Some 70 or 80 students are ranged across a polished wood floor, divided by gender. Three uneven rows of guys on one side face three crooked rows of girls on the other. A physical education teacher stands in the middle, issuing instructions.
“One, two, three, start. Step, together, step, touch; step, together, step, touch.”
The rows move in awkward unison, this way, then that way. Some of the students are serious and focused, some are stiff and self-conscious, some are obviously enjoying themselves, and some are chattering to their neighbors instead of paying attention.
“Okay, at an angle. Step, together, step, touch.”
Some of the students move forward and to the right, others move backward and to the left, and others, having missed the instruction altogether, keep going from side to side. There are a few minor collisions and several near-misses.
No, this isn’t junior high basketball practice, drill team tryouts, or marching band. It’s dance class. The students are adults who are here by choice (in some cases, admittedly, their partner’s choice). They’re learning the foxtrot.
The instructor has been teaching people in Rapid City to dance for more than 25 years. His day job, teaching physical education to elementary students, has given him plenty of practice at getting large groups with short attention spans to line up and listen. He focuses on the basics, having students practice the step over and over and over, until even the most nervous beginners can do it without thinking.
Well, most of them, anyway. I danced with one man, an hour into the class, for whom the foxtrot was still a complete mystery. Maybe he’ll get it next week when we review.
All this drilling might sound incredibly boring for anyone who already knows how to dance. Yet it isn’t. I’ve known how to foxtrot ever since I learned it from my father, practicing in the dining room, when I was 12 or 13. I could do “step, together, step, touch” in my sleep—and for all I know, maybe I do. But dance lessons are still fun. Think low-impact aerobics class, only with music by George Strait and the chance to hold hands with a couple of dozen members of the opposite sex.
Obviously, I’m not the only one who feels this way. I’ve taken this dance class twice before, at least 12 years ago. Last night, I recognized probably a dozen people who were in the classes then. They’re smooth, skilled dancers, but they keep showing up—to help the beginners, to spend time with friends, to get some exercise, and to have fun. Their hair might be grayer, and a few of them move a little more slowly. Not one of them, though, is overweight.
It isn’t exactly “Dancing With the Stars.” No one is doing elaborate routines, and the costumes run more to cowboy boots and blue jeans than skimpy silk gowns and tuxes. But it’s great exercise and great fun.
Next week, the waltz.