’t know what it means to just
Russia targets Ukraine’s Capital With Barrage of Drones and I go to my first standard class in Weightman. The Contented Man tells us to raise chests. Strengthen, open, fix frames. Hold corpora firm, steady, elegant. Put weight on feet to keep balance. Separate still torsos from fast legs flying on the floor. We try to grasp the Big Beautiful Frame in place by standing and stretching parts of our upper bodies in opposite directions from the center situated somewhere in the guts. I don’t understand what it means but it seems like I can feel it. Probably.
My weight concentrates on the ball of my left foot. My left knee bends slightly, bouncing. Pelvis tries to be a part of the left leg. Back tries to straighten. Chest reaches up. Shoulders spread. Arms go up and pull in opposite directions. Head and neck gravitate to the left — as far as possible from an imaginary partner. Even farther from a real one.
The Contented Man asks us to try all these manipulations dancing a basic waltz composition, which consists of this turn and other things and something else. I could never speak Dance.
My lost eyes and disoriented body ask the Contented Man to remind them of the basic waltz composition. He offers to show it, invites my hands and leads me through this turn and other things and something else. My mind does not remember much. It cannot think things up. But my body remembers a lot.
My black turtleneck long-sleeve, loose black pajama pants, and black socks epitomize my delusion that dancing means black. Without sneakers, my feet no longer stumble — they slide, but I stop to pull up my socks every two moves.
My thighs and calves shake because they cannot handle the commands my mind sends to my legs that they followed in the past. I try to do better because if I’m not trying to do better than what the hell am I doing.
Do you know what you are doing? You are wasting time. And time is money. You are wasting a lot of money. Get out of here.
“Did you just take a shower?” Yes. I showered in my sweat.
I want to say, but apologize for being disgusting.
Ukraine Strikes the Headquarters of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet in Crimea and I want to write something about
Abuse of power.
In the beginning of the first lindy class, the Lindy Man shows us a video of someone old dancing long ago. “Bouncy.” “Energetic.” “Relaxed.” We learn to see the dance.
Everyone warms up by shaking and jumping in the circle. Then pairs up in a line. The Lindy Man and the Lindy Woman rock step, triple step, step, step, triple step in place. We repeat. They change directions, holds, add turns, watch us, and repeat until we repeat. “Any questions?” They dance lightly, naturally. It’s a joy to watch them. My eyes see how my body in the mirror looks like I swallowed a stick. Dancing has always been about tensing up and looking presentable.
I try hard to relax.
We rotate and thank our partners, which I love. I thank everyone who dances with me. Sometimes, more than once. For expressiveness. “Thank you.” “Thank you.” “Thank you.”
At the end, we switch roles. Those who led now follow and those who followed now lead. We apologize to each other for messing up and say, “Thank you.”
Next day I have my third first dance class. Third dance class. First in latin. A Cheerful Man, who is, of course, wearing all black, tells us to warm up with rumba walks. This doesn’t remind me of anything. I have not made a single rumba step ever since I stopped dancing. My eyes observe the Cheerful Man and my legs repeat. I step on two, three, four. And when I step — I really step. Two. Right hip wants to get ahead of the right foot and transfers weight on it fully. Left foot resists but drags with toes pointed as if tied to their previous location. Three. Left hip wants to be first now, so it pulls weight on the left foot. The right foot resists and drags. Four. Right hip wants to win again. This race of hips — with legs that don’t want to participate attached to them — continues until the music stops. Rumba is the slowest dance in international latin but it’s not slow when hips and chest and shoulders and arms shift and extend with every step. If I focus on one body part though, I have time to think.
Rumba is a dance of love.
I danced rumba with someone I hated.
Therefore, I did not dance rumba.
The Cheerful Man comes up with a little composition. He shows every move to those who lead and then to those who follow, then asking us to try it in pairs. During opening outs, I put my hands on arms and shoulders of those who lead and open one of the hands out when they lead me to. My touch is light and gentle, I hope. I don’t want my touch to destroy.
The Cheerful Man counts emphatically. “Really hold this… Four one. Two. And three. And fooour. And two. And three. Hold this four one. And ta. Ta. Whuaap. Two. And three. Fooour…” Because feet don’t step on one, it’s time for a hip to get as far ahead as it can, for chest and shoulders to counterbalance the hip, and for arms to extend. The Cheerful Man wants to see more contrast between one and two, three, four, because once you learn all the rules about dancing, it’s time to break them. The last thing you want is to look boring.
Rumba is a dance of love.
I decide to get more serious about dancing. Getting more serious means buying shoes. “Can someone please let me know what are the good places to go try on shoes in nyc?”
has a lot of shoes but only two shelves for international standard. Nothing that attracts my eyes fits my feet.
Ukraine Says It Has Retaken Strategic Village Near Bakhmut and the Contented Man shows how head should be on top of a neck on top of shoulders. Not in the way this all usually is but stretching along an upward line that starts from the knee of the supporting leg. The Contented Man demonstrates how shoulders should be strained and flexed. How they should pull the arms up. Everyone standing around in the fickle circle tries to look effortlessly tense like real dancers. We practice dancing viennese waltz with this frame.
We try it slowly.
We try it fast.
One. Two. Three. One. Two. Three. One. Two. Three.
We try it to music.
I forget about the frame once my legs start shaking.
An overcaffeinated man, a coach from the past, made past me and my partner from the past dance to an entire viennese waltz song so that we stop looking tired in competitions. His favorite one went: I keep on fallin’ in and out of love with you. It was pointless to scream at me to continue dancing when my lungs refused to inhale and my legs refused to stand. I never loved someone the way that I love you. I keep on fallin’ in and out of love with you… Alicia Keys kept on falling in and out of love for three and a half minutes. I didn’t know English then so I thought she was screaming at me too. “Stop hanging on him and carry yourself.” My drooping body made it difficult for my partner from the past to dance. The overcaffeinated man and I drove it to exhaustion in all-consuming unwarranted rage.
Now, I can let my drooping body stop. Stop being so difficult. Lower my arms. Dance on straight legs which cannot handle an older and fatter me. In socks. And pajama pants.
Viennese waltz is a fast and spectacular way to dance myself to death. It takes my body just several dozens of seconds of waltzing for everything around me to swirl and dim. And several dozens more to lose my breath and stop feeling my limbs. I love viennese waltz.
I stay for the next standard class. The Energized Woman and the Contented Man teach it right after the gold/silver one I go to, but this one is for bronze dancers. I have no idea what metals have to do with dancing but there is a hierarchy like in the olympics. We learn a tiny waltz combination of a step and a half turn. We step and we half turn over and over again trying to tweak some little thing to do it better with each attempt. The Energized Woman tells those who follow to look at basketball nets to crane our necks. She asks me for my name to tell me I’m doing a good job looking at basketball nets and I thank her. I remember how past I sent my mother a whatsapp voice message about how I was praised in a dance class to receive the only approval that mattered. An hour later I realized I sent it to my dance group. If I heard someone bragging to their parents in a message I would have laughed too. Probably.
Right after two standard classes, I go to my first rehearsal with the swing group but there is nothing to rehearse yet. The show is in three months and the song has not yet been chosen. We learn Shim Sham — a legendary routine that everyone knows. It starts with putting a foot diagonally forward on the floor on eight and then dragging it on one. The next one goes forward on two and drags on three. Then the other one goes on four and six.
Full break. Step forward with the right leg. Tap with the left one. Jump on the left leg and bend and bring the right one to the stomach. Then do the same but jump on the right leg. Jump on both legs slightly spreading them apart. Collect feet in a jump.
“And you push and you push and you
And you push and you push and you
And you push and you push and you
Tackie annies are just step, tap, step, tap, step, tap, step, tap.
The music is unhurried and upbeat. I realize I can relax a little bit if my knees bend and my torso goes forward and if I stop thinking about my arms and just let them dangle somewhere around my body as long as they help my body to balance. Our Swing Dance Mother and Swing Dance Father tell us we have just learned the first block of legendary Shim Sham that everybody knows.
