Learn to Dance!

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Part 1: Before the Dance

“In this world you can learn to dance like there’s no tomorrow ” Andrew McMahon LEARN TO DANCE

The year I got divorced was an emotional roller coaster. I wouldn’t wish a divorce (when one doesn’t want it) on my worst enemy. I floated through my days during the early part of the year. I was lost and felt nothing emotionally inside my soul for long stretches. There were bouts of extreme sadness. There was emptiness. The emptiness was worse. Then I felt extreme rage at what had happened to my family. I remember welcoming the anger because feeling anger was better than not feeling at all. And ANGER was certainly more manly than the sadness I felt. I could not control it though. It was like the characters Sadness and Rage killed Joy and Fear from the movie Inside Out.

I joined a gym and started taking fitness classes as the social aspects of group class soothed a lot of the rage and emptiness. I reconnected with old friends at the gym. One of my sisters old friend’s husband taught a fitness class where you lift heavy Kettlebells and do a lot A LOT of Burpees (you know where you throw yourself on the ground, get back up, and then do it again!…yeah, I pay to do it too. Perhaps a story on that another time.).

This particular gym had a Halloween party and I went. The old friend of my sister’s brother runs a Ballroom Dance studio. He was at the party with many of the members of the dance studio. A particular girl dressed as a character of one of my favorite ever movies The Wizard of Oz stood out to me. We actually had a good talk. She was a dancer. This dance thing might be really good for me. Long story short…I signed up for one free class at Fred Astaire Dance studio. I gave all my info and it was scheduled for around the middle of Nov.

I knew absolutely nothing of dancing. I had heard of the Waltz, but Foxtrot, Rumba, Tango??!!?? I struggled with the Electric Slide in college. I was always a willing dancer at weddings and parties though. Often (when married) I would be only guy on dance floor at weddings. I enjoyed dancing…but I just moved around a lot. No rhythm at all!

What would it hurt to take one free lesson, right? I got an email saying my instuctor would be Oksana. I creep on her Facebook. Eastern European…and from her dance photos-Damn!!!…that body of hers!!!! I was definitely more interested in this dancing thing.

Oksana was amazing. I was hooked from the first 10 minutes. I learned the waltz, foxtrot, tango, rumba, and swing. I signed up for the 10 class package. It was not cheap! But it was definitely worth the money.

There were group lessons too. On Friday nights there was a beginner group class and then a free dance party. I went most fridays. I danced with so many people. It was a little like being in 8th grade again at a school dance. I danced with everyone…great dancers, older ladies, beginners (not that many beginners as me though).

The Studio had a 60th Anniversary celebration, they had showcases, and they had Competitions. I went to watch most of them. The social aspect was soothing to my soul. I began to believe that I could do these things.

The change didn’t happen slowly either. All of a sudden I am watching You Tube videos of Dance Competitions in Europe, How To videos on dance steps, and past seasons of Dancing with the Stars. I am studying these (sometimes in slow motion) like a Football Coach watching game film..rewind, slow motion, again again again.

Oksana’s name became a familar one in my house and my world as I probably talked about her WAY too much. But she was helping me find the ME that disappeared the last few years of marriage. The ME that Traveled the world easily 20 years ago, that wanted to be around people, and the me that longed for Adventure and New Experiences.

“I am going to be a dancer”, I said to my kids one evening.

“Ha ha ha ha ha ha”, my son burst and pointed at me like i was some dork who dropped his tray in the cafeteria at school and He was the school bully. I have to admit, I felt a little bit of pride at his reaction. Dancing still felt a bit Wrong in my Worldview. It was like Billy Elliot in reverse.

Part 2: The SHOWCASE

“She took my arm, I don’t know how it happened, we took the floor and she said, ‘Oh don’t you dare look back, Just keep your eyes on me’, I said you’re holding back, She Said ‘Shut up and Dance with Me’. SHUT UP AND DANCE WITH ME by Walk the Moon

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Sometime in the middle of my Track & Field Season, while balancing 3 kids’ young lives, hosting the conference Track & Field Championships, getting over 150 customers awnings up for spring, bringing on a brand new employee at my shop, and trying to reach my goal of actually reading a book per season of the year (TOTAL FAIL) Oksana convinces me that I should do this showcase. The showcase is really just a synonym for a Dance Recital that grownups who spend a LOT OF MONEY on dance like to use.

She wants me to do the Waltz. She knows my dancing and where I feel comfortable. I completely feel at ease doing the Smooth Dances. I really like the Waltz, Foxtrot, and Tango. I am not so into the dance where there is a lot of HIP action and Rhythm. I like Waltz. I agree and sign up.

Oksana and the other professional at the studio had me watch them perform the exact dance they think that I am able to do with my current abilities. We film it. I get a copy of that film. If that recording was a VHS tape, I would have worn it out. I watched it, I studied it. I practiced it by myself. My college has a dance studio and I would regularly go there and practice always looking in the mirror in case someone was at the glass doors where I would then stop dancing and pretend to do something else when someone walked by. I remember being annoyed when the actual Dance team was in there using it.

