BECAUSE TOMORROW IS National Tap Dance Day, I’m thinking about my dance career, which happened in my head between 1983 and 1990, and was inspired in part by the movies Grease, Girls Just Want To Have Fun, and Foot Loose. My dance fantasies began in nursery school when we were learning to square dance and I daydreamed about dosado’ing with one of my classmates who wore handsome blue corduroy pants. The following year, in kindergarten, I developed a crush on another classmate, and from ages five to eleven, invented movies in my head that involved meeting him in the field of our elementary school, where we would dance like John Travolta and Olivia Newton John.
After second grade, I switched schools and we no longer saw each other, but each year, the fantasies about this boy I didn’t even know inched closer and closer to romantic—in fourth grade, I imagined that we hugged; in fifth grade, that he kissed me on the cheek; in sixth grade, that he gave me a bracelet made of silver stars of David and announced his conversion to Judaism. “Now we can get married,” he told me in my mind, “because we’re both Jewish.”
With each passing year, our costumes grew increasingly elaborate. By sixth grade, we were meeting on that field wearing matching tight black shorts and tight black T-shirts. On my T-shirt, diamond rhinestones spelled GIRL; on his, BOY. Why I made this Catholic ten-year-old a closeted gay dancing Jew, I cannot say. A couple of decades later, I live in one of the gayest neighborhoods in the world, and as I walk daily past male dance clubs, their doors decorated with rainbow flags, I sense not so much as a stirring in my loins.
And yet. I’ve always loved dancing men.
At a wedding a few years ago, I danced the night away with the one man in the room who wasn’t even a guest—the bride and groom’s choreographer (that was the same wedding where I learned that, sometimes, brides and grooms hire choreographers). In fact, I always find the best dancer in the room and make him dance with me. And then I love him a little. When I took salsa classes, I forced the teacher to become my partner.
I guess I’m obligated to come clean here about my own dancing: It’s, you know, nothing to write home about. Like, terrible. Like, my salsa teacher tried to escape me.
Anyway, when I was twenty years old and living in Jerusalem, and my friends and I went to the Sinai for the weekend, we wound up one night at an outdoor dance club where I saw a beautiful dark-skinned man dancing like a professional. I set my sights on him. Proverbially, I dressed him in a rhinestone-studded “Boy” shirt and made him mine. Then I danced over to him and struck up a conversation. I’d assumed he was Israeli, but when he spoke, his English was unaccented. He was an American living in Tel Aviv.
“How did you learn to dance so well?” I asked, positioning myself so he would have to twirl me. And then, dip me.
“I just love to dance!” he said, his mouth frozen in a perma-smile. “I always have. I used to be a go-go dancer. I danced in a cage at a club.”
Because this guy had some serious moves, I did not let my brain whisper, “gay.” Besides, I always assume that the best dancer in the room is just as attracted to me as I am to him. And why not? Dancing with a great dancer transforms me; I become Janie from Girls Just Want To Have Fun—previously inhibited on the dance floor not by lack of skill, but by a strict military father. With the right partner, I can finally let loose.
The cage dancer and I danced for hours, until my friends dispersed, the crowd thinned out, and there was nothing left to do but head down to the beach together and make out. Except he didn’t really want to make out with me. I mean, we made out, but he displayed a profound lack of enthusiasm—I think he kept his hands in his pockets—and his perma-smile vanished. The whole time, he seemed to have somewhere to go. Which he couldn’t have because there was nothing to do on the Sinai besides ride a camel or buy pants that made you look like a genie, neither of which was an option at four in the morning.
I’m not one of those women who thinks every guy who’s not interested in her is gay. Well, maybe I am one of those women.
Whatever. The point is, the next morning, I learned that the dancer and I had a friend in common, so my friends and his friends ate breakfast in a big group on the beach. And then someone mentioned that the dancer and I had stayed up all night together, and his friends scratched their heads. “But…why?” they asked. “He’s gay.” The dancer wouldn’t look at me. And I had to admit to myself that I had sought out the dancing Jew of my prepubescent fantasies and declared our feelings mutual. Maybe, all these years after elementary school, I still needed to work on distinguishing real from pretend.
Recently, I made my little nieces watch Girls Just Want To Have Fun. I hadn’t seen it since childhood, and I was surprised by the effect it still had on me—the goose bumps that spread over my scalp during the montage, when Janie and Jeff do back handsprings down the hill. I sighed as they danced together in silhouette. As they appeared on stage in glittery costumes. As she ran to him and he caught her, and hoisted her over his head.
My nieces weren’t interested. “This is boring,” they agreed. They wanted to play McDonald’s.
They were right. Just because two people dance together doesn’t mean they love each other. Girls Just Want To Have Fun is far less relevant to real life than, say, McDonald’s. So I turned it off.
I mean, I waited until the credits rolled. But then I totally turned it off.