Biden, in U.N. Speech, Calls for Action in Ukraine and Other Crises and I decide to write this. I can write about dancing. My colleague says, “You don’t have to write anything you are uncomfortable with.” The same colleague says that it can be powerful to write about something I am uncomfortable with. Is there something in being read just like there is something in dancing with someone?
Would you like to dance?
Would you like to keep reading?
During the second lindy class, the Lindy Man and the Lindy Woman tell us about Frankie Manning, Vicky Diaz, Mama Lou Parks, and about how it all started in Savoy Ballroom in the 1920s.
“We are some generation of this dance — understand and learn history.”
We watch a video of Felix and LaTasha lindyhopping very fast and LaTasha walking away “really hot.” We are still learning how to look at dance.
The Lindy Woman tells us to use verbs. “Don’t say you are a follow or a lead because it’s not fixed and doesn’t define you. Say ‘when I’m leading…’ or ‘when I’m following’.”
The Lindy Man and the Lindy Woman teach us to swing out. “Imagine you are standing on a hot dog bun.” The goal is to turn and switch places without stepping on a sausage. Swing out is the most important move in lindy hop. It starts from an open position. When I lead, I pull my partner with my right hand towards me and step around them. Then I swing them out along the line of dance to the place they started from. When I follow, I get pulled forward by my partner, turned around and then pushed to where I was. Although one partner at a time holds the executive function, the most important part of dance is connection and communication.
Not memory. Not power.
Our instructors also teach us a move, the name of which my hearing can’t exactly catch. It’s called either ‘Frankie scooters’ or ‘Frankie scoops’ or maybe neither. Both versions sound equally descriptive to me. The Lindy Man explains that the idea is to trample in an open position with your partner as if you two are jumping very effectively on a red carpet. Tra- ta da- ta da- ta da. We slap the floor with our feet. The Lindy Man encourages us to fool around. It doesn’t feel like fooling around but I put my hand up by the end of the red carpet. Tra- ta da- ta da- ta da.
Zelensky Tells U.N. Security Council It’s Useless While Russia Has a Veto. I feel like a potato sack in my pajama pants during latin class. I have been called a potato sack before and other beautiful ingenious names when I danced. Potato sack is my favorite because potatoes are delicious and nutritious and potato sacks help to transfer them to people.
The Cheerful Man teaches us samba rolls. I imagine that my body from knees to neck is one plane revolving around its center in my guts. My knees bend and my plane tilts in circular motion. I run after something in circles, like a dog trying to catch its tail, but my arms also flap above my head as if they don’t want to be a part of this chase. When we try in pairs, I become hyper aware that the hips and chests and hands of people who lead contact my plane from behind. A dog running after its tail in circles becomes taken aback once touched and stops to find the source of disruption.
Ukraine Targets Crimea for Second Day in a Row, Russia Says and I listen to a man saying that the U.S. should solve all the problems in the world and destroy all its enemies. I order dancing shoes. From England.
And I eat chocolate until my stomach hurts and my mind hibernates. Our standard class gets moved from a basketball arena to a hallway because somebody throwing balls needs it more than we do. The Contented Man shows us how to connect with a partner in quickstep. Quickstep connection is different from the waltz one because in quickstep we have to step from one leg to another much quicker. My right breast and the right side of my chest and my right thigh touch a man who tells me we have never met before, a man with a hoarse voice, a man who smiles a lot, some other men, and a friendly woman. This is not about the Big Beautiful Frame. We put our hands down or behind our backs to test whether our bodies can hear each other. People who lead step somewhere, trying to guide through the connection, and people who follow try to listen. The Contented Man walks around and counts. Slow. Slow. Quick. Quick. Slow. My stomach full of chocolate wants me to lie down and digest. I try to trust, give weight, feel the weight of my partners, listen to them and be moved.
Rehearsal with the swing group later the same day takes place in a small room with windows and a big tall mirror in ARCH Building, which stands for the Arts Research and Culture House. We coincidentally also work on connection and trust by closing our eyes and believing in the eyes and hands of our partners to lead us ahead. We try both leading and following. We try to trust and be trustworthy.
The Wise Woman always tells me I have to trust myself. Myself first. And then others. Probably.
Everything between two bodies attempting to move freely is done through communication.
I wake up to a woman crying and screaming next door in real life. My housemate calls the police but the man who makes the woman cry and scream and who calls her a whore and breaks her stuff tells the policeman that everything is fine and the policeman immediately leaves.
Everything is fine.
Russia Releases New Videos of Admiral Ukraine Claimed to Have Killed. I tell myself and my Swing Dance Parents that I am skipping the lindy class because my bus is late although I can make it without a bus if I walk in the dark. There is nobody to tell about skipping the latin class the next day so I don’t bother explaining. No force can tear my face apart from a pillow. Writing seems pointless, intrusive and deceitful. The Wise Woman tells me I must avoid, at all costs, analysis paralysis. She tells me I must go dance. The Woman Who Always Asks Me If I Am Cold tells me to keep dancing too. “I am not suggesting you to do a weird dance in the middle of Market Street but let your inner self out in privacy behind a locked door.” I force myself into strange easily accessible things to escape paralysis. With my housemates we go to a party in a box stuffed with intoxicated bodies jerking to music. I get out to lie outside under a refreshing rain falling on my face. Ukraine’s War of Drones Runs Into an Obstacle: China. I am late for a solo jazz class because I enjoy my chai with condensed milk for too long. A woman with red lips and a red headband bounces and quicksteps in the middle of a circle. She teaches us kick ball change, box step, scarecrow and Charleston. At this point, I don’t know how important Charleston is. She is the Charleston Woman. She asks us to fool around and have fun. She always fools around by moving her hips in a controlled circle and putting one of her hands up pointing up with her finger and everyone repeats. The box step is not like in a waltz. Right leg crosses left leg and steps left. Left leg steps back. Right leg steps right. Left leg steps forward. I step on the edges of a box but avoid falling inside. Scarecrow is a kick and a slide and a… scarecrow. I bend my left knee towards my right knee and put elbows up and palms down. To do a Charleston step, rock step back with a left leg, do a kick forward with the same left leg, kick forward with a right leg, and kick to the side with a right leg. Rock step. Kick. Kick. Kick. I work on relaxing and feel how chai with condensed milk bounces in my stomach. My eyes see a group of soldiers at my job and I try to explain to my agitated mind that states need armies to protect themselves. I force myself into another dance class taught by a very relaxed man in green leather shoes and a fedora and a woman whose presence eludes me. A live jazz band starts playing but I leave as my stomach reminds me that chai with condensed milk is the only thing I put in it today.
Ukraine Downplays Uncertainty Over U.S. Support After Funding Bill Passes With No Aid. I walk to Weightman for forty minutes from my house for a standard class. I go up the steps, stare at heavy wooden doors for three minutes, turn around and go home. Next day, a woman, who looks me in the eyes and smiles politely, asks me disgusting questions. A Woman Who Tells Me I’m Strong Too Often tells me I’m strong. A woman who always tells me to eat more, especially protein, tells me to eat more, especially protein. Russian Troops Cede Ground and Strike Back, Frustrating Ukraine’s Counteroffensive. I eat salmon and chicken and french toast casserole with whipped cream, pouring warm apple cider down my throat. My hands hold my stomach from bursting from all this ‘eating more’ during the lindy class. Connection is important. Don’t forget to pulse. I need to lie down. Russian Journalist Sentenced in Absentia for Antiwar Protest. Instead of bringing me to the latin class, my feet go past the Annenberg Studio and walk home. My English shoes in fair satin arrive. One pair for latin and one pair for standard. They shine and smell like glue and tanned leather. My fingers feel the smoothness of satin but they can barely pull silicone caps on heels. The shoes are tight but a half size bigger is too loose. When I talked to My Dear Friend about ordering shoes a week ago, she told me if she ever started dancing again she would get practice shoes with a cubic heel, like coaches wear. I have those back home. I wore them once but never again because the overcaffeinated man told me I was not a girl who practiced. So I ordered those pretty heeled shoes for follows — the ‘proper’ ones for international standard and latin. Strike Killed 1 in 6 of Ukraine Village’s Residents, Officials Say. New shoes motivate me to go to my first open practice in the Annenberg Studio to break them in. I put them on, fasten them, look at them in the mirror. They look pretty, crushing my toes and cutting my heels. I waltz through familiar pain to several songs. When I take the shoes off, my feet hold their shape, which feels right. Nostalgia.
