Do you eat with your feet?

“Do you eat with your feet?” I asked my dance partner, a gentleman with whom I was foxtrotting, some years ago. I was in Las Vegas on assignment for VIA magazine, researching a short piece about the karaoke bars there. This one evening, I had found my way to a beautiful dance floor at one of the big old hotels on the Strip that featured a live big band. I calculated my partner to be about 90 because he had just pulled out a card that identified him as an Arthur Murray instructor in 1954. Still, he had an admirable frame and was pretty decent and steady. But as we danced to some great Glen Miller number, he barked instructions into my ear. It was annoying, distracting, and unnecessary.

I have not thought of this aged gent until last night here in Belmar, NJ. For fun I decided to drop in at one of the boardwalk pavilions where the sign said salsa and tango classes, $8. It turned out to be only salsa. I’m rusty at salsa, but can follow a good, clear lead. The class was very basic. But the setting was stupendous: big windows gave onto the broad sandy beach and the crashing waves. Sun lotioned skin of bronzed board walkers perfumed the air.  The magical smell of Jersey Shore food—clams, crabs, and other fruits of the sea—and the nearly full moon on the backs of every wave were part of the experience.

The teacher, whom I’ll call Farley, since I currently don’t know any Farleys, talked a lot and was difficult to understand (and I do speak Jersey-ese). He seemed compelled to recite his resume of dance over and over, how great he was, how bad most teachers were, ad nauseum. However, when it was my turn to dance with him, he led me well in the salsa basic—one, two, three, hold (or quick, quick, slow, if you prefer). He even complimented me. I said thank you.

All would have been fine and I might have returned next week. However, when the class ended, I asked him if he would dance one tango with me. He said yes. I asked, “Close embrace?” He replied, “No!” with such vehemence, I quickly explained, “Open embrace, or whatever you prefer is fine. I dance all styles of tango.” I had even brought a copy of my book to give him at the end of the class.

We never got there and we never danced tango.

We were doing one more salsa, and he found that indeed I could follow cross body leads and some other turns and more advanced material. Then, I missed one of his leads (possibly it was unclear, no matter). Well, that led to the next thirty minutes of his pontificating to me and the four other dancers who remained. More of his resume, how he danced in Germany where the best swing dancers are because of World War II, how I was a skilled dancer but I had “gaps,” subtext being: which he could probably fix at his school for $100/hour.

I changed my shoes and left while he was trying to teach the others about axis, or posture, but didn’t know those were the terms for it—he was off on some tangential golf metaphor that made no sense. I politely thanked Farley for the class.

So I thought of the gent in Las Vegas. When I asked if he eats with his feet, he said “No, why do you ask?”

“Because you dance with your mouth.” OK, I was channeling my inner smart-ass Jersey girl. Most of the time I tawk nice.

I only highlight last night’s teacher because, while he is an archetype I have met before, he is rare. I have been blessed with so many good teachers. The first mark of a good teacher? She/he doesn’t harangue you during your class time with her/his resume. The mark of a great teacher? True humility.

Farley, a self-described “dance freak,” may well know a lot about many dances. But he is that “expert” who is actually narrowed by his own “knowledge,” not broadened. He is stuck, rigid, and misses the real opportunity to just shut up and dance. Que lastima.


  1. Pj Schott says

    Good for you! This is why I teach my salsa students that it’s always the leader’s fault.

  2. Nice, Camille!