Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Day 9

My phone told me it was 7am when my eyes fluttered open. I felt like I had had a solid nights' rest in my comfy bed, when really I was waking up on a couch in my friend Whitney's dorm after 4 hours' sleep.
My stomach fluttered.
Not in that whoops, I-drank-too-much-last-night way; but in a way I hadn't felt in a while.
It was... happiness.
I cuddled under Whitney's University of Michigan tie blanket, I still had an hour until I had to get up to go to my 9am organic chemistry lecture. I was in a state of disbelief over the events of the previous night: I had gone to a ballroom lessons which I had loved every minute of, and then I had done even more ballroom dancing but this time with alcohol and dim lighting. What more could I want from life?
This would mark my 9th day as a student of the University of Michigan and I couldn't help but love every moment more than the last.
Just two days ago, I had picked up a free bagel that they have every Wednesday in one of the buildings, and was walking on one of Michigan's iconic diagonal sidewalks when the bell tower began to ring bohemian rhapsody. I almost started crying, and I never cry. This was unreal for me, being on an actual college campus , and such a beautiful one at that.
And now I was waking up happier than I had felt in a long time as far as my social life was concerned. I had been to my second Michigan party last night and it had to have been one of the best parties I've been to in my life. The ballroom team was an awesome group of people, I appreciated that they not only partied hard but they really danced! This had not been your typical college party where dancing was basically grinding, this had been legit dancing, with only the slightest bit of grinding strategically thrown in the context of the dance. Not to mention I spent half of the party dancing with probably the best dancer at the entire party! I smiled at my luck, my stomach fluttering just at the thought of the previous night. It had been my first ballroom party, and I ended up having the best time!
An hour and a half later, the brisk January breeze nipped at the few inches between the hem of my leggings and the start of my converse. It felt amazing: the fresh Ann Arbor air as I walked with my bagel from Panera Bread in hand to my first class. Thursday night parties might not be a problem with my 9am classes, because of my strange inability to sleep after consuming alcohol. Clearly I was doing something right with my life. The morning was perfectly overcast, it didn't need to be sunny because I was just so genuinely happy.
This feeling of unrequired and unexpected happiness was vaguely familiar, and it took the walk to the chemistry building to remember the last time I had felt this happy: it had been the last time Ian had kissed me. This unexpected joy had been absent for many months, not to say I hadn't enjoyed the months in between, but it had been many months since something so exciting had just come out of the blue.
This was what the college experience had to be: full of surprises.
I thought back to the moment at yesterday's lesson when James had lifted me. I would have liked to have described how he looked into my eyes and the ballroom melted away and the energy between us seemed to be on a different wavelength than the rest of the universe. But that would be predictable, I thought it was even better that I could describe the lift as a moment when I fell in love with my life. Suddenly I had such a great opportunity in front of me, to make the most of something unexpected. It was something I could have never anticipated and something that reminded me that great things can come when you're not looking for them.

My entire body felt permeated with pizza grease when I returned home from my job late in the evening. I had been working as a waitress at a small independent pizzaria for about a year and eight months. It was a job that had served me well during my time at community college and I had worked my way up to become one of the most respected employees in the place. I had spent my entire shift contemplating joining the ballroom team and I knew I would be prepared to quit the very next day. I did have the other job at Abercrombie and Fitch which was more convenient and easier work but wasn't as much money.
But for the sake of my bank account I didn't want to be hasty in quitting, and I knew I should sleep on joining the ballroom team without any alcohol in my system.
"So how was it?" My mom asked as I sat down at our kitchen table after I walked in the door.
"Awesome," I was smiling as I described the events of the night before, skipping the entire party because stories that included adult beverages were entirely off limits with my mom. What she didn't know about my illegal doings wouldn't hurt her, "but I think I'll sleep on it another night."
"Xaylia, you've already made up your mind," my moms smile matched mine.
She was right, of course, like moms often are. I think the moment I did my first cha cha with no instruction I decided this was for me.
I made plans to go in and talk to my boss and quit my job the very next day.
Maybe it seemed irrational: go to one lesson and one party and quit my well paying job two days later. But I knew this feeling: it was instinct. My heart was telling me that I needed to be in that ballroom, to wear those heels, and to dance. And I knew my heart would never lead me astray, listening to it could only lead to more wonderful surprises.

