Polite Romance

Early in our courtship, my wife and I each risked participation in the other’s creative hobbies.  She was an experienced ballroom dancer.  I had never danced except in the uncontrolled, untrained fashion acceptable between horny teenagers.  I took two years of classes, mostly without her, in order to bridge the distance in skill level.  After the first dance at our wedding reception, I had to ask the serving persons to sweep up all the lower jaws that had fallen on the floor.

A few years later we went to a ballroom dance given at a downtown hotel.  We were with another couple.  They were attractive, excellent dancers.  The musicians were playing authentic arrangements from the 1920s and 30s.  The women wore a variety of glamorous dresses, and the men wore tuxedos.  You may have heard of the bandleader.  His name is John Crawford.  As a child actor he played the son of The Rifleman in a TV series from 1958-1963.  Since 1992 he has been the conductor and singer fronting the Johnny Crawford Dance Orchestra, a group of versatile acoustic musicians providing an engaging experience for those who like time-travel.

Ballroom dancing involves a more polite, controlled set of rituals than you get in clubs.  You may ask anyone for a dance, and if they decline, you do not ask again and you leave them alone after exiting with a smile and a compliment.  Those asked for who have declined may approach you later if they change their mind.  Don’t you wish all personal transactions worked like that?  It’s a level of civility I mourn the passing of.

Among the famous people at the dance were Mel Brooks and his wife Anne Bancroft. Our friend Martha knew we had some experience with celebrities.  She told me she loved Mel’s work, that she also thought he was cute, and she wished she could figure out how to get to dance with him.  I thought about it for a minute, and advised her that the best way would be to ask Anne for permission first.  Martha was reluctant to try it, but I continued to encourage her.  After all, it was a ballroom.  Those asked may decline.

Mel and Anne were sitting about three tables away, too far away for us to hear their voices.  We watched as Martha approached Anne, greeting her with a slight curtsy.  When Anne smiled, Martha bent to her ear and whispered.  Anne thought about it for a minute and leaned over to Mel, still smiling.  Mel gave Anne a look conveying “Who, me?”  He appeared to be genuinely shy about dancing with this young, willowy brunette.  But what’s a husband to do when his wife approves and even urges him to do it?  Martha got her dance with Mel.

Of course after dancing with another woman, you’ve got to dance with your wife.  So Mel danced with Anne, several times.  I imagined them reliving their original courtship from 30 years previous.  Anyone could see they were deeply in love, and having a lot of fun.  I was so happy to have had a small hand in helping to make their evening a bit more enjoyable. We all drank, danced and floated, safe in the protected bubble of a dream, buoyed by love and music.

How many acts of kindness undertaken in anonymity have contributed to the richness of the life I am experiencing now?  There must be angels everywhere.


Filed under Emotions, Music

49 responses to “Polite Romance

  1. jgavinallan

    How romantic—and still polite—little bit sensual


    • You’re my favorite kind of reader, Jaye. You caught all the subtleties, which makes me very happy. Thank you. I agree – dancing is a sort of world set apart from reality. That does make it sensual.

  2. There are Angels everywhere. We both know that. In my opinion, you are most certainly one of them. x

    In my heart, I will always dance and my spirit remains sensual which in essence keeps me feminine.

    • For Mel and Anne, it was memory that was the dance here. That’s how it is for us also. Mary now has too many joint and back issues to handle more than a few minutes on a dance floor, but we remember how it was.

      I think your words choreographed to send out to us, with your feelings, that look in your eyes, your smile, your voice, it’s all dancing.

      It’s also obvious you are still more athletic than I am. (Tracy’s healing from a broken leg.)

  3. Deborah the Closet Monster

    How many acts of kindness undertaken in anonymity have contributed to the richness of the life I am experiencing now? There must be angels everywhere.
    So beautifully put. This is a sentiment close to my heart today . . . one for which I’m thankful to now have words!

    Everything about this post was beautiful. It makes me think I ought take my own S.O. up on his offer to go dancing; his mom wanted a dance partner when he was growing up, so he learned. I went ballroom dancing with my mom and sister exactly once, many years ago, but I was so self conscious in the shadow of their mastery I fled after only a couple of dances.

    This post reminds me there are a lot of fabulous encounters we miss out on if we don’t push past our comfort zones!

  4. This was a sweet story I really related to. Like you I miss some of those older social “forms” that made it easy to progress from one stage of acquaintance to another. Dancing is the entire relationship distilled, albeit a relationship of traditional male/female roles. However, it’s those roles at their best. Does the lead lead with clear but gentle signals or make sudden surprise moves and fail to maintain a solid frame? Does the follow trust or second-guess the lead? Seeing couples learn to dance gives you a picture of both the struggles and the joys they will experience together. I met my wife dancing. She now teaches partner dancing, in particular partner dancing for people who are about to become partners for life. She has enabled many a couple to perform that jaw-dropping first dance at their wedding. I need to learn the Lindy-hop so we can go cut the rug on a dance we haven’t yet done together.

