Ms. Adventure: A Swing and a Miss?

A West Coast Swing lesson challenges our writer to get her hands and feet working together at the same time.

BY June 30, 2015


Some girls have grace, coordination and rhythm—Ms. Adventure decidedly does not.

In other words, I can’t dance.

Trust me, I’ve tried. Years ago, I was asked to dance in a Dancing with the Stars-themed fundraiser for a local charity—not only that, I’d get to wear pink satin dancing shoes and a fancy, sparkly gown designed just for me. After just one floundering lesson, my frustrated teacher must have gotten in touch with the event organizers, as I was, instead, asked to emcee—tucked safely behind a podium in a boring black cocktail dress with my wannabe Ginger Rogers dreams dashed.

However, undaunted by failure, when I’m out, and there’s a dance floor nearby, and just the right song comes on, I’ll happily skip out there and boogie down, looking more like Elaine flailing around on Seinfeld than who I think I look like, which is Katy Perry performing at the Super Bowl halftime show. Unfortunately, the last time that happened, back in August while my husband and I were vacationing at a resort on the East Coast, I danced with such abandon that I snapped the ACL joint off my tibia and spent the rest of the vacation in a wheelchair, followed by major knee surgery and a recovery that took months. The lesson I took away from the experience was, just because the DJ plays a kicky Taylor Swift song doesn’t mean you should attempt an Irish Jig move combined with pirouettes—especially when you’re 50.

Yet, just like when I auditioned as a teenager for a production of The Sound of Music and was gently told by the musical director that I was “clinically tone deaf,” I will not be deterred. The tone deaf diagnosis has never stopped me from taking the stage at karaoke and torturing bar patrons with my screechy but passionate rendition of Delta Dawn, nor will a complete lack of agility keep me off the dance floor, which is how I recently ended up in a West Coast Swing dance class.

Taking a dance class is so out of my comfort zone that I may as well need a passport, but at 1st Danz (a social dance studio in south Fort Myers), owner, instructor and dance pro Cindy-Lee Overton makes it easy for newbies. The Wednesday I was there started with an hourlong class for beginners (as in, moi), then the intermediates practiced, and finally the wine bar opened up and the evening transformed into a dance party. I have found that I do almost all things better after a glass of wine, so this seemed like a good fit for me—however, I’m not so sure West Coast Swing was because, it turns out, it involves a partner.

I’m not going to say I don’t work well with others, but let’s just say I work better on my own. The last time I danced with a partner was at the eighth-grade prom at Bonita Springs Middle School when a boy named Gunnar and I awkwardly barely touched, as we stepped on each other’s feet, while moving around in an achingly slow circle to Captain and Tennille’s Muskrat Love. It wasn’t pretty.

Thankfully, West Coast Swing is nothing like that. According to Cindy-Lee, it originated in the Hollywood of the 1940s and was popular in movies because the pattern of movement is back and forth, which made it easy to film. It’s a fun, flirty, sexy dance characterized by the “sugar push”—a guy holds both of the ladies hands, the two come close together, drop one hand, and then swing out … I think.

There were 10 students in the class—and, luckily, an equal male-to-female ratio, with the ladies in one row facing the gents. It was a diverse group—including a young couple, she a high school senior named Rachel with a long blond ponytail and her boyfriend from FGCU, a cute kid named Alex. Also, there was Bert, who told me that in the ’60s he used to dance in a televised high school dance show (think Hairspray). And it was nice meeting Linda, an attractive lady in her 50s who told me that, for her, dance class was a nice way of meeting people. Indeed, for the most part, students were single and ready to mingle. Here in the age of online dating, Tinder and random hookups in bars, the dance class and social felt like such a sweet, old-fashioned way to make new friends and possibly more. I can see how romantic sparks might fly—with West Coast Swing, you have to trust your partner, look into his eyes to read his next move. And then there’s the whole rocking of the hips part.

I was in line between adorable Rachel in her yoga leggings and bubbly Linda in her form-fitting strappy sundress, so every time Cindy-Lee called upon the men to move to the right and switch partners, I could almost hear them inwardly sigh when they got to me—the married lady with two left feet who had to count her steps out loud while wearing a caftan. Buzz kill.

While everyone else had the simple moves down pat, I struggled for the first 20 minutes trying to get the steps right. Cindy-Lee and my fellow students were patient, though, and I even got a smattering of applause when I finally got it right.

Then she added hands.

Yes, I could get my feet to do the right thing if I concentrated hard enough. And certainly, my hands would do as instructed. But getting both sets of appendages to move in rhythm together was asking too much. I am not Black Swan. Add to that having to hold hands with strangers and my comfort level plummets. These were all very nice, respectable gentlemen, but my fear of Ebola runs high. Nevertheless, I soldiered on and when Cindy-Lee added some groovy, sexy music for us dance to, I even started to get into it—swaying my hips a-slightly, getting a little lighter on my feet, even looking my partners in the eye. Toward the end of the class, I’m not sure what I looked like, and I don’t really care, because in my mind, I looked exactly like Jennifer Grey in Dirty Dancing and all my partners were Patrick Swayze. Because when it comes to dance lessons, one of the most important steps is using your imagination.


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