‘We Are at War,’ Netanyahu Says After Hamas Attacks Israel. My Dear Friend invites me to see ballet. Carmen cuts Fernanda’s cheek and gets arrested but seduces Don José and runs away. Carmen then falls in love with Escamillo and Don José kills them both. All this while dancing. Factory workers dance at work. Soldiers dance during the arrest. Prisoners dance in jail cells. Bandits dance when they rob. They stand on toes, flutter from place to place with careful steps, lift legs, wave with their boneless arms, and turn, and turn, and turn. Je suis désolé. Pirouette. Pirouette. Pirouette.
Why can’t we substitute some human interactions with ballet in the real world so that violence would stay performative but stop being real.
My Dear Friend and I notice how sometimes Carmen, but especially Escamillo, can’t keep up with the fast intense music as their taps lag. We can hear each tap as boxes of pointes beat against the floor.
Biden Says Military Assistance Is on Its Way to Israel. I invite my Dear Friend to watch a Penn ballroom competition in Weightman. In the past, I have been to dozens. This is the first time I see people dancing the american rhythm, which looks like latin, but is something else. My Dear Friend asks me who our teachers are. Who are the judges. I don’t know who is who. I only know the Energized Woman, the Contented and the Cheerful Men. My eyes just dance around couples dancing. Judges come up to them and give purple laces. I’m not sure what is going on. I don’t want to stop looking at dancing and come late to the swing group rehearsal later that day. We start learning a number we will dance in a show at the end of the semester. The music we have chosen is an abridged song from a woman about her getting over someone no longer loving her. It starts with fast piano play. The only line my hearing catches throughout the whole song is “Baby, baby, what’s the matter with you?” Her confidence commands my respect. I get assigned a Show Partner. She looks a little lost when we learn moves and always smiles at me radiantly when we get them right. The number starts with a rock step, triple step, step, step, triple step. Then I do two mambo steps while my Show Partner does three tackie annies. We connect up and she turns under my arm twice. Then I do three tackie annies with my back turned to an imaginary audience. I don’t like this move because I feel especially foolish. We connect up with my Show Partner and do a lindy circle. Our Swing Dance Mother tells us, “Don’t worry guys. You’re doing great! Dancing is just fancy walking.” It also can be fancy standing, lying and sitting.
Israel’s Attackers Took About 240 Hostages. A Woman Who Helps and the Wise Woman say something must be done. When I walk past 22nd Street Station on Market, I always see a man dancing. He stands several meters west from the entrance to the station with his back turned to the parking lot behind him, facing people walking away from center city. His hand holds a phone from which headphones’ wires extend to the man’s ears and he dances. Overstrung, he pulses with his knees, squats and rises up, shakes his head, waves his arms. Every movement is fast and abrupt. Sometimes he waves and smiles at people coming out of the station.
Nowhere to Hide in Gaza as Israeli Onslaught Continues. We try to find our voice in the lindy class by adding slides, jumps, and turns to figures. I feel silent, honestly. The Lindy Man shows us how we can try sliding instead of triple stepping to have fun but my mind perceives it as more work and tries to get it right. Mean to me… Why must you be mean to me? The Lindy Man and the Lindy Woman love Ella Fitzgerald. Gee, honey, it seems to me you love to see me cryin’. They show us more ways to turn. We stay for show-offs after lindy class to show each other off our show numbers we started doing during rehearsals. My newbie group has nothing to show because we only learned five moves two days ago. A line of dozens of eyes congregates in the middle of EmSachs to see groups dancing through the beginnings of their numbers. When dancers stop, shoes fly at them to express admiration. Ideas, compliments, suggestions spin in the stale air.
Israel Forms Unity Government and Bombs Gaza in the Wake of Hamas Attack. New shoes motivate me to go to the latin class. I stay for two, the second one being the bronze class. If in rumba hips compete with each other, in pasodoble pelvis just always rushes forward and down. Feet stab the floor. Arms keep the frame round as the back pushes away from the partner. The Wise Woman told me about boxing being a way to let the anger out but I should tell her about pasodoble.
For Democrats, Crisis in Israel Could Be a Unifying Force. Jazz Attack happens every Thursday at Philadelphia’s Ethical Society. Regulars habitually go here every week but for me today it’s big. Exciting. A little scary. I put my backpack and jacket on a chair that stands in a row encircling the dance floor. A woman sitting nearby introduces herself and tells me it’s her first time here. She’s retired, looking for hobbies. A couple steps off the stage and tells everyone to gather for a beginner class. Soon it stands in the middle of a tight circle formed by dozens of people most of whom have never danced swing before. The couple shows how to rock step, triple step, step, step, triple step, and connect up with a partner. We rotate every other minute. Those who lead go around the circle. “Hello. What’s your name? I’m…” “Hi! I’m…” “It’s my first time here.” I don’t introduce myself when not asked but I say thank you while looking each person in the eyes enthusiastically. People keep apologizing. Somebody very tall, muscular, and agitated makes big frequent steps while I dangle around. I tell them to relax but it lands wrong. I should only tell myself to relax. They apologize. I apologize. “Thank you.” Someone else jumps around me and I run after them with triple steps. “Thank you.” Someone is trying hard. “Thank you.” Someone is not trying. “Thank you.” Someone looks me in the eyes and we giggle. “Thank you.” Someone looks at our feet. “Thank you.” There is a person who is named like my mother.
