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.