I first noticed Anita — really noticed her — at a church Valentine’s Day dance.
OK, so I wasn’t the only one. Pretty much every other guy at the dance noticed her, too. How could you not? She was amazing.
And not just because she was beautiful, with her shoulder-length blonde hair, her larger-than-life eyes and her stunning smile. She was also an amazing dancer. It was 1977, and disco was king. That meant you couldn’t get away with just standing in the middle of the floor and swaying back and forth like I had always done during the “Light My Fire,” “Born to be Wild,” “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida” days of rock ’n’ roll. With disco, you had to know steps and moves, and you had to have a partner who could do them with you.
Oh, and you had to wear polyester.
Lots and lots of polyester.
Which is why Anita attracted so much attention at that Valentine’s Day dance. She was a Dancing Queen. She knew all the steps, and she had all the right moves. She could follow your lead, or she could lead out and make it feel like she was following.
And boy, did she make polyester look good.
I, on the other hand, was a dancing fool. It wasn’t that I couldn’t dance well; I couldn’t dance — period. While I had learned to more or less bluff my way through the tribal ambiguity of rockin’ and rollin’, there was no bluffing the Latin Hustle. Or even the Disco Duck. Either you knew it or you didn’t. And if you didn’t … well, you looked pretty foolish out there.
Or in my case, more foolish than usual.
Still, I was determined to dance with Anita even though, to tell the truth, I didn’t really know her that well. I had seen her at church, and admired her. She seemed bright and buoyant and charming. But on the dance floor she was absolutely mesmerizing. Dancing wasn’t just a thing that she could do — it was in her heart and soul, and the joy of it radiated from her with every slide, stomp and shuffle.
Watching her dance was spellbinding. Hypnotic. Enchanting. I couldn’t take my eyes off of her. But every time I tried to catch up with her so I could ask her to dance, some adolescent John Travolta would cut in front of me, resplendent in his artificial fabrics, busting disco moves like Arthur Murray in gold chains and stacked heels.
It wasn’t until the second-to-last dance of the evening that I was finally able to muscle in for a dance with the Dancing Queen, and I made the most of it. I summoned every bit of dancing know-how I could muster, gleaned from watching “American Bandstand,” “The Midnight Special” and “The Lawrence Welk Show” (hey, Bobby and Cissy could Boogaloo with the best of them). Although my Hustle was more Roamin’ than Latin, we somehow managed to make it to the end of our dance in the same place at the same time, and with her toes more or less intact.
Fewer than six months later, we were married.
I won’t bore you with all of the details about how we transitioned from those first stumbling, bumbling steps on the dance floor to ecstatic, light-hearted steps down the matrimonial aisle. It doesn’t really matter. What matters is the simple fact that those first steps were taken. No matter how awkward and insecure they may have been, they were significant first steps toward something remarkable.
That’s usually the way it is with first steps. Whether we’re learning to walk or learning to run a business, starting a new habit or breaking an old one, taking a weekend getaway or the journey of a lifetime, no steps are more important than the first ones. They may be embarrassingly weak, inept or even painful. But they are steps that must be taken.
Especially if you hope to catch a queen.
To read more by Joseph B. Walker, visit josephbwalker.com. Twitter: JoeWalkerSr