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On assignment: Ballroom Dancing 101

“Please teacher, teach me something.
Nice teacher, teach me something.
I’m as awkward as a camel.
That’s not the worst.
My two feet haven’t met yet.
But I’ll be teacher’s pet yet,
‘Cause I’m going to learn to dance or burst.”

Week One – I’m on assignment. I’m on the case. I’m on the job. I’m one with…Well. You get it. Anyway, I’m going to learn how to ballroom dance. Even if it kills me – or more likely – the person dancing with me. At the end of my one hour lesson, I want to look like Ginger Rogers, Cyd Charisse, and Leslie Caron all rolled into one. For those of you not in the know – those ladies were all dancing partners of Fred Astaire – who was a pretty good hoofer in his day – or in anyone else’s day.

I have been waiting all winter for the ballroom lessons to begin. My friend Harriet (that’s her in the cute skirt next to me) started taking lessons last year at this time and now she dances the Argentine Tango whenever she can and with whomever she can. She’ll dance by herself, if you put the music on. Heck I’ve seen her dance with no music. I’ve also seen her dance at a couple of benefit concerts and it looks like great fun. Just for the record – I do not intend to dance at benefit concerts, no matter how much arm twisting is involved.
The lesson is being held at Congress Hall, in the Ballroom. Tom Cupp is our instructor. He is a two-time American dance champion and as I walk into the ballroom, he is just finishing up with a private lesson. A tango lesson.

We start at precisely 7 PM. Boys on one side. Girls on the other side. See, I can do this ‘cause it’s just like jazzercise only with men.
Tom begins Lesson One. He’s saying something about beats and how they’re measured.

“Slow, quick, quick, slow.” That’s the Foxtrot. Easy enough.

“Guys lead with your left. Girls go back with the right. Girls stay on your toes or it’s your fault if you get stepped on. Guys walk through the girls. No sniffing around with the toes trying to figure out where you’re supposed to be.”

We’re going to learn the steps to three dances. The Fox Trot, the Waltz and the American Tango.

The Fox Trot is a box. Remember the box. Slow, quick, quick, slow in a box.

I am one with boxy Fox Trot. Slow, quick, quick, slow. Oh Gawd. People are pairing up – boy-girl. No, no. I can’t actually dance with someone. He’s not going to make me dance with strangers is he? Pleeease don’t make me dance with anyone.

I’ll back myself into the corner that way no one will see me. Oh no.

There’s a loose guy roaming around. Well, as it turns out I was married to the guy for about 15 or 20 years. OK. So he’s not a stranger. Still, I’m not ready for this. What? Yes. I know. It’s….ah… Something about quick, quick, slow, quick, quick, slow.

Whew.

We’re back to boys on one side. Girls on the other. Oh Gawd. I’m on the wrong side.

Now the waltz. One, two, three. One, two, three. Twirl. One, two, three. I’m twirling around, and twirling around. Hey? Nobody else is twirling.

At the end of the lesson I do not know how to dance like Ginger Rogers. So, I have to sign up for four more lessons. Then I’ll be able to dance like Ginger Rogers.

Week Two – This time, because of whatever, the ballroom is closed and we’re down in the Boiler Room. Oh No. We’re going to dance with partners the whole time practically. My first partner is Dan. Dan and I are having a little trouble mastering the backwards Fox Trot. I’m trying to follow – if I only knew which way I’m supposed to be going. Dan is trying to lead but seems to be a bit befuddled by the fact that my feet aren’t in the right place.

Tom calls for a switch. I dance with various people – Barry, Brian, Nick. They are all very good and I am – well – my feet are never really where their feet are. Why is that? Tom says he’s a good teacher and I believe him.

“This is like water,” he says. “Let it wash over you and I promise you you’ll get it.”

Nick is young, medium build and seems to know exactly what to do. He gives me a few tips. I’m sure one of them would be to quit sweating so profusely but he’s too polite for that.

“Put your left hand right here,” he says, pointing to his right bicep. “When that arm moves, you move. It’ll tell you where to move.”
Easy enough. We are doing a Waltz. I’m twirling. And…I don’t know where I am. I’ve either come around too slow or too fast but too something.