Walk The Line

I was racing up the stairs of the Michigan League at a lightning pace, leaving the scent of Abercrombie and Fitch's 'Fierce' cologne in my wake. Of course I had gotten called into work at the infamous clothing store the one day of the week that I not only had something going on, but had been looking forward to all week long.
In the white lace babydoll tank I had worn to work and my newest pair of VS leggings, I paused to swap my Converse for ballroom shoes before joining the maybe 45 couples on the ballroom floor. I hadn't worn these petite heels since seventh grade, when my brief ballroom dance career had ended with the impossibility to find a partner. There was a sort of magic to them, with my OPI 'Skyfall' polished toes peeking out from the thin nude straps, it felt like putting on my favorite pair of sweatpants after a night out in a miniskirt. They felt familiar and comfortable even after living in their bag in the back of my closet for the past seven years.
I scouted the floor for my friend Whitney, who had told me about this in the first place-
"Want to dance?"
I turned around to a smiling face.
"Sure," I said to the guy in a maroon Under Amour zip-up, and a moment later I was doing the familiar basic cha-cha steps. I actually remembered what I was doing from seven years previous: the rhythm, the steps, the cuban motion.
"Did you really just walk in the door?" my partner-for the moment asked me. He was good, obviously on the team.
"Yeah I did," I gave a nervous smile.
"You know what you're doing," he shot me a small smile.
"Eh, kinda," I admitted, "I have watched every single season of Dancing with the Stars."
He laughed, and when it came time for the next partner change, my friend Whitney came running up.
Turns out, my partner of the moment was one of her friends, and his partner is the friend of Whitney's who encouraged her to come out. Strange how people can just find each other like that.
As the lesson progressed, I think my smile kept stretching larger. With each cha-cha step that was a review for me, and each foxtrot move we learned, I realized how much I had missed this. I missed ballroom, I missed ballet, I missed performing, I missed being apart of something.
I was loving every minute in my ballroom shoes.
The evening was winding down, and we had put all of our foxtrot steps together when we swapped partners for the umteenth time, and a very unexpected pair of eyes caught mine.
I had met the captain of the University of Michigan ballroom dance team twice: at an event a few days ago where all of the organizations on campus came out to recruit new members, and earlier in the evening when he came and sat with me and Whitney during an exhibition performance and shared some gummy bears with us.
"Don't fuck up," I thought to myself as I took his outstretched hand. His name was James, he had to be a senior, maybe a grad student, I wasn't sure. He was tall, blonde, and built.
Not to mention he was a ridiculously amazing ballroom dancer.
We glided across the floor, completing our short sequence and I swear I saw him smile. I instantly liked him, he was a ballroom dancer to the core, I could tell by the simple way he didn't let go of my hand as we went back to the other end of the floor to start the sequence again, "Take a step back at the end," he whispered before we began again.
So I made the correction, and finished the final move with a flourish that had to have come from the semester of ballet I had taken at community college.
We set back to do the sequence a third time when I felt my feet leave the ground.
I felt myself fly, I was in the air, then I didn't exactly know where I was, but James had thrown me into this lift as easily as some people tie their shoes.
"Show off!" Someone shouted to a scattering of laugher as I felt myself rest on the ground again, slightly stunned that the captain of the ballroom dance team had just lifted me.
I smiled, and I laughed, and in that moment, I felt the most simple of happinesses.

"This is awkward," I declared in a low enough voice so only Whitney could hear.
"Drinks!" Whitney shouted and I laughed.
I would love to say the real reason we went to our ballroom lesson was so that we could go to the after-party, but both Whitney and I were in it for the free dance lesson, the drinks were simply a bonus. The ballroom dance team partied, and I think both of us appreciated that quite a lot. Except for the fact that we felt slightly out of place because everyone already knew each other and were friends and we were just the new girls who were on the fence about joining the team. Half of my mixed drink, and a shot later, my luck changed when one of the guys we had been talking to earlier asked me if I wanted learned the hustle. Of course I handed my drink to Whitney and took his hand without a second's hesitation.
This is not the black-person line dance, this is a ballroom dance, more of a party dance no doubt, but a ballroom dance all the same.
Soon enough, I was twirling around, being dipped, doing fun little steps, and smiling like an idiot. I was having way too much fun. This wasn't your typical college party, these people were tearing up the Kesha song that was playing in a way that would put any nightclub to shame. I was enjoying being one of them, if only for a few songs.

"So you're an Abercrombie model and you know how to make pizza?" the guy was staring me like he had never heard of anything that awesome as I described my two jobs.
"Um yeah, I mean model is just the name of the position-"
But I needed to say no more, because this guy was already down on one knee in front of me and I found myself cracking up alongside Whitney.
All of a sudden, I felt a hand in mine, and as I turned around, James took my drink from my other hand and not but a moment later, I found myself in the air and then in his arms and then back down on the ground and doing the hustle again. He threw me around like I was as light as a feather.
It was a good thing I could hold my liquor, or that mixed drink and three shots wouldn't be working for me as I did moves I had no clue I could have ever done, as I was spun around, thrown in the air, and dipped to the ground.
"Want to learn the bachata?" there was a glint in James' eye as the song we had been dancing to faded to its end.
"Yeah, sure!" I said, mirroring his smile.
He took my hand we wove through the crowd to the basement door. Even intoxicated, he held the door open for me, letting me go down first. The stairs descended into pure darkness and latin music and I think I took about two steps before James picked me up again, "I'm drunk," he whispered next to my ear, "Are you drunk?" his lips trailed the slightest bit south.
"Drunk enough for having a 9am tomorrow," I breathed. His lips were so close to mine, if we were doing anything but ballroom dancing, which is crazy sexy as is, I would have thought he was about to kiss me.
My feet were on the ground again, he whispered the steps in my ear, we moved together; we did some lifts, some spins, some dips, and mostly moves that reminded me never to underestimate how sexy ballroom can be.
But from mostly my own common sense and overly-imaginative brain, I knew that dance had the power to blur the lines between true emotion and true performance. And I was too green to know what side of line James and I were on as we danced.
In my unprofessional opinion, we were most likely doing an elegant Viennese waltz on that very line called being drunk.
And you know how much I saw wrong with that?
Nothing at all.