The Dance Professor

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Romance  |  House: Booksie Classic
Three years after a tragic accident in his life, a man sits on a stage, remembering the decade he spent with his late ballroom dance partner, Karen. He recounts from the moment they first met, to the moment of her death, to an invisible audience--remembering every emotion of that night.

Submitted: March 14, 2011

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Submitted: March 14, 2011



On a dimly lit stage in a large auditorium, a single man turns to a boombox. Inserting a CD, a soft, rhythmic tune emits from the device. The man looks around, as if making sure that no one was watching. He begins to dance to the rhythm of the music—a four-step routine, swaying his hips from side to side as he dances. Holding his arms outward—his left arm raised high and his right arm waist-level, he appears to be dancing with an imaginary partner. As he slowly turns, he notices someone watching in the distance.

Oh! Pardon the atrocity.
Seeing that the stranger is looking for an explanation, he talks further.
Bachata. It’s a Dominican dance that looks absolutely elegant when it’s executed perfectly. And what you just saw was NOT executed perfectly…It also works better with two people.
Sitting down on the stage, the man appears to be reminiscing as he tells his story to the stranger.
I love ballroom dancing, in case you couldn’t tell. Well, the bachata isn’t really a ballroom dance, per se, but still I love ballroom dancing. I suppose it first started at my senior prom, when I was…forced to slow dance with my date. I had never danced before that, which showed strongly. The next morning, my prom date called to tell me that she had bruises the size of baseballs on her feet.
After the dance, I noticed a girl standing off in the corner, wearing a long, beautiful, silky red dress. When my date went to get some ice for her throbbing feet, I walked over to her and introduced myself. She said her name was Karen. She also laughed, and said that I was a terrible dancer. Tonight, seeing you come in to the auditorium, watching me dance—it reminds me of that moment when I first met Karen, of the times that we spent together after that…that we can no longer spend together…and I sit here, remembering.
By this time, the stranger has left, but the man still sits, talking to an invisible audience he imagines in the seats in front of him.
Now, Karen’s and my story isn’t the most glorious ballroom dancing story, but nevertheless it is an interesting one. We met each other a couple of times in the hallways after prom, and she introduced me to ballroom dancing, claiming that she would teach me the ways to be a better dancer. And she did. Well, I improved at least. After we graduated from high school, our college lives got in the way of our dancing, but we still managed to take first place at a couple of amateur competitions.
In 2003—about three years after Karen and I graduated from Arizona State University with a degree in dance instruction—we opened up our own little dance school in New York City called The Dance Teachers. Silly title, I know, but we could not come up with anything better. Since my last name was impossible to pronounce, our students called me Professor Lionel, and they called Karen, Professor Karen. Eventually, we changed the name of our school to The Dance Professors. I know, it’s still a cheesy name, but we liked the ring of it. It sounded like an old 1940s movie, where the two leads would get on stage, dancing the night away to beautiful ballroom dance music.
The first couple of months were rough. We didn’t get many students, since there were so many other dance schools around, and we could barely pay the lease on our section of the building. We rented apartments next door to each other on Forty-Fourth Street—just two blocks away from the school—but soon had to move to a cheaper complex, because of the tight money, but we managed.
In our third month in New York, Karen auditioned to be one of the background dancers in the Broadway version of Wicked, right alongside Kristin Chenowith and Idina Menzel. Unfortunately, she didn’t make the cut, but was called to give a one-night performance when one of the dancers for the opening number was sick. After that, business boomed with our dance school. Who wouldn’t want to be taught how to ballroom dance by a real Broadway dancer?! Within a couple of months, we had to open up classes on the weekends to make room for all of the new sign-ups.
I had to laugh at the sudden turn of events. Here Karen was, a “legend”, and all because of a one-song appearance in a popular Broadway show.  And then, there was me—a decent ballroom dancer who suddenly had to look like he knew everything that he was doing. I amused myself quite often, wondering how many times I would fall or trip in front of the students, but I managed to never trip once.
Unfortunately, we had to close our business in September of 2004, when two of the regular Wicked dancers opened up their own school just across the street from ours. So, outshone by the Broadway lights, we moved back to Arizona, and re-opened The Dance Professors. I also applied for a part-time teaching job at the local community college to earn some extra money, and began teaching simple ballroom dance on the weekends during the end of the fall and beginning of the spring terms. I often recruited Karen to help me with the demonstrations—both for my own sake, that I didn’t have to dance with a student; and so that Karen could do most of the demonstrating while I explained the technique.
One Saturday afternoon, the president of the college called me into his office.
Professor Lionel acts out the entire scene as he explains it. It’s like he’s reliving the moment once again.
“Lionel,” the president said firmly.