“Remember,” he says very patiently, “to count. One, two, three. One, two, three.”

I look Nick straight in the eye, and with all the sincerity I can muster say.

“I’m too nervous to count. I can’t count that high. And what number comes after one? Can you tell me my name? I can’t seem to remember it.”

Thank Gawd. The hour is up.

This is what I know. I am not Ginger Rogers. But like Arnold Schwarzenegger said in Terminator, “I’ll be back.”

Week Three – Dan doesn’t return. Is it something I said? I have worn my heels for tonight. And it’s a good thing too because we are learning new steps and Tom is cautioning us (the girls) on the way we look when we move.

“Girls. Move gracefully. Lose the Grand Canyon look. Legs together. Gliding, gliding, always gliding. Try it.”

“Susan.”

Me? Must be me. My name’s Susan and everyone is looking at me.

“Put your legs together. But, hey what are you doing Friday night?”

Why am I laughing? ‘Cause he’s funny that’s why and anyone who can make a joke like that and pull it off is ok in my book.

Legs together. Slow, quick, quick, slow.

I may have overcompensated with the legs together thing because Tom is laughing again.

“I have ruined dancing for Susan forever.”

Jack ends up being my partner for the backwards/sideways thing we’re doing. I like him because he’s not afraid to look down at his feet. See that way, we can try and figure this thing out.

By the way, I am still not Ginger Rogers.

Week Four – I am Ginger Rogers. I have figured out the secret to great dancing. What’s that you say?

Practice? No. Repetition? No. That’s just another word for practice.

Booze. Booze is the answer. Four drinks. Four drinks – a Vodka tonic, a martini, and two glasses of red wine. I dance like the wind. I can even tango.

I get a call from Tom the next day. I know why he’s calling. He sees potential in me and wants me to be his dance partner. My new career is launched. I’ll tell my boss tonight that I must give up my day job to concentrate on dancing.

“What’s that? I called you? Oh yeah. I had a few questions.”

The reason I called Tom was to ask him if tourists can plug into a lesson or two while they’re on vacation and the answer is yes.

FYI

You too can learn how to dance like me. Tom’s organizing a Rick’s Café theme night on most Tuesdays in the ballroom of Congress Hall during the months of July and August. Rick’s Café -You know. Casablanca? The 1942 movie? Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman. Anyway. These are kinds of dances they did then. Fox Trot, Waltz, Tango, Swing.

Also, Congress Hall is hosting the 1st Annual Summer Swing July 9. There’ll be dancin’, swingin’ and master classes. In the fall, Tom’s holding a Winter Wonderland Gala Nov. 26. That’ll be another whole weekend of dancing and master classes.

Now, if you’re looking for something special, he offers a Sunset Serenade. Listen, how cool is this? It’s a ½ hour lesson. He teaches the couple to waltz barefoot in the sand at sunset. And the package includes champagne, strawberries, chocolate, and, of course, sand and sunset.

He’s pretty flexible. He offers dance lessons to prospective brides and grooms so they can do some special moves at the reception. And he’ll come to the rehearsal dinner and give the bridal party some tips. Not to mention, he gives private lessons every Tuesday and Thursday. Now, he doesn’t have a web site yet poor thing – but give him a jingle if anything strikes your fancy at 609-884-1234.

Meanwhile, I leave you with a little clip from the 1936 movie “Swing Time”, starring – you guessed it – Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. The song is “Pick Yourself Up.” Music by Jerome Kern. Lyrics by Dorothy Fields.

FRED:
Please teacher, teach me something.
Nice teacher, teach me something.
I’m as awkward as a camel.
That’s not the worst.
My two feet haven’t met yet.
But I’ll be teacher’s pet yet,
‘Cause I’m going to learn to dance or burst.

GINGER:
Nothing’s impossible, I have found.
For when my chin is on the ground,
I pick myself up, dust myself off,
Start all over again.

Don’t lose your confidence if you slip.
Be grateful for a pleasant trip,
And pick yourself up; dust yourself off;
Start all over again.