We learn how to do a sendout and an underarm turn. A tight circle turns into a loose crowd. When we try it all together, apologies and exclamations fly around the room as we step on each other’s feet and bump into each other. Accidentally. We try to social dance. People who lead, improvise. I improvise the hell out of several moves I know, all my energy concentrated on not letting my partner be beaten by a hand or a leg thrown out. Joshua Fialkoff and the Odd Fellows start playing jazz. Confidence awakens in me and invites a woman for a dance. She says she would like to follow. As I lead her through an unimaginative combination of steps and turns my dancing mind comes up with, we talk and she tells me she has been swing dancing for several months. Then I invite another woman who follows me through another dance. Then a man comes up to me and asks me if I would like to dance. Yes, I would. He doesn’t follow the social dance etiquette — he just leads me. Moves me. Turns me. My feet forget about rock step, triple step, step, step, triple step and just try to keep up with constant transitions in space. I look at his feet so much that I confuse the color of his sneakers with the color of his shirt. He tries to dance Charleston with me but, although the Charleston Woman already taught me the Charleston step, I have never tried it with a partner before and my feet keep failing. I don’t realize it’s Charleston and wonder what the hell is this move he keeps doing over and over again. My own apologies annoy me. “I’m sorry.” “I don’t know why I’m so stupid.” “I’m sorry.” After that dance, I follow for the rest of the night. We discover a shared interest in philosophy with the next man who invites me for a dance and then another one. “Do you want to lead or follow?” My mouth produces something unnecessarily incomprehensible, “Well, I usually lead, but I also follow. I’d like to lead, but I should follow because I don’t know any moves… I’d like to follow.” He tries to tell me something about Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky as we dance to loud music which turns dialogues into a series of what?s and screams in each other’s ears. I keep making bad dance clothing choices. A pink sweater and thick jeans get drenched in sweat. I run to the bathroom after each dance to wipe sweat off and stand in front of a ventilator to cool down. Platform maryjanes make my feet sluggish. The music gets too fast when we dance with my Swing Dance Father. We stop, wait, and continue when it gets slower. My Swing Dance Father introduces me to my Swing Dance Grandfather who invites me for a dance. I would like to follow. I move from here to there and I turn and I try to listen. An old tall woman in all black leads me leisurely. A man with a very wide smile that exposes his crooked teeth leads me alternating three moves. He embodies commitment as I see him looking at other people’s feet during the event, trying to repeat them alone in the corners. Someone from my swing dance group leads me through many turns. Gradually I stop trying to get it right and I stop apologizing. Almost. I invite my Swing Dance Sibling to dance lindy to blues music because that is all we know. Then she invites me. We agree on roles but we mess it up. We lead and we follow and we fool around and we laugh and we
Penn’s Leadership Under Fire From Prominent Donors. An intention outweighing my reluctance to jump brings me to an open practice at the Annenberg Studio. I am still breaking in my standard shoes. My toes are trying to toss my body in the air to the rhythm of quickstep but it lands milliseconds too late. Quickstep is quick and light. My current version is heavy and slow. My mind makes my feet stop but then forces them to try again. I try it in place first. Slow. Slow. Quick. Quick. Slow. On each count I land on my foot and then change it and land on another foot on the next count. A free leg swings to the side and back as if kicking out another leg. After ten minutes of jumping and stopping my body stirs itself up to follow the music. I try to move jumping but I don’t remember any steps so I improvise two slow side jumps, three quick other side jumps, and one slow jump in place to get it together and start again. My feet mess it up every several seconds and mince in place to the music. My body wanders brokenly within a space restricted by two couples practicing around me. It stops to fill the lungs with air and makes another effort. My mind dismisses it once the promised hour of practice passes. A man who likes helping people learn dancing during open practice asks me to follow a followless lead who tells me he is bad at dancing. Whatever ‘bad’ means, he can lead and I follow him. A man who likes helping also tells me he will look for free leads so that I can pair up with someone. Home, I watch how Suzy discovers Tanz Akademie to be an undercover coven in Suspiria. How ballet serves as a pretense to hide and maintain a hierarchical power structure. Suzy is brave and lucky enough to uncover and destroy it. Then I show my housemates a scene of Elaine stripping in front of her fake friend’s husband in The Love Witch. These images scream to me that there can be power in dancing. For some reason, this power is evil. Slaughter at a Festival of Peace and Love Leaves Israel Transformed. My body can’t make it to the standard class but Luisa from Y Tu Mamá También will always be dancing in the bar staring into my soul from an artificial cinematic reality on which I rely too much.
Muslim Boy, 6, Is Mourned After Illinois Attack Linked to Mideast War. Somebody dressed in black with their face covered to conceal identity dances freely encircled by people in front of Van Pelt library. Somebody joins. Somebody joins. Somebody joins. Somebody joins in a mask. Depends on their feelings of safety. Probably. Knees of these loud figures pulse. Their feet step ahead and backward, moving in lines and circles. Their hands clap and sometimes their fingers snap. Their hands wave and they chant and invite to join.
Hundreds Reported Killed in Blast at a Gaza Hospital. I meet a very busy friend who tells me he is very busy. We walk and talk. I tell him I started dancing. “I have a swing dance class in half an hour.” We meet an acquaintance at work with whom my very busy friend talks about something I pay no attention to. My very busy friend and I sit down. He tells me something I pay no attention to and I respond with something, my thoughts elsewhere. My eyeballs become wet. They can’t hold the salty liquid inside them, the drops of which slide down my cheeks and fall on my shirt. I must breathe. I drink water. “I want to go outside.” I breathe outside. “I don’t think I can make it to a dance class. I will go home.” My very busy friend tells me that now I have to make it to a dance class and tells me something nonsensically ridiculous. The Lindy Man is not here today. The Charleston man is here instead. With the Lindy Woman, they teach us how to dance Charleston in pairs. We try leading and following with every partner every time we rotate. My mind learns to adapt to switching roles fast, like it knows, better than me, that the right hand on the back means start with a left foot and lead, while left hand on the shoulder means start with a right foot and listen.
New Global Divisions on View as Biden Goes to Israel and Putin to China. My body refuses to go to the latin class because my eyes and fingers are too focused on coloring a halloween book. I tell a Woman Who Always Asks Me If I’m Cold about
hating and hurting and
I cry and
Israel Prepares to Invade the Gaza Strip. After painting and drawing weird women, while listening to a halloween playlist, we go to a party with my housemates, one song stuck in our head. Aaall yours, babooshka, babooshka, babooshka, yay, yay… The Wise Woman tells me I’m timid and she is right. Aaall yours, babooshka, babooshka, babooshka, yay, yay… My hips move so slightly that nobody can tell I’m dancing except me.
First Convoy of Aid Enters Gaza Through Rafah Crossing. Our entire swing group learns the intro number at EmSachs for our show at the end of the semester.
The number starts with us searching for something, moving chaotically to suspenseful music. When it gets calmer, we mambo step to our assigned spots in one of the six columns. Squat on one leg in a wave then on another one. Fall off the log. Jump. Jump. Jump. Apple jacks. Fall of the log. Jump. Jump. Jump. Four tackie annies. Raise hands up and backtrack from the partner on the left pointing their imaginary gun at me. Then point an imaginary gun at my partner and tread forward.
Look into the distance on one side, another side, and another side. Then there’s a Charleston section. The basic Charleston is followed by a big leg Charleston, when instead of two last kicks we lift our right legs up and swing them to the side. Then there is an even more modified Charleston. Instead of all kicks, we sumo squat with our left sides facing the audience, spread our arms in the shape of two fallen crescents, and turn walking to the left. In three steps, we move from six already broken columns into two circles. To add to the quick rhythm of music inducing panic, the choreographer screams during the formation change, “Turn, turn, turn! Run! Run! Run!” Immediately after, my newbie group spreads into four corners of the room and we go through better dancers in the troupe explaining to us how to swing out better. I need more tension and to move on a line. When I lead, my body has to get around a partner on ‘and four’ and then turn to the right abruptly and pull my partner there on ‘five six.’ Then my newbie group learns tranky doo, which was probably choreographed by Frankie Manning. I get lazy and start fooling around. Carefully. I turn twice out of a lock turn instead of once. My hands go up more often and my head nods and turns more naturally guided by body movement. Our Swing Dance Grandmother who teaches us tranky tells us that there is no right way to dance. Our bodies are perfect, she says, and we can dance however we want.
“Don’t get me wrong. Your body is perfect for… life,” a visiting coach from the past reassured me after telling me I am getting too fat for dancing. “You would be a perfect wife.”
If my body was so incongruous for dancing, then
the overcaffeinated man kept saying, “Pull up your skirt” and “Show your ass”?
Maybe it was addressed to a perfect wife.
Tranky starts with a move I love: falling off the log. I lean backwards, jump on one leg while swinging another one in front and to the side, and snap with my fingers. I wish my plane could lean backward even further without triggering the vestibular apparatus. Three black widows accompanied by “Hey, hey, hey” are exhausting because I have to sit on one leg while putting another one to the side on the same line and reaching the floor with my hand. Then we bend and artistically clean our shoes and shoes of our number neighbors, after which follows a mess of moves the order of which I always forget. Hallelujahs. Shortie georges. Half stop. Suzie cues. Bow. “Stay down!”
Then my newbie group moves to the small room in ARCH that has tall mirrors that make it seem endless. The Charleston Man and the Charleston Woman show us a daunting combination. It starts with a usual send out but then I guide my partner behind my back to my left leaving my arms there. Then we walk forward, rocking, in this backwardly embracing hold. I turn my body to the right to create momentum and swing to the left and then to the right. My right hand sends an impulse through my body to my partner’s to create momentum and guide them into a turn. I catch their hand and pull it down by bending forwards, which makes my partner follow me down. We clap with our palms at the level of our ankles. There is no way to communicate it in advance. It’s just choreographed. We step up, hold each other’s hand with slight tension, lift an outside leg, and snap with our fingers above our heads. Rock step and repeat everything again. The Charlestion Man shows me how to lead better by leading with my entire body rather than a hand. Home, I look up movies about ballroom dancing and watch Strictly Ballroom. I cannot believe this is a movie.
