The Lovers' Dance

As a boy I was introduced to the polka. My intoxicated aunts, uncles, and cousins stomped across the floor. Some more eloquently than others, but always with an exclamation point on the third beat. My aunts would pick me up and drag me across the floor and we bumped shoulders with my smoke-cloaked uncles who had come inside as the Polish music took over from the “dance music” of the day. A flash of white and a laughing groom would flit past from time to time. They could not be happier as they were passed from family member to family member and eventually met one another with a stomp and a kiss.

I remember my Father breaking my Mother’s toe doing the polka. I was there when it happened and when they removed the stitches that reattached her toenail. She still dances with my father though. It is because they know, what twenty-some weddings have taught me: the polka is the dance of love.

When I was a child, I was world-famous for my “butt dance.” My world at that point in time was my family, so if you haven’t heard of it, you are not necessarily out of touch. I performed at family gatherings aggressively shaking my butt and backing it up into the face of my crowd. I was a brazen youth with no regard for shame or pride. I danced the butt dance; it was a simple truth that I lived by. Like all children though, I became a teen, and with my cracking voice came the destabilizing of my confidence and my movement to the edge of the dance floor and then to the chairs alongside it. I watched my aunts and uncles swing by and ran away from my mother and cousins who tried to show me what I was missing out on. I tried to hide behind my uncles who grabbed drinks at the bar, but puberty pushed my baby face above their shoulders and then their heads. I was a skinny pole afraid to dance the polka. But then I went to college.

In college I learned that standing on the sideline of the dance floor was a great way to guarantee talking to your other friend who doesn’t dance the whole night. This realization along with the easy procurement of liquid courage coaxed me off of the sidelines – first dancing in circles of friends, but eventually wooing ladies with the two swing-dance moves that every freshmen at Notre Dame was taught by that-one-friend-who-went-to-one-or-two-nights-of-swing-club. Then something magical happened at the end of freshman year. In a drunken stupor my feet rediscovered a long-lost pattern, leading my newly met partner along. I was rewarded with a sweaty kiss: I had a move.

While my peers relied on the steady thumping rhythm of the bass to guide them through their dancing, I threw caution to the wind and rhythm to the curb. The 1-2-3 of the polka did not bend to the music we listened too – it freed us from it as we stomped madly around the room arm in arm. It was the rhythm of an arrhythmic heart in love: beating, beating, and thumping in a cardiologist-concerning romp. It was this dance that led me to my wife.

It was August of my Sophomore year in the mostly cleared out living room of a rented college home. It was scarred by a decade of collegiate abuse – proud battle scars. In the midst of the sweat and the booze appeared an angelic figure in shorts and high rain boots. She was blonde, well-spoken, and her laugh carried out over the party because it was pure, not like the high-pitched cackling of the girls who were seeking attention. I needed to dance with her. This was the height of my confidence and dancing ability, and I was successfully polkaing across the floor with her before you could say “Natty Light and a plate of pierogis, please.” It was going perfectly. Her face lit up with a smile as she learned to stomp along with me. We transitioned to a more conventional style of dance as the music slowed... I spun her... then pulled her close... and went for the kiss.... but my lips met air. It took my intoxicated brain a few moments to understand what had happened and months to reconcile with my failure. A tall blonde girl was leading the woman of my dreams away. I went to find another beer.

A few months later I was teaching the tall blonde protector to polka, and four and half years later I proposed to her. I credit the polka.

This August we were married and danced our first dance in front of our friends in family as a married couple. Our second first dance though, was just as memorable as we stomped around the dance floor, surrounded by my aunts, uncles, and cousins with a white dress on the love of my life and a fat smile on my face.