Daring to Dance
– Fiction by Marek Przemieniecki –
His thumb was working his bad knee when the good music started playing again. Bodies sharing his aches sat and stared, some remembering what it used to be like, others scowling at the antics in front of them, having long forgotten the joy that could be found in the throng.
Meanwhile, the downbeats were hitting up into his heart, daring him to find the dance floor. Ba-da-boom, ba-da-ba. He rose, avoiding eye contact with his peers, and let his feet find the beat as he shuffled across the room.
But when he found himself at the precipice, waiting for his cue at the edge of the carpet, he froze. He scanned the dance floor, and it didn’t look like he remembered it. The arms were all different, the slides longer than they should be, and somehow everybody was throwing taps and twerks that had never been a part of his world, his love.
Back when his legs would spring and his arms could pop he’d gone to war on the floor, competing, performing, and leaving those at the tables in awe. He’d honed his muscles and mind to do what others could not, winning battle after battle. Victories that had earned him the dusty metal and glass on his mantle. Now he stood at the edge of the golden herringbone, watching younger men battling it out like he no longer could.
He retreated from the front line and almost bowled over a kid who’d been right behind him, prepping for his own charge onto the field. After their entanglement of arms, they stood side by side, looking at the undulating mass on the dance floor while adjusting shirts and pressing down stray hairs.
“You stepping out?” He tried to say it like the youngins did in his classes. He failed miserably.
“Thinking ‘bout it. You?” Young looked at old. Both nodded at the reflection.
“It’s not how I remember it, though.” Pomp and circumstance. Partners in pairs turning every dance floor into Paris. Elegance flowing from sparkly gowns and tux tails until the latin music started to play and the bare chests and chiselled jaws took over. This wasn’t that, even if the beat was the same.
“Once you get out there, it will be.” The old man looked at the bobbing frame of the near-man beside him. He caught the kid fidgeting with his shirt. He’d taught him years ago, when he’d spent his days trying to convince others of the purity of form. What had once been a scrawny scrap now had a broad back and the beginnings of a square jaw. The kid was ready, he just didn’t know it.
“Why don’t you step out with your people?”
“I like to wait until the music tells me it’s time, the way you taught me. And those people aren’t mine. They’re ours.” The old man glanced over at the kid’s smirk, his own shoulders now bobbing with the rhythm. Then he glanced back at his table. Fear gripped his chest and stooped his frame, stopping his soul from hearing the music. What the kid was saying was pity, not admiration, they’d say. He missed knowing it was the latter, and wasn’t sure when thoughts of the former had settled into his spine. The old crone in the seat beside his shook her head, and he tore himself from her gaze.
To prop himself up, he started running through the figures engraved in his mind. Images of the first, fifth, and shadow positions gave him courage. But there were no partners on this dance floor and he’d be performing all on his own. Nor would the six steps and freezes that used to break his crew on the boards help him here. Despite his misgivings, his hand let go of his shirt and started keeping pace with the rhythm around him. Soon his right knee was bending to the ba-da-boom, pulled by the pulse of an unseen force.
“You’re feelin’ it.” The kid wasn’t wrong. But was feeling it enough?
The kid bobbed his head with the old man’s knee, and the contagion spread. Cells jammed to the bass line.
Forgotten words echoed from the depths of the old man’s frame, “It’s in my soul.”
The music might not be standard, or latin, or fit into the Foxtrots and Quicksteps his knees once bobbed to, but as he looked out at the moving sea in front of him, he knew he could still sail. While not one body in the mass walked through the complex patterns he’d had to perfect, they were all using the component parts of dance to make something beautiful. The music, like the dancing, had changed, but it inspired the glamour of movement on the hardwood that his promenades and syncopations once had. He knew the mechanics, and he had some of his old tricks in his well-pressed back pocket, so even if there was a bit of rust on the gears, the machine would still run. The kid provided a bit of lubricant: “You know they’d love to see you out there.” He paused, looking at the ground. “I’d love to see you out there, too.”