U.S. Advises Israel to Delay Gaza Invasion, Officials Say. I come to a standard class in Weightman ten minutes late. As my fingers are fastening the satin shoes that jam my toes, I watch how the Contented Man shows everybody to high five the floor with soles, explaining how to grasp the ground. Everybody repeats. I stand up, fix my legs and upper body in one still plane, only contracting and stretching my Achilles tendons. My toes adjust to pain in a couple of minutes and no longer hurt. My feet beat the floor in an effort to feel connected to it. The Contented Man says this is how we push ourselves in quickstep.
The Energized Woman expands on her partner’s reasoning by telling us a story from her past about a coach who once asked a group of dancers she was in: “What makes a couple stand out?” Everyone started saying “frame,” “movement,” “swing.” But one woman said “energy.”
“Energy is a universal concept,” the Energized Woman explains.
Dancers are like plants.
They take energy from the ground just like flowers take water and nutrients from the soil. Water with nutrients runs through dancers’ bodies – from the soles up to feet, knees, hips, chest, shoulders, neck and head — and transitions into movement, the Big Beautiful Frame, and everything a dancer can do. That’s why the Contented Man asked us to high five the floor.
Energy underlies everything.
We are all attracted to energy. Judges love couples who display energy. To some extent, nobody cares about technique or footwork. Only about seeing external manifestations of energy that travels through every bit of the body. For the rest of the class, the Energized Woman holds a competition for the most beautiful sunflower. In the bronze standard class right after this, we practice stepping in connection with the floor in tango with our feet being cautious, exaggerated, and fast. Energy travels through bodies the same.
After class, the Contented Man comes up to me and asks me if I am going to DCDI. I don’t know what it is but I guess it’s a ballroom competition. I say, “No.” He asks why. “Because I don’t have a partner.” He asks, “How about the person you were dancing with?” “I don’t know who they are.” The Contented Man tells me he really wants me to try out competitions and suggests I ask some tall Irish man in our dance club who is looking for a partner to dance with me. Of course, I never ask. What if he says “yes” and I will have to dance with a tall Irish man? The Contented Man asks me where I danced before.
Before, I danced in a public school’s old assembly hall. It had a tiny unused stage and a wooden floor with tiles laid out in lines of christmas-tree pattern. Some tiles stuck out. There was a mirror on the wall opposite the stage. In the farthest corner from the entrance there were wooden steps that led to a booth with sound equipment and a door to the overcaffeinated man’s den from which he brought out cups after cups of a beverage whose smell followed him everywhere. Before that, the past I danced in another public school’s assembly hall that was quite similar but it was bigger, with a higher ceiling and taller windows, less coffee and frustration.
I go to a swing rehearsal right after the standard class. We continue learning choreography for our newbie number. I remember send out, mambo steps, two underarm turns, tackie annies, and a lindy circle. Then we shimmy with our shoulders and do a basic step forward. The woman at this point starts singing, “Baby, baby, what’s the matter with you?” Then we jump and wave facing the audience. My Show Partner and I keep forgetting about the next three moves throughout the rehearsal. First, a walk in the park. We swing to the left to gain momentum and then I walk to my right guiding my Show Partner into a turn. Then we stop, rock step, freeze, and point with our fingers. It feels silly. The last move in this part is a tuck turn. When I am supposed to do it, my mind already focuses on the next part, which is a short solo jazz routine in the circle. I have to shuffle to my spot in eight counts through half of the room. Instead of thinking about a tuck turn, I prepare for shuffles. When the music turns into, what seems to me, a jazzy piano improvisation, we shuffle from the initial trapezoid formation into a circle formation. At this point, our Swing Dance Parents always scream, “Down!” We sumo squat. Then we step on the left leg, kick with a right leg, turn to face the inside of the circle with two steps, kick with a right leg, bring our feet together, and do a sumo squat and this series of moves three times. The solo jazz part is accompanied by helpful screams, “Down! Step, kick, step, step, kick, together, down! Step, kick, step, step, kick, together, down! Step, kick, step, step, kick…” Then the composition changes. We don’t bring our feet together. “Step, step, kick ball change. Lock. Turn. And… suzie cues!” I don’t understand whether suzie cues are about turning toes inward or outward. It is so much easier to turn them outwards but it seems like the right way to do it is to turn them inwards. My feet experiment with versions but the technique doesn’t matter much. My Show Partner and I have an eight count to suzie cue to our spot in the new trapezoid formation. By the end of the rehearsal, our Swing Dance Parents tell us to try everything we’ve learned to music, “Just crash and burn it guys. Crash and burn.”
Israel Says It Will Destroy Hamas. But Who Will Govern Gaza? A woman who always tells me to eat more, especially protein, tells me I lost weight and that I need to eat more, especially protein. We learn more Charleston moves from the Lindy Man and the Lindy Woman. They teach us to get to an open position from a closed one and back. My body has to turn during kicks and signal to my partner to mirror me. Then we learn how to do a Charleston move, which seems miraculously coordinated but feels chaotic. I do an extra rock step after a Charleston in an open position and we start doing it in the opposite directions with my partner. The connection is gone. We let go of each other’s hands and change them with each turn. My palms swiftly fumble the air for other palms approaching them.
The connection with one of the partners feels special. She always stands close and really listens with her touch. When we get moves and combinations right, she slightly squeezes my hand and smiles, looking into my eyes.
Thirst and Hunger Grow in Besieged Gaza Amid Israeli Bombardment. I go to the latin class immediately after eating more. A beef pita and three pieces of baklava from the PPE Department pull down my stomach during rumba swivels, which feel like nausea.
‘I Feel a Human Deterioration.’ I sit on my bed with my heart rate of 160. All I ever do is
Sometimes I do it faster.
My body doesn’t sleep but sweats. Next day it sits through a pointless interrogation, silently swallowing its own withdrawal. A Woman Who Tells Me I’m Strong Too Often tells me I’m weak but I will be strong again. No more dancing. ‘You Think of Dying at Any Time.’
But my mind has grown attuned to dancing now. In Red Shoes, Vicky dances herself to death. It’s the spell of red shoes! Probably. She also falls under a train pursuing a strange man. It’s the maddening dance of her life. At the 90th minute of Y tu mama tambien, Luisa stands up from the table and comes to the jukebox. She wants to play La Sandunga but she can’t remember the name of the singer. Instead, she plays Si Ne To Hubieras Ido. Luisa first listens to music turned away from us feeling the rhythm with her body. She starts moving her hips, takes a sip of alcohol, and gestures to the group of fishermen sitting at the bar. Te extraño más que nunca y no sé qué hacer. After Luisa turns, she looks up at me. Despierto y te recuerdo al amanecer. In Mexican cinema, the woman’s body constitutes a site in which a nation is articulated. Through moving by choice, she challenges the Malinche archetype of a suffering mother and a bad treacherous woman. Espera otro día por vivir sin ti. She claims her own way of being seen. El espejo no miente, me veo tan diferente… Me haces falta tú.
Moving is a miracle.
