Wednesday, August 26, 2009


Dear George,

When I joined the fitness center, trainer Ellen set me up with a workout on the strength and cardio machines and suggested I might pick up an exercise class later on. I eliminated the class idea till recently, probably because of some deep tendency to be avoidant of groups of living beings. But when I saw a flyer announcing a country line dancing class, it caught my eye. Katja and I had taken ballroom dancing classes years ago, and we’d had a lot of fun. I told both Katja and our friend Donna about it; they were lukewarm but willing to try it out. Donna had a time conflict on the first Tuesday, but Katja and I went to the 7 p.m. class. Twenty or so people showed up, about three-quarters women and nearly everybody middle-aged or older. We all looked one another over. I thought I would probably do o.k. Jeff, the instructor, has been teaching line dancing for a dozen years in school systems, community centers, etc., though this was his first class at a fitness center. He said that, once we mastered the basics, we might want to go to Rodeo’s at the Metropolis Nightclub. This idea made me anxious, though Katja immediately started thinking about what sort of outfit to buy.

Jeff formed us into lines and started us out with the Electric Slide, apparently the best known line dance. First we just did the steps without music. Jeff modeled each tiny segment. Then we copied him as he repeated it. Finally he put the whole dance to music, first slow, then medium, then fast. Like previous dance classes, I found it both interesting and unnerving to be in the learner role. I’ve spent most of my adult life as a teacher, and I rarely think what it’s like to be in the novice position. Basically you start off knowing nothing, progress slowly and awkwardly through the component parts, and eventually try to put it all together as a complex whole. Getting the individual pieces varies from simple to challenging, and, so far, I’ve never once succeeded in doing an entire integrated routine without error (which, given my perfectionism, I regard as a miserable failure). The learning task is simple enough that one shows gradual progress and can hope for success. However, it’s difficult enough that one is often unsure just what comes next, makes frequent mistakes, and has to anxiously struggle to get back on track. The people in the class vary a lot. A few are obviously experienced line dancers; we view them as stars and keep an eye on them to stay on track. Most are novices though, and some combine that with no natural aptitude. Just about everybody looks silly at one point or another. However, people recognize that we’re all in the same boat and take it with good humor. It does make you appreciate how difficult good teaching is. You have to know where people are at, usually with wide variability and incomplete feedback, and adjust your instruction to accommodate people’s diverse needs. Jeff is encouraging and gives a lot of praise to the class as a whole. Katja has a good sense of rhythm, and she picks things up quickly. The guy with the gray ponytail in front of me, on the other hand, was all over the place, often facing in one direction when everybody was going the other way. He stuck with it for one class, but he never did come back.

After the electric side, Jeff showed us the basics of the booty call. (If you look this phrase up in Wikipedia, it has a meaning very different from a dance step.) He said that he often works with kids and so he has to be restrained with the booty call, but we could shake our booties any way we liked. There were some pretty good booty shakers in the class, but the men weren’t much good at it. Then we went on to the Cupid Shuffle and one or two other dances, the names of which I never really got. Jeff told the class we’d done a good job and that we’d move on to a new set of dances next week.

We’ve had a couple of classes since. Donna’s an excellent dancer, she masters the various steps with ease, and she loves the class. Katja has struggled a bit with stamina after a year of medical problems and enforced inactivity, but she has found it easier each week, and Jeff said she deserves the award as the most improved member of the class. I like doing the physical body work, though I get frustrated by my less than competent performance. I have a couple of country line dancing videotapes at home, and I’ve been trying to do some extra practice. When they force me to go to the country nightclub, I plan to be ready.



Gmail Comments:

-Donna D (8-27): david, this is great. you WILL be ready!

-Vicki L (8-27): Good for you David! This was the kind of spirit I was looking for with you and Peter that long ago night in the country western Cinncy bar! Ah... but life isn't over yet…By the way, can't you imagine how George would be behaving in a country line dance? Love, Sis

-Gayle C (8-26): U R AMAZING. And Its amazing what U can do when u R retired.). I hope U all R well,). I miss U both._ I am at the beach fort the evening . Its a beautiful night. I will try to send a photo from my phone ;) love U. G

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