The music began to play and I stepped out on to the dance floor with Calloway. His first name was John, but he was known simply as Calloway. As a young, new dance teacher I didn’t know what to expect. I immediately realized two things. 1) He was smooth and a good dancer, and 2) he was tricky.
I was intimidated by this man who I would learn had been dancing longer than I’d been alive. I was taller than him by at least half a foot, I think he came up to my chin, and so I looked down on his salt and pepper head and smooth, brown, lined face. He asked me once if I’d guess his age and I tentatively guessed, based on his looks and long dance history, seventy? He laughed. No, he was eighty four. Eighty four and still dancing. Eighty four and, telling me I was pretty, still a flirt.
I have to really focus on following Calloway, he has his very own unique style. I’m tense, which doesn’t help, but I can’t relax yet. He’s tricky, remember? Calloway has an easy going manner, as though he’s never fazed, either on the dance floor or off. He weaves me in and out on the crowded floor and I wonder how he can not only see around me, but how he can execute breaks and turns that are just what’s needed, without hesitation.
To follow Calloway meant to let go of my pre-conceived notions of how the dance should go. That this step is A, B, and C, followed by that step. Calloway owned the dances, they didn’t own him. He’d mastered them, and so was able to dissect them and put them back together in new ways.
After my first dance with Calloway, I was stunned. I’d expected to be led in a beginner waltz by this slight black man, and ended up thinking I was in way over my head.
Each dance with Calloway helped me to become better. I practiced being more relaxed, yielding. I became less uneasy and less scared and I began to enjoy the partnership and the dance.
Calloway taught me more on the dance floor than anyone else probably. My ballroom dance teacher days are over, and I wonder what has become of Calloway. To me, he was a favorite and forgiving partner, and I’m grateful for his lessons to this teacher.