Israel Quietly Pushed Egypt to Admit Large Numbers of Gazans. My body repeats something at the swing rehearsal. Under Scrutiny Over Gaza, Israel Points to Civilian Toll of U.S. Wars. The Lindy Man says he is glad to see me. My Swing Dance Father offers sugar cookies. I swallow three. Or four. He and the Lindy Woman teach us how to social dance better. My body spits out the stick but turns into a log. The Lindy Woman tells me we are doing inside, not outside, swivels. The Lindy Man asks us to do a six-count basic, when the rock step is followed by two triple steps. “Six-count basic!” We do the eight-count, with steps in the middle and something in the middle between the six- and the eight- count basics. “Six-count basic!” Why do we need so many basics? “Look at me guys. One more time! Six. Count. Basic.” We got it. Our instructors show a combination with a tuck turn, send outs, underarm turns and a sugar push. Nobody knows how and when to push so we push each other into discoordination. The Lindy Man explains we need more pressure. He screams, “Tension!” The Lindy Woman dances with me for a pressure test. I pass. “Tension and then compression!” Tension builds up on “Three and fooour!” We compress on “Five and six.” Sugar rush is a myth. Sugar cookies crush me. One of my Swing Dance Siblings tells me I lead well — it is clear for her what to do. I am getting better, after all. Probably. Right after the lindy class, our entire swing group learns the rest of the show intro number. “Turn, turn, turn! Run! Run! Run!” get us into a circle formation. The outside circle spanks the babies during an eight count while the inside circle does suzie cues, and then vice versa during the next eight count. Then I have an eight count to get to my column spot at the opposite end of the room with quicksteps and drunken sailors. Knee slaps. Vines. Look to the right on the first “pam.” Sumo squat. Clapping, jump towards a partner on the left to do the chaotic-coordinated Charleston in the opposite directions. Four quicksteps forward. Slide back connecting my back with my partner’s. Lift up an imaginary gun. Look cool. “Just crash and burn it, guys!”
Tens of Thousands Flee Northern Gaza Strip, as Israel’s Invasion Advances. Isabella in The Dreamers dances to La Mer. Waiting for summer, I danced to La Mer with my Friend Who Is Much Better Than Me In Not Caring What Others Think (Probably) on her balcony four years ago. My body cannot make it to the latin class because it sleeps. I discover dance plagues. When people dance themselves to death from stress. Not like Vicky in red shoes and not like Nina as a black swan, but much faster. Within days. U.S. Carries Out Another Round of Airstrikes on Targets Tied to Iran. My body falls from the stairs and a continuous ring appears in my head. The Energized Woman sits and watches because she had a surgery on two tendons ripped from dancing. The Contented Man wants us to work on continuous connection in waltz. An unknown partnerless man invites me for a dance. It takes a while for me to get closer to him to let my chest touch and be touched in a closed halt. We freeze after every figure. One. Two. Three. Slowly put our arms down maintaining connection. One. Two Three. Put them back up in a halt and continue. One. Two. Three. I try connecting continuously with other leads. The graceful girl from the club’s board, the girl who asked me to put the sticker with my name two months ago, the one who reminds me of a ballerina, probably because she used to dance ballet, offers to help me find a partner and attempts to explain to me how collegiate ballroom competitions happen.
We finish learning our newbie number during the swing rehearsal. Our Swing Dance Parents tell us to come up with the beginning and the end of our number ourselves. My mind awakes and bursts with ideas. We come up with the theme that the follows devise a plan to dance all the leads to unconsciousness. The follows convene in the middle of the stage in the beginning. In the end, they turn the leads and reconvene in the middle jiggling red handkerchiefs taken from the leads who fell. We crash and burn it and breathe heavily three times. Gaza’s Al-Shifa Hospital Is ‘No Longer Functioning,’ W.H.O. Says. My watery eyes watch Waltz with Bashir in which a soldier waltzes through shots during a Lebanon war. With 102 Workers Killed, U.N. Agency in Gaza Struggles to Provide Aid. I practice the newbie number in the living room of my house and I wonder whether I stopped caring if one of my housemates will see me dancing. Our swing troupe learns the outro number for the show at EmSachs. It’s suspenseful. We crawl out fast. Raise and lower our hands. We jump, turning and clapping, into sumo squats when the music sounds like panic. Then it builds up again and outbreaks when we quickstep and alternate throwing our hands forward. The choreographer says this move is to give anxiety. From now on, anxiety is the name of the move. The troupe stays for two hours of show-offs. All the numbers are ready and everybody tries in costumes. I feel ridiculous in my black vest with a short burgundy tie. Our groupmates say we all look good, just like waiters from Applebees. My Show Partner wears a plain bright red dress of a medium length. We remember all parts of the number except when we switch roles. Trampling in place, we connect up and continue. I accidentally hit the wall with my head slightly when I fall. My neck raises up my head instead of letting it rest to see what’s going on. Everyone stands up and runs to us, cheering, high fiving, hugging. It feels strange to be supported. During the fall, a burning knot appears in my chest that causes coughing for the rest of the night.
Biden Says a ‘Real’ Palestinian State Must Come After War. The Cheerful Man shows us samba rolls and lock steps during the latin class. Then a little combination of cha-cha during the bronze class. My eyes fall instead of meeting the eyes in front. A very concentrated man tells me I’m dancing ahead of music. “Thank you.” Pressure Mounts as Israel Combs Through Gaza Hospital for Hamas’s Presence. The ballroom club starts offering bachata classes until the end of semester. I don’t know what bachata is but I come for a beginner class at the Platt Performing Arts House to try. I enter a windowless room and watch an advanced class finishing up the combination they have learned and it looks so…
The overcaffeinated man told me nine years ago that
dancing is all about sex.
Don’t be surprised.
We learn the basics. Step to the side and put the opposite hip up. Change direction each two steps. Our instructor says that there are different kinds of holds. Closed one. Open one. Something in the middle. I explain to myself that we will do the open one since it is the first beginner class but he goes, “Let’s try the closed one first!” I go from a lead who told me he is bad to someone I don’t know to someone I don’t know to a man with hoarse voice to a concentrated man to someone I don’t know. The leads learn to turn the follows, the follows learn to turn. We start learning a walk forward but we get kicked out because another group claims the windowless room. Everyone dances and learns so differently. Someone is in their head and they are focused on getting it right themselves. Someone tries to lead me well, asks me if their leading is clear. Someone is unsure. Someone is very controlled. Someone looks me in the eyes. Someone looks past me. Someone looks through me. I tell my Dear Friend who feeds me with dinner after the class about my dancing theory of personality which postulates that I can create a personal portrait of somebody based on how they dance with me.
Esther Greenwood, and probably Sylvia Plath as well, says she cannot dance. At Least 24 Killed in Strike on Gaza School Run by the U.N. When I put on the shoes to leave my house, my housemates ask me if I’m going dancing. “Yes.” In the past couple months whenever I left the house in front of my housemates, they asked, “Where are you going?” And, although I’m not only going dancing, I have been going dancing every time they asked.
The Energized Woman and the Contented Man are away. A calm man from the club I have never met teaches the standard class instead. He starts by filming practice rounds, when couples dance all five international standard dances in a row to prepare for competitions. My body stands between floor mats from where that calm man cannot see me. Then he tells us to practice the Big Beautiful Frame. The Ballerina girl and I are the only free follows. The calm man stands with me and then with her to help us practice connection. At the next bronze class, the calm man asks us what we want to work on. Nobody responds. He looks at me and asks me. Smiling, I say, “Nothing.” Why am I so silly? Then he asks other people and they have more adequate responses. We learn waltz choreography and men invite me to practice with them. At the end of the class I ask Ballerina about finding a partner. The man with the hoarse voice joins. They go through names and estimated dance levels associated with them. Once Ballerina leaves, the man with a hoarse voice asks me why don’t I try leading her.
why the hell not?
We will try dancing together tomorrow.
At the swing rehearsal we just practice everything over and over again. Our Swing Dance Parents tell us to crash and burn it and to rely on our bodies which remember. I sweat, gulp water, and want to sit down.
28 Premature Babies Evacuated From Gaza Arrive in Egypt. Others Never Had the Chance. At a late night open practice in Weightman, Ballerina and I try dancing the basic waltz composition which I learned during my first standard class when the Contented Man led me through it. My body takes several minutes to figure out the mirrored steps but it doesn’t know how to lead in standard. Ballerina and I are bumping, shaking, doubting, and not trusting. The man with a hoarse voice and the man who likes helping people learn dancing during open practice tell me that when I lead, my back should be straight and maintain a straight line between my elbows if I want to have a frame, and we are not talking about the Big Beautiful one. We keep trying to waltz with my partner in an open position with space between our bodies, points of contact being back, shoulders, and arms. We ask each other, “How does it feel?” It feels better. She suggests, “Do you want to try tango now?” My mind does not remember any tango steps. Ballerina shows the basic composition she knows which consists of two steps, direction change, two more steps and collecting feet. I can’t believe it’s so short, “And that’s all?” Yes, that’s all, and I cannot even remember which steps are quick and which ones are slow.
