My feet gave me a hand at overcoming my fears

It was going to take a lot of courage to make the phone call that would commit me to six ballroom-dancing classes. All the old fears and inadequacies of youth washed over me as I contemplated such a move. Yet here I was, retired, making a new life in Maine - a perfect time to try something new. I got a grip on myself by reasoning this way. "Once you have made the call," I told myself, "all you have to do is get in your car, drive over to the recreation center, and walk in the door. You can do that. Then you only need to pay your money. Don't even think about what's coming next. Just take one step at a time."

So I did, while expectancy and excitement momentarily eclipsed the trepidation I was feeling.

I gripped the phone and made the call. It was, after all, only a matter of entering a few digits. The voice that answered was warm and reassuring: "I'm Nancy. My partner and I would love to have you join us." She closed by saying that they looked forward to seeing me next Tuesday evening. That was easy, I thought.

On Tuesday evening, buoyed by this confidence, I drove to the recreation center, parked my car, and walked up to the door with no trouble at all. It was what I perceived might await on the other side of that door that intimidated me: a gymnasium filled with couples staring with pity as the single woman - me - entered the cavernous "ballroom."

But I had come this far. And I was, after all, a grown woman, capable of running my own life. Couldn't I meet this challenge with equal confidence?

I stepped through the door. To my relief, I found myself in a hallway with a woman who was sitting behind a table. "I'm glad you're joining us," she said in that same warm voice that had answered my phone query. I managed a weak smile, paid the fee, and stepped timidly through the next door into the gymnasium.

Imagine my surprise when no one even noticed me! I found a seat along the wall. Just one more hurdle - would anyone choose me as a partner? The woman in the next chair chatted amiably. Her casual friendliness helped put me at ease.

Suddenly from the center of the gym, we heard a woman say, "Couples split and form two lines, please; singles go to the end of the line." At some point during our conversation, the instructors had made their entrance and we were ready to begin. There was nothing to do but put myself out there with the few other singles at the end of the long line, and hope for the best.

So when the male instructor told the singles to match up, I stepped forward with a newfound boldness. If I had gotten this far, I wasn't going to hold back now, I told myself. I saw a man crossing the floor. He appeared to be coming toward me, so I kept walking until we met.

"Hi," he said. "My name's Bill."

"Hi," I replied, "mine's Jewell."

We were both drawn by the same newspaper ad that announced ballroom dancing instruction at the Conway Rec Center. Soon the men were lined up on one side of the gym, the women on the other, ready for instruction. I kept my eye on Bill. I didn't want to lose him.

Nancy, the attractive lady instructor, in her short skirt, lacy blouse, and high-heeled dancing shoes, stood in front of the line of women. Bruce, her partner, in his soft-soled shoes, black trousers, and white shirt, took his place in front of the men. He gave the fox trot directions in reverse to the men: "Men, you step forward with your left foot. This way you'll avoid a collision." Everyone chuckled. The ice was breaking, feet were moving, the concentration level was high.

After a few minutes of instruction, Bruce said, "OK, gentlemen, take your partners." Bill and I assumed dance position, my left hand on his shoulder, his right hand on my left shoulder blade, our free hands clasped, arms bent. I could tell Bill wasn't new to this.

Neither was I, for that matter, but it had been a long time since I had danced with anyone.

We assiduously followed the directions of our instructors as though neither of us had ever danced before. Then Bruce turned the music on. "New York, New York" with its bouncy fox trot rhythm burst forth. Its tune was familiar, its beat steady. Bill and I joined the couples on the gym floor, obediently executing the steps we had just been taught. Then he led me into several more intricate steps.

Was this a test?

I followed smooth as butter. I could tell Bill was pleased. After all, he had come quite a distance to attend these sessions, and his goal must have been to find a partner because he certainly didn't need dance lessons. We stayed together during that lesson, and the next, and the one following that. Then after the series we both signed up again.

When I moved to Maine, I figured I had lost ballroom dancing forever until that evening - when I pushed beyond my shyness and met Bill. Now, this isn't a story about Bill and me. It's a story about how two people who wanted to dance met in a rec hall, and how that desire to dance brings them together each dance season. We both found what we wanted, a dance partner. I can hardly believe my good fortune. And I think Bill feels the same.

He's a man of few words, but his feet speak volumes.

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