    • I admire your courage, Matt. Lindy’s a challenge to do well. I can perform a serviceable East or West Coast Swing, but I haven’t got the guts for jivin’. I can, however, play it on guitar or sing it. My favorite is Argentine Tango (Estoy Milonguero!), because the lead and the follow can be exchanged, and there’s no goal of where to go as in Waltz or Foxtrot. Latin dance is more about the expression of the relationship.

  5. Your posts are always so interesting. Ballroom dancing, eh?! Who knew? Cool! Thanks for making me smile and have that warm, joyous feeling.

  6. I loved it that you surprised your guests at your wedding with your dancing acumen! And I became wistfully aware of how much I love to dance, and that my husband has pain issues with back and legs…. so, not much dancing for me!

  7. Facing the music together, dancing in the dark . . .

  8. A lovely post that makes me wish I knew how to dance, even the kind acceptable between horny teenagers. I love the John Crawford tidbit. My son and I watched “The Rifleman” when he was taking a break during the homeschool days. I showed him the video and he was surprised. A boy of 12 finds it hard to imagine the old ever being a child and vice versa.

    • Thanks. You could still learn. I didn’t start lessons until I was 38. John’s a warm, cheerful person and very approachable. He looked up his high school sweetheart when he was 44 and married her (his first marriage) at age 49. Isn’t that romantic?

  9. Yes, it is. He found the girl that he adored.

  10. lifewith4cats

    I so want to learn Ballroom. If all goes as planned, lessons will be our reward for loosing weight. Its so romantic and looks so, so much fun. But when big bellies are in the way, it can’t be gracefull. (hence the goal) Picture a walrus, and a seal dancing on land. That would be me and my husband. heheheh

    I thoroughly love Strause the Eldest. His music makes me want to twirl and waltz with visions of red sashes and tails in my minds eye. I often wish I could go back in time to experience a ball as they used to be. So inticate and sexy. Courtship at its best.

    I imagine lessons will open a whole new era in my relationship with my husband and with others also.

    • There are plenty of people dancing who are not svelte. It’s actually a good way to lose weight, as it will keep your metabolism up. A good frame extends the arms fully. You would have to be extraordinarily enormous to not be able to do it. And many Latin dances require no closer contact than at the fingertips. More room for turns! Think of the dance given by Old Fezziwig in Dicken’s Christmas Carol. Lots of big people, but as light as balloons, You can do this!

      • I agree. I have danced with many large ladies and have often been surprised that they are no more difficult to turn than a page in a book. Dance first. Lose weight later.

        • lifewith4cats

          @matt and @Invisible Yes, thankyou. Your advice is encouraging. I didn’t think of it that way before. Perhaps in the very near future then.. 🙂

  11. Margie

    What a delightful story! I hope I am not too bold in asking, what creative hobby of yours did your wife learn?

    • I don’t mind at all. It just wasn’t as relevant to this story. Mary was told as a child that she was tone-deaf, so she had never sung, not even in the shower. After we had been dating awhile, we sat down at the piano for the first time, and she had a three-octave range, something that took me decades of practice to get to. I said “It’s payback time.” The next Sunday she was rehearsing in the church choir, in Latin no less. She was TERRIFIED, but since then she has had lessons, and sung with me in world-class performing choirs. Her natural instrument is so much better than mine.

  12. I regret never having learnt to dance properly. I think ballroom dancing is a lovely romantic activity. I would love to be able to sing, but got no further than the school choir as a child and the shower as an adult!

    • If your interest remains, you can still learn either or both. I began dancing at 38. Mary began singing at 46. If you want to do it, block out some time, and find teachers/classes and a situation for practice. They teach swing, line dance or sometimes Latin (salsa) classes at clubs for an hour before dances for less than $10, and you can drop in and rehearse with most any choir in the world for free. Aussies have a big ballroom culture.

  13. Do you often write and make people cry? I cried. Beautiful tale. Beautiful life.

    • Oh, sometimes the magic works. Sometimes it doesn’t. I’m just trying to write well, and connect with my own emotions in doing so. I hope you had a “good” cry. That can be very healthy. Thank you for the compliment.

  14. This was so sweet and romantic. It does seem like an era gone by. I never knew that Mel Brooks and Anne Bancroft were married. I couldn’t help but smile at your skillful maneuvering that left everyone with dreams come true.

    • One of the benefits of being in love is the ability to transcend the passage of time. With the right music, costumes, lighting, and rituals, you can feel like you are 21 again for a while, but with a grownup level of wisdom. I’m a big fan of making believe, when you craft the illusion on purpose. I’m glad you enjoyed the dance and could see it through your own eyes.