Tango was the first dance the overcaffeinated man taught past me and my partner from the past. The composition was spread out through three or four lines of dance. My feet kept getting it wrong, stumbling over each other, not able to keep up with the speed and the complexity. My partner from the past was better than me so they had to keep up or drag under my scolded body squeezed between someone’s harsh hands.
Our quickstep composition consists of two moves. We start with a natural turn and then do progressive chasses til the music ends. We decide to go to a competition in Princeton in two weeks. Ballerina says she only knows how to lead in latin. She apologizes for being weird because she follows in standard and leads in latin but she says it’s okay to switch between programs. “Oh, oh!” I get excited, “Can we switch roles during the dance?!” Ballerina says no.
Former State Dept. Official Recorded Harassing Halal Food Cart Vendor. I give another bachata class a try. It’s in Weightman. I dance in socks in which I stuff my pants that are too long. Our instructor shows us how to step and lift our hips diagonally. This time, follows stay in place and leads rotate. My glance passes through people passing me. One man follows my gaze and compliments my yellow socks. To a man who once told me he is bad, I say, “I’m sorry. I can’t maintain eye contact.”
Can the Palestinian Authority Really Govern Gaza After the War? I ask the Wise Woman why I didn’t start dancing earlier. “You tell me why you didn’t start dancing earlier.” “Because I thought dancing is stupid.”
Mrs. Bennet thinks that dancing is “one of the first refinements of polished societies,” to which Mr. Darcy responds that “every savage can dance.” My Dear Friend and I see Diane in a spotlight superimposed on couples dancing lindy hop superimposed on purple in Mulholland Drive. Probably because in Lynch’s alternate America souls are swinging. On Thanksgiving, I stuff myself with cake. I don’t realize how much I’ve eaten and how heavy I am until I go dancing with Ballerina and want to lie down the entire hour, which seems endless. Three Students of Palestinian Descent Shot in Vermont. I meet a friend whom I have not seen in two years and we talk for two hours. She tells me she is excited I started dancing and that she wants to come see me dance at the swing show. I go to the standard class right after. The Contented Man shows us his version of an everted waltz box step done diagonally. He counts, “Whuuum, whaaau, pa. And one. Whuaaa. Ta.” We practice making clear strong steps and holding balance. My body always seems to be falling in standard. Probably the goal is to have absolute control over the fall. In the bronze standard class we learn slow foxtrot. The Contented Man swings his body around its center to the left and to the right standing in place. His arms swing along. Swing to the left. One. Two. Three. Four. Swing to the right. Five. Six. Seven. Eight. He shows us the basic foxtrot step. Two quick steps forward are followed by a slower step forward and slightly to the right, two quick steps forward and a slow step forward. The Contented Man tells me that to lead my posture has to be more dominant. My chest no longer extends to the left but forward and up.
A Palestinian Activist, Ahed Tamimi, Faces Indefinite Detention. I am almost half an hour late for the night practice in Weightman with Ballerina because I fill myself with fajitas, quesadillas, a piece of cake, and a sip of alcohol for my Dear Friend. I suggest Ballerina we try a closed halt with no space between our bodies to connect better and hear each other. It feels less bumpy. I can now communicate movement with my corpus. Sometimes Ballerina does a move or follows a rhythm that I don’t initiate but my body adapts and continues. We get enough waltzes, tangoes, and quicksteps by midnight.
My body refuses to go to the rest of lindy and bachata classes probably because it is tired. Short bursts of discipline throw it to latin classes. U.S. Has Warned Israel to Fight More Surgically in Gaza, Officials Say. The Cheerful Man shows us jive kicks drills and a little combination with kicks. I am again wearing those long pants that I had to tuck into my socks during bachata and they wave around from jumps, touching the floor and getting under my three-inches heel. I kick by throwing a leg forward, then pulling it back towards my center and then throwing it forward again with greater momentum. My body resists bending. I make it lean forward because such kicks with straight back look like bad Scottish dance.
A U.S.-Iranian Miscalculation Could Lead to a Larger War, Officials Say. Ballerina and I meet at Annenberg to try latin. She shows me a rumba composition she remembers. This feels strange but we do three basic step sequences. Alemana. Three new yorkers. Basic steps in a circle until Ballerina starts it over. We use the same moves for cha-cha. Ballerina shows me jive composition consisting of basic steps interspersed with turning, raising legs and kicking that probably have senseless names. Sometimes she forgets the order of moves, starts turning me instead of raising legs, or does too many basic steps in the row. I try to follow. When she realizes she messed up the agreed order, she stops and apologizes. Every five minutes I say something like, “It’s fine. Don’t worry.” Samba composition Ballerina knows is three basic steps, one of them modified, three botafogos, and an eight count of voltas. She often starts doing more botafogos and voltas and stops because the count goes off. Apologizes. Something always seems off with the count. We try five botafogos and two eight counts of voltas. Maybe we’re doing it wrong. We open the manual for ballroom dancing steps online. I don’t understand a thing. I’d rather make the steps up, do them wrong, than try to decipher this intricate scheme. Israel Knew Hamas’s Attack Plan More Than a Year Ago. Next day we try it all again to cram for a competition tomorrow. I weigh myself and the number declares that my body has become ten pounds heavier in the last two weeks. I have stopped seeing the woman who kept telling me to eat more, especially protein, but she would be happy. Although she would still be dissatisfied with my protein intake. I would defend myself, “There’s protein in condensed milk!”
My dance partner from the past asked me nine years ago,
how many kilograms I can lose in a week.
“I don’t know.”
He said it would be nice if I lost as many as I could.
During the last ballroom competition I went to, I kept asking my mother, pointing at girls and women, “Am I fat like her? Like her?”
“Mama, am I fat?
Am I that fat?”
Sleepless night before the competition ends at five. I conceal my dark circles, put on some black clothes and sleek my hair back. Good enough.
Past I used to spend three hours on makeup, hair, tanning, and putting on heavy dresses covered with sequins.
The Morning: Why Don’t We Dance More?
It’s peacefully dark, wet and foggy outside.
The driver greets, “Morning, morning, morning!”
Israel Resumes Offensive in Gaza Strip After Truce With Hamas Ends. Incoherent fragments of memories intrude on my consciousness. My mother brought me dancing when I was four. She sewed me a golden dress. The music we danced to never had words. My teeth were falling out. There was a girl who had buttless panties and I was jealous.
My stomach is in knots from yesterday’s potatoes and cookies.
My right eye cries and twitches.
My throat is sore.
Princeton looks haunted. We meander along its walkways winding uphill and downhill, surrounded by empty construction sites. Several people on our way stand with big bags, odd hairstyles and makeup. Ballroom dancers. The building nearby is a Dillon Gymnasium. There is a basketball arena inside. Ballerina takes care of all the registration. I have 469 on my back for standard. Ballerina has 463 for latin. I have never before seen people dancing american smooth. Colorful couples leave the closed halt to fly over the floor occasionally.
Each dance gets evaluated separately by levels — newcomer, bronze, silver, and gold — in collegiate competitions. Only viennese waltz is open for all levels. Enough couples come to Princeton to start with quarterfinals for most dances. Ballerina and I practice on a small area of parquet fenced with panels of stretched dark fabric behind the arena. We try a couple lines of viennese waltz and decide to compete in it too. While newcomers dance, a few minutes before our turn, we line up with other couples competing in bronze. Several people in black clothes check the numbers on our back three times. Standard always starts with waltz. Ballerina trips over a wire taped to the perimeter of the dancefloor when we go onto it. Nothing stops, explodes, freezes, or disappears when the music starts. I can feel my limbs and my breath. My left hand extends forward, inviting Ballerina to dance. She comes closer, spreading her arms. Her right one locks into mine. Her left one goes on top of my right shoulder. My feet go from prep step into a natural turn. To not lose the rhythm or stop hearing the music, my mind counts, “Pum, pum, pum. Pum, pum, pum…” Sometimes it maps out directions to avoid bumping into other couples. There are several seconds during each dance when it switches off or starts wondering, “This is so weird. Who the hell are all those people? What am I doing here?” I tune it back into music and onto the arena with “Pum, pum, pum” and a task to let my partner dance without accidents or shame. “Yay, we made it to finals.” Ballerina responds she doesn’t care about points or places. If she makes it to another round she is glad she gets to dance again.
