Dancing In The Dark

Illustration by Josef Gast

Just two people, the music, and the connection. 

By Molly Lazer

I made a complete ass of myself the first time I spoke to him. We were at the first rehearsal for the show we were both in, doing icebreakers. He said that he was a swinger, and I freaked out, right there in the rehearsal room. I went up to him afterwards and asked, “Do you really swing dance?”

“Yeah,” he answered.

I jumped up and down and clapped my hands together. “Oh, you should come to the Fish Fries that UPtown Swing hosts!”

“I do,” he said, with a smile at the naive girl chatting with him. “I’m the choreographer for the University swing troupe.”

To my horror and delight, he asked me to dance right away when he showed up at the next Fish Fry. He was as good as I had expected him to be—all loose and cool, smiling eyes with immense concentration and a carefree love of the dance shining through. I couldn’t tell if I lived up to his expectations. He lindy-hopped with the other swingers and swung with our friend Kate, and I was asked to dance by other leads. He didn’t ask me to dance again, and it would be a lie to say that it didn’t bother me. 

I felt as though there was something I was missing, a connection that I had never felt before. It came in the most intense moments of the dance, when all movement stopped and the lead rocked his follow back and forth on her feet or the pair stood and swayed together, hips touching. Sometimes the lead and the follow just stared at each other without moving. The first time a lead tried that with me, I burst out laughing. The “look” was just too much.

Then came last night. It was a get-to-know-everyone-better event for our theater company. I assumed it would be like most college parties—all about alcohol, with a little ass-shaking thrown in. Imagine my surprise, then, when no one even drank a beer, and all the music they had was Ella Fitzgerald and Frank Sinatra. I was inspired. I grabbed my friend Serena’s hand and dragged her out onto the dance floor. As we shuffled about, I glanced over at him, shifting through CDs on the other side of the room. 

“I want him to ask me to dance,” I muttered to Serena. He stood near the stereo, watching us, smiling slightly. Before I knew it, he was there in front of me, extending his hand.

Ella was singing “I’ve Got The World On A String.” We reached the middle of the floor, and he drew me into him, putting his arm around me. My eyelashes were only a few inches from his shoulder, and our thighs and pelvises met as he started to sway to the beat. He had let go of my hand, and only led me with the arm that was around my waist. This wasn’t like any swing I had encountered before. How was I supposed to know what to do? Where had this closeness come from? 

Then, ever so gently, was a slight push on my back. I knew. He wanted me to turn. So I did. He took my hand, and we rocked back and forth in the regular swing step as Ella sang. It didn’t matter that he wasn’t spinning me wildly around or being flashy with his dancing. Our moves were simple, but the eye contact we shared, the way it seemed we were the only two in the room, made them elegant. 

And when the music paused, he stopped me mid-step and rocked me back and forth on my heels. The “look” passed between us. I didn’t laugh, didn’t break eye contact, didn’t even smile. The connection had been made—that acknowledgement of “Here I am, there you are, here we are, and we’re dancing together.” He broke the tension first, with a smile. I smiled back. We returned to the dance, hips swiveling, feet tapping, fingers grazing each other’s arms as we moved around the floor.

All too soon, the song finished. But throughout the night, when a delectable note floated from the stereo, we would find each other across the room. An eyebrow would raise, a smile would be shared, or a crooked finger would beckon, and we would meet. His hand would offer, mine would accept. The connection hadn’t dissipated, the contact was held constantly. 

He said at one point, “Swing isn’t about flashy lifts and throws. It’s about you, your partner, and the connection between you.” I was finally starting to believe that. 

I reveled in the physical closeness when he dropped the hand holding my arm and pulled me into him so we could turn in tight circles together, my cheek on his shoulder, our legs intertwined. When we pulled apart, our eyes kept the connection. I followed his leads as best I could and was rewarded many times with a breathed “Nice” issuing from his lips. 

He made small suggestions for how to improve my dancing as the night went on. Don’t move your shoulders unless the lead moves his. Don’t return to the lead after he’s swung you out until he pulls you in. I took his advice in stride (literally) and worked to improve. Toward the end of the night, he warned me about anticipating. 

“Dance with your eyes closed,” he said.

“What?” I asked, thinking that maybe I had misheard.

“Close your eyes,” he repeated.

That was when I understood. As I shut my eyes, all that remained was the connection, the movement, and the trust between us. The light touch on my back still meant that I turned around, but I was confident that he would catch me and stop me from twirling too far. When he placed my hand around his neck, I traced down his arm, knowing that he would take my hand when I had finished. All that we had was the contact, but it was enough because nothing else existed—even sight was gone. 

Finally I opened my eyes, and he pulled me in, straight towards him. We held eye contact this time as we turned. There was nothing else to see. He was my field of vision.

When the song ended, we disengaged. I curtseyed and thanked him, sincerely, for that dance and all the ones that came before it. He smiled.

The party started to break up, and people gathered in groups to walk home. I was still humming “I Get a Kick Out of You.” I knew that I had finally found that elusive connection, finally figured out what dancing with a partner is all about. You don’t need all the flash and frills … just two people, the music, and the feelings. 

Dancing in the dark isn’t so frightening when you’re doing it together.

Molly Lazer is a sophomore majoring in English and theater arts from Trumbull, Connecticut.

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