June 16, 2006
The reception for my niece’s wedding was held at a new hotel on the campus of an executive office park somewhere in Virginia. I say “somewhere” because I can’t remember where, and there were no landmarks. It had probably been a cornfield the year before. The hotel had three ballrooms and the wedding reception was in one of them. We had rooms at the hotel and so during the build-up to the wedding (“The hairdresser is here!”) we were up and down the halls, up and down the elevators, and it was on the elevator that we first spotted a woman in a 1920’s flapper outfit with lots of red and a skirt that was slit up to how-do-you-do. It was neither executive or resort wear, and it got our attention. It took me a minute, but the light went on and in the lobby I said to my wife, “Ballroom dancing?”
We read the signs and indeed, there was a dance competition at the hotel. All that day we were treated to people dressed for the Charleston, the tango and, in at least one case, lion-taming. It was a colorful counterpoint to wedding attire. But as the wedding drew near, we pretty much forgot about the dancers and were drawn into our own whirl of activity. Until the reception was winding down, and we were heading off to bed.
Down the hall, I heard music behind tall double doors and, as at funeral homes, I wondered what the story was in the other room. Peeking in, I was treated to a stunning spectacle. The competition was over and the dancers were dancing together. But these were not Hollywood or Broadway dancers. They looked like mailmen and receptionists, computer repairmen and grocery store cashiers. All in costume. I saw a gaucho, more flappers, and a Carmen Miranda without the bananas. No two alike. It should have been comic, but it wasn’t, because they were waltzing. Two or three hundred of them, circling the ballroom, floating in each other’s arms, freed from gravity, rising above the workday, transcending whatever life had handed them, and flowing like a river of joy on the music of the orchestra. I still can’t waltz, but they taught me something.