Viennese waltz goes wrong. A dj plays a song about Vienna at the end of WWII. When I want to change direction, ballerina doesn’t catch it and we stop. We continue but I skid on turns. She says at some point “It felt like flying.”
Flying is the feeling I get for several seconds, when my rested body dances viennese waltz on an empty stomach in sync with my partner, followed by a growing feeling of falling into a swirling and dimming chaos.
Only one open couple competes in standard. A woman who follows looks elegant and graceful like a dark angel in her black velvet dress and white satin shoes. A man who leads looks neat in his perfect black tailcoat. My eyes notice that the follow slows down, stops bending her knees and straightens her back by the second dance. My mind plays how I get out in the middle of the dancefloor, spread my arms defiantly, stop the music, take her hand, lead her to a chair, give her water and say “Hey, you seem tired. Let’s get you some rest.”
Only one open couple competes in latin as well. I don’t understand latin at all. It seems too much, too cognitively demanding to comprehend. My eyes get tired from looking at it. Dancing latin feels preposterous. Past I was told to show emotions or smile at least when I danced. But I had no emotions and I didn’t want to smile. The overcaffeinated man said it is impossible to dance without exhibiting some strain. If he was right then I never danced. Whatever appeared on my face was fake. I pretended.
Next day I create playlists for several dances from international standard. “W” for waltz. “Q” for quickstep. “VW” for viennese waltz. “T” for tango. I listen to them and move along with my head, fingers and hands when I walk; with my knees when I stand. Israel, Expanding Offensive, Tells More Gazans to Evacuate. My swing group starts rehearsing for the show at the Iron Gate Theater. Tape divides the black rubber floor that sticks to our shoes and makes it hard to turn into sections. We learn blocking — where we stand during our number.
Accounts of Sexual Violence by Hamas Are Aired Amid Criticism of U.N. (Hamas denies the allegations.) I have a sudden urge to dance viennese waltz. I see a ballerina’s small dark figure surrounded by darkness in front of Weightman. “How was your Monday?” First line of dance is always a rushed mess of bodies stumbling upon each other and the air around them. With each attempt it gets a tiny bit easier to fight the oppressive forces of the universe through finding freedom in movement.
“We sleep fearing we might be dead.” The show tech run lasts six hours. I try to keep my eyes pointed at the blue booth at the top rather than my lilac sneakers. By midnight I stand on ACME’s porch with my hand on the cold metal pole. I am a ballerina now. I put my legs on the pole and stretch, raising them around my body. I freeze to look at the mouse running on the porch but it runs away. Waiting for the love of my life I haven’t seen in decades, I alternate several rumba moves. It’s been eight songs but a bus is still not here. I am a perfect wife who waits, switching to a swing playlist. It don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that swing. Tu wap tu wap tu wap tu wap tu wap tu wap tu wap. I step off the porch and come closer to the bus stop. My feet twist slightly and my ankles get up in the air. Sing sing sing sing everybody start to sing like dee dee dee, bah bah bah dah. Now you’re singin’ with a swing. The love of my life takes me away from my wild waiting party. Dani becomes the May Queen after surviving the dance through which the bodies talk but everyone falls in Midsommar.
Gazans Find Scant Aid at Village Where They Were Advised to Relocate. During the last latin class of the year, the Cheerful Man comes up with open choreography for rumba. Basic step. Swing my body to gain momentum. Turn. Step. Step. Turn. Step. Step. Turn. Lean and extend my left hand forward as if my body reaches my partner’s.
Killing of Reuters Journalist Was ‘Apparently Deliberate’ Israeli Strike, Group Says. I put on a brown t-shirt that says “Crime Swindicate” and tape the soles of my lilac sneakers to weaken their friction with the black rubber in the Iron Gate Theater during the dress rehearsal. The intro number goes like chaos. I try to fix my eyes on the blue light from the tech booth but they always fall on the floor, as if exhausted from looking. My body bumps into someone running with quicksteps and drunken sailors from the circle formation to my spot in the column. Next time, it has to find a shorter and safer path. Our Swing Dance Ancestors give us feedback and bring girl scout cookies that drop deadweight in my stomach. We have to look up at the tech booth so that the audience can see our faces. We try running everything again. I change into my costume of a waiter from Applebee’s in an old bathroom under the stage, praying nobody will open the door and walk in on me. My Show Partner and I practice a-frames. We wait. “Newbies! On deck!” My hands high five my Show Partner’s backstage. The follows start devising in the middle and the rapid piano starts. I have heard the tune dozens of times but I don’t trust myself to remember how to move. Four, five, six… One, two, three, four, five, six, seven. Go! Quicksteps. Two, three… Seven. Connect up. He says he’s gonna love me until the day I die. Mambo step. Mambo step. Hands up to padabadabadabadabadaba. He says he’s gonna love me until the day I die. My Show Partner turns under my arm twice. But I bet when I’m gone, that man won’t even cry. Shake our shoulders. Relax. Baby baby, what’s the matter with you? My throat craves water. My body pleads for energy. My stomach rejects the girl scout cookies. My legs and back crave the bed. Baby baby, what’s the matter with you? Shuffle, shuffle, shuffle, shuffle! Down! Step, kick, step, step, kick, together, down! Step, kick, step, step, kick, together, down! Step, kick, step, step, kick. Step, step, kick ball change. Lock. Turn. And suzie cues! My feets still can’t decide whether to do them inwards or outwards. We finish at ten at night.
U.S. Vetoes Israel-Hamas Cease-Fire Resolution at U.N. Security Council. I get to the dressing room an hour and a half before the show starts. Playing recordings of us dancing yesterday, we practice under the stage in front of cans full of trash while an acapella group screams from behind a wall in the neighboring dressing room. I stop to cool down and dry.
When the audience gathers above us, we stand in the circle with our hands on each other’s shoulders. One dancer stands in the middle of the circle and, pulsing with his knees, starts screaming, “Shuba aduba.” The circle repeats, “Shuba aduba!” He goes on, “Shuba adikida.” “Shuba adikida!” “Adikida auba.” “Adikida auba!” “Adikida aikido.” “Adikida aikido!” The chant grows louder until the dancer in the middle starts at the top of his lungs, “West Philly Swingers!” The circle responds, “Auga!”
Now that there are a hundred faces in the dark looking at us, I still try to point my eyes towards the blue booth. Baby baby, what’s the matter with you? When suzie cues cannot get me to the new formation spot I give up and run. I can’t smile except for when I look at the smile of my Show Partner and it suddenly feels fun. Baby baby, what’s the matter with you? My body falsely falls in the darkness and refuses to get up for several seconds, gasping for air. During tranky after the outro, I start doing shortie georges instead of hallelujahs. The ground doesn’t break under me. I say “Oops!” and continue. The faces of my friend whom I have not seen in two years and my housemates make me feel grateful. At dinner, a man I danced rumba with two days ago tells me I’m a good follow because I am “malleable.” I repeat this harmless word to myself. Malleable. Malleable. Malleable.
The show next day goes as planned.
Penn’s Leadership Resigns Amid Controversies Over Antisemitism. We chant under the stage. “Shuba aduba!” “West Philly Swingers!” Baby baby, what’s the matter with you? My Dear Friend is here. “Thank you.” “ Thank you so much for coming.”
Everyone knows and dances Shim Sham at the cast party after the show. The floor vibrates and the air shakes as twenty people jump at the same moment in the living room. They scream, “What time is it?” “It’s boogie time!”