  15. As romantic as it seems, ballroom dancing appears way too formal. For some reason, I think I’d be stepping all over my boyfriend and won’t enjoy the moment. But that’s just me!:)

    • I understand how the word itself might conjure images of waltzes and minuets, but Tango, Salsa, Rumba and the many forms of Swing dancing are quite uninhibited if done well. The difference is choreography – you learn a variety of basic moves for each kind of dance, then when you hear the rhythm of a song you identify which dances will fit. It doesn’t work like the dance competition shows where entire routines are pre-rehearsed. Some dancers will be able to get you fired up more than your boyfriend! Yet you return to the one who brought you. That’s the safe boundary of this kind of event. You get to do foreplay – in public – with other partners of your choosing, and your guy still knows you will be coming back, maybe even “pre-heated”.

      It doesn’t take long to learn a few basic moves for any dance. A single class of 60-90 minutes per dance is adequate for most beginners. A good class will have you dancing with several different partners BEFORE you dance with your boyfriend, and the same for him. That takes the pressure off while you learn. You make mistakes and gain confidence with a stranger, then return to pair up and show your love what you’ve learned. After that it’s just adding the moves up in longer patterns, inventing your own variations, and picking up tricks from more experienced dancers. You can improve gradually over years, taking only one or two classes a year, or you can study more intensively as I did.

      The excitement for women (usually following, though not always) is that you do not know what moves you will make in what order. Your boyfriend would be guiding you into and through turns, dips, stops and many kinds of releases. The excitement for men is that they get to choose and control (usually they lead), so they must be thinking one step ahead all through the music. Some songs combine more than one kind of dance like “Tequila”, which is Salsa on the verses and Swing on the choruses. Then there’s Tango, a more advanced ritual in which either partner may lead, and the lead and follow can switch within a song.

  16. Fantastic detail! My husband and I were once part of a dance class and I will never forget, learning the tango, the first moment we were told to change partners. Mine was a short, squat, balding man with a greasy comb-over . . . but, once the music started, he took me in his arms, thrust his little leg between mine and took complete control. He could dance, he had rhythm, style and grace and I was dancing with Valentino (Rudy!). I never had to think about a thing , steps, timing etc etc, other than how much fun I was having with this gorgeous little man. A man who can dance will always be leading the way!

    • That the tradition has survived, is an indication it probably has resonance in both culture and our genes. Each major dance has connections going back hundreds, sometimes thousands of years. I’m still studying and tracking the trails.

      We belong in pairs. That much I have learned. Thanks for contributing.

  17. Deborah

    O body swayed to music, O brightening glance,
    How can we know the dancer from the dance?

    Your lovely post reminded me of these lovely lines.

    Having said that, I didn’t receive this post or your last one via email as I usually do (morning tea is just not the same). I dropped by in case I was missing something, and turned out I was. Will now waltz off to my WP subscriptions page and find out what’s going on…

    • I even have a romantic view of data transfer. I’m imagining the article passing over the ocean on its way to you, written on vellum with a quill and sealed with wax. The tiny silver mail plane hits turbulence. The door flies open. Lindbergh reaches back, but too late. He sees the packet fall downward into the clouds, only a few km out from the coast of Ireland.

  18. Deborah

    The ones that made it over are bound together with silk ribbon and kept in a wooden box.

    WP HQ had set my subscriptions page to never again receive your missives (hence the turbulence). The Spirit of St. Louis will now hopefully fly again…

  19. I love hearing these stories about you, Mikey. Yes, I agree, there are angles everywhere. And they’re usually disguised as the last person you’d think of in that way.

    I think I danced like a horny teenager until I was in my mid-to-late twenties.;)

    ps. Is this, by chance, the Rifleman you were referring to? http://listverse.files.wordpress.com/2010/02/the-rifleman-jpg.jpeg

    • Yep. That is the show, and Johnny was that kid, though he’s 65 now. I had dozens of these kinds of single encounters with celebs. I’ll drop a few more of them in the soup over the next few weeks. Always great to see you, Becks!

  20. Great story. I always heard great things about Mel Brooks and Anne Bancroft’s relationship. I bet they had a lot of fun.

    I do enjoy dancing and appreciate opportunities like these to easily interact with and meet complete strangers.

    • In a way, that’s what we do blogging. We allow ourselves to be guided and transported out of our ordinary routine, and thank the stranger whose words we chose to read. The blog dance is also less gender-restrictive. Thanks, Paul.

  21. Sometimes I feel like I was born in the wrong era.

    Either that or the wrong planet.

  22. Sid

    I’m a little late to the party, but I’m glad I made it.

    Lovely period. Lovely couple. Lovely post.

    And Mel Brooks seems a mensch.

  23. Many of my articles aren’t intended to be topical, so it makes no difference to me when they are discovered later. I’m just glad you liked it, Sid. I liked remembering it.

    (Sid writes about helping hoarders, and about de-cluttering. COOL!:

  24. that’s beautiful… you know iMikey… I miss when Romance was actually an integral part of society. Where did it go? Must have gone out the door with politeness… but I guess that makes the rarity of it all the more special right?
    another fantastic post!

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