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Love at First Waltz (by Cheryl Kollin)

The following article, which was published as “The Waltz: My Fateful Steps Toward the Perfect Partner,” ran in the Washington Post on Monday, February 13, 2006. It is reprinted here by permission of the author, my friend, Cheryl Kollin.

Do you believe in love at first sight? Well, what about love at first waltz? The first time I danced with him I felt a chemistry I'd never felt before on the dance floor. Did I fall in love with the man or did I fall in love with the waltz?

It was the last dance of the last evening of a three-day weekend nestled away at a rustic camp in Pennsylvania. The weekend was mostly filled with hiking during the day and contra dancing, a traditional line dance, at night. While it was fun to dance with most everyone, contra dance does not connect you with your partner, like a couples dance: swing, polka or especially waltz. Waltz is a romance of unspoken communication -- two people speaking with their bodies. The leader provides a strong frame and the follower matches body weight and balance. The music is romantic and styles vary from soft New England country and powerful Strauss to New Age. I became passionate about the waltz as I learned its steps and began to get its swirling, romantic feel.

It is tradition to end each night of contra dance with a waltz. Unfortunately, most contra dancers are not good waltzers, so I picked my last waltz partner carefully. From my perch in the balcony of the dance hall, I looked down on the crowd and noticed two men I had not danced with all weekend. One was tall and thin; the other was shorter and better proportioned to me. You can't tell who might be a good waltzer just by looking -- great waltzers come in all shapes, sizes and ages. I decided to choose the shorter man; even if he wasn't great, I figured I wouldn't get a stiff neck gazing into his eyes.

When the last contra dance ended, I made a beeline for the short guy and asked him to dance. We barely had time to exchange first names when the music began and we struck our position. I knew instantly that this man could waltz by the way he held me. As we took our first steps, I felt his clear lead. We smiled, realizing how well we spoke to each other without saying a word. Then he lifted his arm for a single turn and I spun effortlessly. He smiled again, and I could see his mind turning, thinking of fancier moves to try.

He spun me twice in an underarm turn, then in the opposite direction. We promenaded side by side, as if ice skating. Up went his arms into a difficult turn, and once again I followed his lead. His moves were more complicated than anything I had known, but I was excited by the challenge. We floated past the beginning waltzers who were tripping on their partners' feet. I felt this wonderful chemistry between us as we continued to glide and spin and twirl with grace around the floor.

As the music softly ended, we both beamed with delight. I was breathless with exhilaration. He had shown me how beautiful a dance the waltz can be.

Then the moment ended. The band said good night and packed up. My partner's friend beckoned to him and he was gone in a flash. My head was spinning with delight and my body tingled with electricity.

In the course of a song, you invite a stranger into your personal space, hold each other close, gaze into each other's eyes, and find a rhythm all your own. As soon as the music ends, you say thank you and just walk away. Naturally, there can be mixed signals between partners; is it a romantic overture or just harmless flirting? All of this body language can be very confusing. So was my experience love or dance lust?
After that winter weekend, my Fred Astaire and I began waltzing together, but we felt awkward talking; our conversations were strained. But as soon as we stopped talking and started to dance, we immediately connected -- and our bodies once again continued their beautiful conversation.

We continued to dance regularly for several months until one day my waltz partner wrote to say he could no longer dance with me. The dance chemistry was strong between us, but without being able to talk comfortably, he said he couldn't continue to see me. One night we met for dinner to sort this out, and we began to talk -- really talk. From that moment on, we've been catching up, learning to communicate with each other verbally and developing the intimacy our bodies already knew.

When I think back on our first dance together, I still don't know whether I first fell in love with the man or the dance. But it really doesn't matter. In the dance of love, the waltz became the key to my heart.

The author and her dance partner have been married for eight years and still love to waltz.
Copyright (c) 2006 by Cheryl Kollin. Reprinted by permission of the author.

As of March 2023, most group dancing in the Capital area is still suspended because of Covid.

Other dance pages on Pat's website

Dancing: A guide to the Capital area (Dancing in DC, Maryland, and Northern Virginia)
Ballroom Dance
Ceilis (Irish céilís and set dances)
Country Western Dancing
Folk dancing in the Capital area (Contra, English country, international, Irish, Israeli, Scandinavian, Scottish)
Love at First Waltz (by Cheryl Kollin)
Shuffling Off to Buffalo Gap Dance Camp (Pat McNees)
Swing, lindy, jitterbug, shag, and hand-dancing
Dating -- again! (that's extra, but often relevant -- dancing is one way to restore your social self, after separation)
Many of the stories by Pat McNees posted here appeared first in the Washington Post

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