Since I signed up for the second set of 10 lessons at the Dance Studio, I tried to balance the cost of the individual lessons and take as many of the free Group lessons that I could to lower the Per Class Cost. Once this Showcase thing got going, the frugality went out the window. I went to Private Lessons 3 times per week sometimes. I actually won a prize at one of the Friday Dance parties for most lessons attended during a week.

I actually had to take a week off due to work to travel to the NCAA National Track & Field Championships. The very next practice after that, I really had trouble with a step. I couldn’t get it right. I would step left instead of right. I would not RISE and Fall as you are supposed to do with the Waltz, I would get it right once then fail the next two times. I was frustrated. The next morning I was supposed to have a hard Run Workout. I started the run then stopped at the Tennis Courts at the park, pulled out the DANCE FILM on my phone and walked my dance out, then slowly danced it, then figured it out and turned it into MUSCLE MEMORY. When that worked, I started doing that a lot. Workouts went out the door. I had to practice this dance!

The dress rehearsal was on a Thursday. I was nervous during the day. At the studio that night the butterflies really went to a level I hadn’t felt since before playing for a college National Championship in Football at 21 years old. I was weak kneed! And IT WAS THE DRESS REHEARSAL!

I cancelled my friday appointment with Oksana (I was nervous to tell her..ha ha). I took a fitness class with my friend who in a sense got me into the whole dance thing. I practiced at the tennis courts that night…no Friday drinking or carousing for me. Laser focus…like the good old days. Oh to have something new and exciting to be Nervous about was exhilarating.

Normally i get my kids every Saturday at noon. I asked my ex-wife if she could keep them till Sunday. It would have been an expensive babysitter because we had to be at studio at 1:45 for the 4:00 show (and there was a party after). I was kidless for a Saturday. I went to the Dance Studio; hung out, we talked, we did another rehearsal. I felt much better!

Now when i say we had a dress rehearsal I should have said I HAD two dress rehearsals but my partner did not. Oksana wasn’t in her showcase outfit for either rehearsal. I did have to pick her up, so I was curious how that was going to go. When I see her dance outfit….I get those butterflies again. But these butterflies didn’t have spots…they had Hearts!!! Oh this WOMAN!!! Long Flowing peach Skirt and a Halter Top with ABS like a Fitness Model and Tight Tiny Arms with an Elbow that would cut you open. OH HOW ON EARTH DID I NOT GET INVOLVED IN DANCE IN JUNIOR HIGH AS I STARTED TO NOTICE GIRLS!!!

I get it together, but I am Nervous. I am first dance in the first act… We walk out. We dance. I KNOW IT! I DO IT! I step Right when I am supposed to. I step left when I am supposed to; I rise and fall as is the WALTZ. I nail the step that caused me to quit my run and practice in the tennis courts a few weeks ago. I time it right and we end the dance exactly as the music ends. I think I did well. We Bow…we walk out. She gives me a big HUG and says she is so proud of me. This woman has changed MY WORLD…and she is genuinely proud of me for a 2 minute waltz.

There was a dinner afterwards paid for by a VERY GENEROUS couple who were in the showcase as well. I go. There were about 40 people or so. I look around and realize that I have made so many new friends and now have new goals, new skills, and new dreams.

My divorce was official 13 months to the day of that Showcase. I will never forget that darkness in my heart. The darkness is gone. There have been a steady series of lights that have turned on in my heart to drive the darkness away, and that Dance Light is burning pretty bright right now!

The Beginning of the Craziness (early 2000s)

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If you are (or were) a team sport athlete (basketball, football, soccer, hockey, etc) you tend to remember games. You probably recall details of games that will stick with you (for good or bad) for years. I get together with old football buddies and we go over the exact play to win games or who missed an assignment at a key spot in 2nd quarter or how a missed free throw in 3rd quarter set us up for a big comeback. The sport of Track & Field is different. We dont talk as much about the actual races, jumps, or throws. Often it is the road trips, the tents full of team members that someone pushes a water pocket off and it ends up down someone’s back, or the restaurants we stop in after the meets that we end up talking about years later. We talk about the relationships that began or ended (often awkwardly) since we spend a lot of time together, the hotels, and the long drives.

And maybe it is just me that invites chaos or embraces chaos or is even attracted to chaos. But certainly being on my Track & Field teams is an opportunity for adventure.

It was my second or third year as a Head Boys’ and Girls’ (High School) Track & Field Coach when the Adventures started.

We went to Ohio State University for an Indoor Track & Field Meet. It was a friday night so it was well after 10pm when we were done. I took the team to dinner at 24 hour restaurant right in the heart of the University on High St. There were 12 of us, enough to fill a van.

So about 11:30 we leave the restaurant and go to the parking lot. As we approach the spot where we parked, there is a significant gap. No van, but definitely a sign saying Tow Away Zone-No Parking. How did i miss that?!? It was plain as day. It was dark though and I did back into the spot and I was managing 11 high school kids by myself…but HOW DID I MISS THAT?!?!