The old man squared his back, plastered his best performance grin to his face, and turned to the kid.
They stepped out, arms snapping, knees popping, aches forgotten. Their bodies waved, bobbed, and weaved through the sea, and they became part of the ocean, two drops embraced by the whole. It started rough for him. He couldn’t get his feet in place fast enough, his arms out far enough. But his heart soared into the air above the flow and intermingled with the souls of all the other individual parts swirling in the whirl around him.
Feeling the love of motion fill the air fueled him like the flow of the gowns had in his youth. He forgot about the individual parts he’d been so focussed on. Gave himself to the whole. His heart beat converged with the thrum of the drum and he let the energy of the throng around him flow through his extremities and find release.
Some of the youngsters around him noticed him subjugating himself to the ba-da-boom and gave him a wide berth, then others stopped dancing to watch the spectacle in turn, their knees still bending to the rhythm, incapable of stopping their connection to the floor they shared. Soon he was in the middle of a circle of passion, and started to doubt his pulsating pursuit of perfection. But out on the ocean it didn’t need to be perfect, it merely needed to be.
He was working the crescendo, the audience yelping with glee at some of his more extravagant figures when a challenger appeared across the ever-growing circle of his audience. The Kid. The old man tapped into his battle-tested arsenal and stepped up the frantic extremity of his movements.
The kid responded in kind.
His opponent’s youthful flow made up for his lack of form, and the audience swayed in their fickle opinion, cheering the kid on. The focus shifted from one to the other, and the sea produced a wave of phones. They lit the dark center of the circle, this moment calling to them like nothing else they’d encountered that day.
The music rose, the ba-da-boom dropped for the grand finale, and the sea roiled deep within its depths. No longer opponents, they joined in the common cause. The last beats thrummed through the speakers, and the dancers stood triumphant in the center, arms extended beyond their reach, stretching to connect with the souls that shared their four dimensional space. Old and young came together, embracing in their triumph, entangled in the throng’s euphoria. They walked off the dance floor to a parting sea of fist bumps and pats on backs. Those who’d witnessed the spectacle desperate to share in their communal accomplishment.
“You were great, kid.” His aches returned, but could not wipe the smile off his face. The young man pulled his phone out of his pocket, notifications exploding all over his screen.
“So were you, old man.” The kid’s beaming face reflected his, until they stepped back into a carpeted world.
The old crone, still planted in her chair, looked him down with a sneer. “You should stop pretending you can match them. It’s time for us to sit.”
Stunned back into doubt by the agreeing nods at her flanks, he hesitated.
The kid stepped in, his phone a glowing shield. “Lady, If he’d been sitting, the world would have missed out on this.”
A finger swiped the screen, and the old man saw himself in the pixels, watched the number beside the little thumb grow. His moves were not the moves of the others on the dance floor, but his component parts were the culminating perfection of a lifetime of study. The fusion of his old rules and their new ones created a mirror the kid used to make something the world needed to see, something worthy of praise. The joy in the faces of the many drowned out the doubts of the few. He put a hand on the kid’s shoulder and sighed deep. The kid just nodded with the beat.
When the old crone shrivelled back into her chair, the old man grew into the memory of his broad shoulders and set his jaw.
He abandoned the tired table that had anchored him for far too long, and strutted back to the beat with the kid at his side.
About the Author – Marek Przemieniecki
Marek Przemieniecki is an immigrant who has spent his life giving suggestions on how to improve sentences, plots, and structures as a high school English teacher. Now he applies his own learning, writing stories that seek to find a bit of light in the darkness. His stories have been featured in several venues as he works on publishing his first novel. He lives in Toronto, Canada with his wife and two still-adorable children. Find him online @przemwrites and przemwrites.com.
Did you like this story by Marek Przemieniecki? Then you might also like:
To check out all the fiction available on Dreamers, visit our fiction section.
Like reading print publications? Consider subscribing to the Dreamers Magazine!