dancing the blues

The songs have been bluesy and slow so far, dumdeedumdeedumdeedum; that laggy sultry rhythm that hangs in the air and drips from our bodies. In the winter, a basement somewhere can feel like the center of the earth.

“What is blues dancing like,” my friends sometimes ask when it gets mentioned.

“I don’t know how to describe it, you just have to do it,” I respond.

The band is about to play the last live song.

T. jumps off the stage after playing the harmonica for the previous set and finds me at the back of the room. I’m trying to cool off, is it even winter time? In that room, no one can tell. Time stops, weather ceases to exist. After he takes my hand, just our luck: the band plays the first few notes of the fastest song they’ve played all night.

“Do you dance balboa,” he shouts over the rapid brmbrmbrm-ing of the drums. I yell back my signature answer, “Um, I have before… I think?” with a sidelong glance that means, “No, I have no idea how to dance balboa,” but he’s already started hopping around with his arms around me. Immediately I feel overheated; at once anxious yet also electrified about how quickly I need to follow his feet.

We are whirling now in feverish half-circles. Among the things you learn later in life: one day, you will finally have danced in so many different people’s arms that you will no longer feel panic at not knowing the steps. Just a lot of sweat from the movement. I don’t even know what beat we’re stepping on but the turns are fast and I can’t think about anything except speed and breathing fast enough to keep up. The room is orange, afire with heat and beat. I’m committing the often-warned-against sin of looking at the ground while flying.

He is cheerful at my frenzy and relents over the music, “Okay, okay, we can dance the whole notes,” and suddenly his embrace stills and the air flattens out like the Mississippi river photographed from afar. I’m riding the whole notes, I’m swimming in my uncertainty and delight ― the steps like taffy now.

It’s humid against the stage. I feel myself wanting to dance fast again, I’m always wanting more of the thing I just had, the thing I didn’t think I could take more of. Like sweetness, like direct sunlight, like the break-your-heart kind of love. But he is already pulling me back into the basic blues step, dumdeedumdeedum and I’m swaying again, for once not keeping track of time. In blues dancing, they always dip you at the end. If they don’t know when the song is ending, they keep dipping you until the last note sounds.

“Aren’t you afraid of falling,” my friends say.

“Aren’t you afraid of never having the chance to fall,” I respond.

Ten minutes later I’m going home, I’m walking west on 14th street, the cold hitting my skin and reminding me what life feels like. I don’t even put my coat on, am I even from Texas anymore? I blow my breath into the air, watching it twist and rise in the wind, balboa-ing into the sky.

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