I am a big believer in Plan B, C, and D. I honestly don’t think plan A ever works so i am always ready to adjust. But i was a young, new coach then. Ok…”what do i do now, i thought?”. There was a phone number to call if vehicles were towed. I called it. It was impounded. The man gave me the address. It would be $100 to get it out and he said they were open 24 hours.

How do i get to this impound yard and what I do with these 11 kids? It was beginning of the cell phone age, so i had a cell number of one of my former track athletes who was a freshmen at OSU. I called him. He lived in The Towers.

I brought the team there, he lived pretty high up. On a Friday night in January, I dropped 2 freshman, 3 sophomores, and 4 juniors off in a College Dorm!

Our Alumnus had a car, so he drove me and two of my student-athletes to the address of the impound yard. It was in the dark outskirts of the city…like Escape from New York dark (you know the classic Kurt Russel film).

Dark, dingy, gated (do i need to mention the beware of the dog sign) was this impound yard. There was an office (do I need to mention the bullet proof glass). A man laying on a cot arises when we buzz in. I explain why I am there. He gets the paperwork and tells me $100. I go to put it my credit card in the exchange slot. “Cash only”, he tells me. Yep, plan C.

We leave the impound yard looking for an ATM. Anthony (perhaps my favorite athlete I’ve ever coached) said, “this is just like that movie Adventures in Babysitting!” Hmnn, i have always really liked Elizabeth Shue. And yes it was a lot like that movie. We find an ATM. I get the cash. We go back to the Impound yard. I pay the man. We walk through the Pipe Turnstyle Gate into the Yard. Lots of beat up cars, a few nice ones, and a white van. Whew!

Ok, next to rescue the rest of my team in the College dorm at now about 2am. We take the elevator up. All kinds of doors are open in the hallway and college kids are meandering in and out of rooms. We get to the room. They are all there playing video games and watching a movie. Again…WHEW! “Let’s Go, everyone,” i said.

We leave. We check into the hotel at about 3AM. I cant sleep. I take a bath because my adrenaline is still a bit high from the night. Little did i know that the adventures were just starting.

Plan A just never seems to work. Good thing i am always ready for Plan B.

The Journey (but we will start in the middle)!

My life is filled with Adventure. Obviously not James Bond adventure or Indiana Jones adventure, but my life is not boring! It got boring though for a time.

I am a single Dad. I get my kids (there’s 3) each sat at noon and we are a family till I drop them at school on Wednesday. I have adventures with them and when they go to their Mom’s my life becomes a bit surreal.

In another post I will fill you in on the me while married looking at himself in the mirror each night and each morning wondering if this is all there is in life (for the record, i did not want the divorce, did not ask for a divorce, and did all I could do to save my family-just way too late).

I decided to start this blog on my 44th birthday when I realized that my life is an adventure.

There are stories of what happens when I travel with my team, things that happen at my business, and when I am exploring life with my three kids. But the day I decided to start this blog is quite funny.

My business is somewhat unique in that we do a lot of varied things. We take fabric of various sort and make things. In this case we made a Winter Cover for an RV. It was a bright, beautiful November Day.

The customer gave me the address (as they hired us to install as well), and I set out with one of my athletes that I hired for the day. The customer warned me that the address was confusing. I didn’t necessarily believe her and relied on my phone (i rely on the phone GPS way too much…perhaps another blog on that later).The RV was on property overlooking the lake, and sure enough the address did not come up on my phone when (I felt) it should have.

There was an RV overlooking the lake about a 1/4 mile back. I went to check it out. It was next to The Twisted Cherry, a strip club…a very shady strip club. Upon inspection of said RV I noticed the licence plate was registered with as an Historic Vehicle. It seemed pretty beat up but that’s why they needed the cover, right?!? And the bluff overlooking the lake was stunning!

We set our ladders and began to install the cover. As the cover is just about on. My phone rings… it is the customer, “Where are you?”, he asks.

“Ummm, we are just done the road, I think. We are by the Twisted Cherry.”

“Ok”, he says, “you are about a mile away.”

Uh oh!!!

My only thought is what is this trailer next to the shady Twisted Cherry actually used for…and who might be in there at this moment while I am on top of it.

We quickly pulled the cover off the trailer and threw it in the truck unfolded. We drove down the street where the customer was waiting by the road. The bluff overlooking the lake is similar but more scenic. The RV is same size but cleaner, nicer.

He sees the cover all ragtag in back of truck. “What happened?”, he asks.

“Uh, we ran into a bit of trouble. All good though.”

We got the cover on. It looked great. The view over Lake Erie was amazing. My assistant was a bit awed as he didn’t realize (he is from FL) the Great Lakes were like Oceans.

We leave, we pass by the Twisted Cherry, and we laugh. I think to myself. My life is full of stories just like this! I need to write this stuff down.

So I will.