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DANCE AND THE CITY
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Dance and the City: Tonight I'm Gonna Party (Like I'll Always Be 29)

by Rachel Levin
September 23, 2004
Los Angeles, CA

Dance and the City: Tonight I'm Gonna Party (Like I'll Always Be 29)

Rachel Levin
September 23, 2004

My friend Leora, who is perpetually 39, once warned me against wasting too many years on trying to find a husband who dances.

"Men that dance are no good at relationships," she cautioned.

A masterful Israeli dancer, Leora has found most of her relationship partners over the years at Israeli dance events. Sexy and headstrong, the men that swept her off her feet would end up taking too much of a lead in her life. Either they were too controlling or their eyes had too much of a tendency to wander to other potential partners, just like on the dance floor.

"I wasted so much time on men who dance, and now I'm 39 and unmarried," she lamented.

On the eve of my 30th birthday, Leora's cautionary tale got me thinking, am I getting too old for all this dance business? Should I just grow up and put my energies into finding a partner who is more skilled at providing for a family than dipping me at the end of a salsa number?

Dance is what got me through my 20s, a decade filled with exploration and struggle for self-definition. If I felt lonely on a Friday night, I'd head to a dance class at the gym and instantly find community. Any dateless Saturday night could be remedied with a trip to a club for hip-hop, salsa, or samba, and instantly I had a date with a whole roomful of willing partners. After failed relationships, I often found that there was, in the words of Jamiroquai, "nothing left for me to do but dance." My choices about relationships were determined more by the beat of the clave than by the ticking of my biological clock.

Nostalgic for the carefree days of my 20s when I didn't have to think about all this biological clock-ticking as seriously, I decided to spend my last night as a person in her 20s doing the only thing that made sense: dancing. To ring out the old and bring in the new, I chose Mama Juana's, a salsa club in Studio City, for my destination. Though it's been open for over a year, I had yet to go check it out.

With hand-painted walls (including a mural of saucy Mama Juana herself in the ladies room) and wrought-iron chairs from Guadalajara, Mama Juana's is stylish and sparklingly clean. I instantly felt excited about my choice. I arrived almost at the end of the intermediate salsa lesson to find that there was a shortage of women partners in the group. So I jumped right in, trying to quickly absorb the combination that the rest of the group had been polishing for close to an hour. To my delight, Eriq La Salle (of "E.R." fame) was among the gentlemen taking the lesson.

Once the D.J. started, I went from partner to partner for three hours solid (sadly, Eriq was not among them). I was a fresh face in the crowd of regulars, and it seemed like everyone wanted to dance with the new girl. At that rate, bouncing from partner to partner, dancing is like speed dating. Each partner gets a five-minute assessment of the other, decides whether or not there's potential, and then moves on.

On a crowded dance floor, those five minutes speak volumes. The most advanced dancers there were definitely not the most fun to dance with. Their desire to show off their technical skill was ultimately selfish dancing. They didn't start slow to gauge my skill level. They danced so big and showy that they sent me crashing into other couples numerous times. By the time the three hours were over, I ended up with a blistered toe, a bruised foot, and a sore knee, courtesy of these aspiring Tony Maneras.

The most enjoyable partners weren't necessarily the most skilled. What they lacked in showmanship they made up for in courtesy. They held me close, challenged me without going beyond my own skill level, and seemed to care more about the connection between us than the steps themselves. It was these dancers who I returned to for three or more songs. And it was they who made me feel young, vibrant, beautiful, and forever 29.

I realized that even though the "fourth decade" is upon me, I don't have to grow out of my desire to dance. Whether or not a man is the best dancer is not the issue. It's looking out for the ones who don't take good care of me-either on or off the dance floor-that I've really got to put into practice in my 30s. My soles (and my soul) have been blistered one too many times in the past decade. I need someone who can offer me considerate partnership. And that's something I'll never grow out of.

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