Brent told me outside the cafeteria that had no use for Jesus. He said that after consideration, he rejected the notion of substitutionary atonement. I thought that was ironic, for a Jew, since it was a Mosaic doctrine long before it was a Christian one, but I had to respect him for it. At least he had thought that far. Though we differed on that score, it did not keep us from getting Philly cheese steaks at a dive on M Street, or from dancing the rumba, the quickstep, and the mambo.
Ballroom dance practice took place on Wednesday nights in the Copley lounge. It was a smallish, oblong room wil columns ill-placed for dancing. The floor was old wood, honey-colored and buffed to a high sheen by the brushed, suede leather on the soles of the ladies' shoes.
Brent stood around 6'4". Four-inch heels and my best posture brought me level with his perfectly symmetrical chin.
We learned slowly. He liked to take big steps, and his feet, too, were big and square-toed and heavy. The women dancers learned faster than the men in general, feeling fewer impediments to the union of their bodies with an external influence. But the women, learning faster, wanted to lead. That was their trouble.
Brent and I were no exception. One-two-three-four, and start again, and again . . . and again. Brent was no help, making wisecracks in his lispish Castilian Spanish so that the instructor could not understand. It's hard to suppress a giggle and maintain correct posture ("Pretend you're carrying a heavy tray.") at the same time.
After a month, the men learned the steps. In another month, they, including Brent, began to learn to lead. They learned the circumference of our turns, the lengths of our arms, the accomodations of stature and momentum. Above all, they learned to keep the tension. That was the moment of revelation. The gentleman leads and the lady follows, by the setting their weight each the other's in precise counterbalance. The sign of a weak lead wass that he pushed his partner around the floor like a vacuum cleaner. A good lead had only to touch an elbow, vary by slight degree the pressure in his palms, and her steps were known to her like a sudden flash of intuition.
In October we went to the Ohio Star Ball in Cleveland. We went on a big bus, me and Brent and Pola and Meg and Thuy and a dozen others. Thuy's family was from Viet Nam, and she had been raised since adolesence in Los Angeles. She was impossibly compact. The cha-cha came hard for her, but she moved like a swan in the waltz. At a rest stop in Ohio, she stepped off the bus and put up her gloved hand to feel the first snowflakes of her life lap against her.
The competitions were unpleasant. The make-up was garish, the application of hairgel an impossible ordeal. But I loved the Jack-and-jill dances. Every now then, I got an experienced dancer, a really good lead. A good lead makes you a better dancer.
There's probably plenty of earthbound applications for this, something about men and woman that is obvious, but it sets me to thinking about God. About why His words sometimes seem like incomplete directive. About why we are left in positions of great paradox and unbearable tension. Perhaps He is just a really good lead.
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