Dancing With Dad

By Gail Rosen © 2013.

It had been a year since my father died. It was a rough year. He’d been sick for a long, long time and I found myself grieving not only his death, but all the years in which our relationship was limited and shaped by his illness. I found myself talking about him often, telling stories, trying to remember the stories of when he was healthy and strong. One of the stories I loved to tell was one I had told at his memorial service.

When I was little, Mom and Dad took ballroom dance lessons. Not because they wanted to be “ballroom dancers,” but so they would know how to dance enough to enjoy family weddings, bar and bat mitzvahs, and the occasional social event. My little brother and sister had to go to bed, but because I was the big – six years old – the babysitter was told that I could wait up for my parents.

When they came home, Dad would teach me the dance steps they learned. I would hold my Dad’s hands and I can still see my feet, in my fuzzy slippers, standing on top of his wingtips. That’s the way I wish every little girl could learn to dance, standing on her Daddy’s feet.

I don’t dance much now. The family events are fewer and parties are more often about sitting and chatting than dancing. But I am of a certain age, and so I go to the gym. I have to say I don’t love exercising, but I’m trying to be good and take some responsibility for my health so I go. I think the treadmill and other equipment is boring, so I take classes mostly – cardio, flexibility, strength training – but the one I mind the least is a Zumba class. It’s a dance exercise class based on world music, mostly Latin inspired, and there are moments when it’s even kind of fun. We dance the Salsa, the Merengue, Cumbia, Mambo and Rumba, sometimes tossing in a shimmy (not sure that’s technically Latin).

I was at a Tuesday morning Zumba class in April, and the instructor said, “Now we’ll dance a Cha Cha.” I was surprised because though we often do a Cha Cha step, it’s usually attached to a Mambo. We’d never done a whole Cha Cha dance. And then she said something else she had never said before.

“Everyone take a partner.”

In Zumba class we are in lines, all facing the mirrored wall, with the teacher in front. We all dance together in the same direction – all together forward, all together back, right, left. But she said, “Get a partner.” So everyone partnered up and I was odd woman out. We were an uneven number. The teacher looked at me.

“Come up here. You’ll dance with me.”

So I did. She started the Cha Cha. She went forward and I went back. She went back and I came forward. We both Cha Cha’d turning out to one side, then the other. And the whole time we were dancing, I was trying not to cry. It was the Cha Cha I remembered learning, standing on my father’s feet. It was the Cha Cha I most remembered dancing with my dad at all those weddings and bar mizvahs. I didn’t want to interrupt the class or make a scene, so I managed to keep it together and got through the dance.

When I got home that morning, I sat down at my computer to do some paperwork and pay some bills and I glanced at the date. It was April 23rd, my father’s birthday.

Now I don’t know what you believe. And actually, I’m not sure I can tell you what I believe. But I do know what it felt like. It felt like my Daddy was saying, “Hey, little girl, want to dance? Here’s a Cha Cha.”

Notes on the story:

This story is new but I have told it a few times in retirement facilities and in a pastoral care training on using stories in grief work. The story seems to introduces me in a way that helps people feel they know me and can trust me with their own stories. My experience is that it immediately evokes the stories of my listeners – stories of partners or parents, of dancing or of felt presence after the death of a loved one. That people so quickly want to share their own stories is a sign for me that the story “works.”

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