That was all he said, and he just stared at me for a couple of moments. Not knowing what to do, I shifted nervously in my seat, and croaked out, “Yes?”
Suddenly, the president smiled. “I am very pleased with the work you have done here, Lionel. I have gotten several anonymous phone calls within the past couple of days, complimenting you and your dance classes with your girlfriend.”
“Oh, Karen? No, she’s not my girlfriend.”
The president raised up his eyebrow. “Really? Well, regardless, I have decided to offer you a teaching job this upcoming semester—a real teaching job to start in the fall.”
I was utterly shocked at this point. Incredibly speechless, I managed to mutter a “thank you,” shake his hand, and immediately called Karen to tell her the news.
“That’s great, Lionel,” she said. “But what about the school?”
I had forgotten about The Dance Professors entirely. I told Karen we’d work things out.
And we did. We had to cut our classes back to three days a week, since I taught three classes the other two days—with Karen’s help at times—but we were struggling financially once again. Without those five-day-a-week classes, we couldn’t always keep up on our rent, and we often had to borrow from friends and family members just to make ends meet.
In May of 2005—just seven months after we had moved back—we had to close The Dance Professors for the final time, because we were too far in debt. It took us another whole year just to pay off the debt. In July of 2006, Karen moved back to New York, and called me that August, telling me that she had landed a back-up dancer on an off-Broadway production of Hairspray.
Professor Lionel pulls out his wallet and, from it, a thin piece of paper. Unfolding it to four times it crumpled size, he shows his invisible audience a postcard.
Karen mailed me this post card for Christmas in 2006. It shows her in her Hairspray outfit…as well as a man dressed up as 1960s garb. On the card, she wrote, “Dear Lionel, Just wanted to wish you a Merry Christmas from New York. The man standing next to me is Randall, my boyfriend. He plays Link in our production of Hairspray. We’ve even started making plans to open up a dance school down the street from the theatre. Randall wanted to name it The Dance Professors too, but I told him that name was already taken. Well, the second Act is about to start, so I’d better get going. Best wishes this New Year! Karen. P.S. Randall and I are touring with Hairspray in January, and we’re set to perform in Phoenix on February 17th. I’ve sent you two front-row seats, so you can bring a special friend. With love.”
Professor Lionel holds the card tightly, putting it up to his chest. A tear starts to form in his left eye, but he quickly wipes it out of the way.
Boyfriend. It was in that moment that I realized that I had loved Karen. Not just that dance-partner love, but real love. Like I wanted to spend my life with her…love.
She was amazing in the show. She invited me to the after-show party the cast was hosting, but I kindly declined, telling her I had a lesson to prepare for my next class. I was lying, of course, but she didn’t know that. I just didn’t want to be around her when her—when Randall was around too.
More tears begin to form in his eyes, but Professor Lionel just lets them flow.
I should have gone to that party. Should have told her more than just “good-bye, I’ll come visit you over the summer.” I should have been there…kept her one last minute at the door, hugging her goodbye. That would have kept her from getting hit by that drunk driver. Every day, I think about Karen. I think about how I could have gone to that party, and maybe if I had that jerk—that…IDIOT—would have just driven by without hurting anyone.
Professor Lionel pauses for a couple of minutes, unable to speak as he remembers what happened on the night of the accident. Finally, he regains his composure and slowly begins to speak again.
I flew to New York the following week for the memorial service. I walked to our old school on Forty-Fourth street. Except now, it was no longer The Dance Professors, but Karendall’s School of Dance. Yeah, I laughed at the name, too. I walked inside, gave Randall my condolences, and turned to leave.
Randall stopped me, saying, “Why don’t you come teach our next class? I know Karen would have loved for you to.”
I apologized to him, saying I had to catch my flight. I had lied…again. My flight didn’t leave for another couple of days. I didn’t want to re-live the memories of Karen’s and my classes, for fear that I might fall in love with her even more.
That night, I watched the off-Broadway performance of Hairspray. Randall’s understudy played Link that night, for obvious reasons. It wasn’t the best Link I had ever seen, but nonetheless he did alright.
When I returned to my classes the following week, the obligatory swarm of questions came flooding in, like “Are you okay? What happened? Does this mean our performance isn’t today?”—to which I kindly replied, “No, it still is.”
But one particular student asked me, “Professor Lionel, why don’t you hold a dance show in honor of Karen? We could all participate in it, and there could be a slideshow with pictures of her to remember her by.”
And you know what? That statement really hit me. The fact that someone can be so compassionate towards another human being—it just gave me hope. I honestly could not do anything at that point, other than nod my head gently and dismiss class for the fourth week in a row.
You know, sometimes I catch myself dancing as if she were still here with me—something you witnessed today, and I apologize for that. Gosh, I am so embarrassed about that, but I miss her. And I know that she’s probably laughing at my less-than-perfect footwork, but I also know that she’s smiling down on me.
Tonight is February 18th, 2010. Yesterday was the three-year anniversary of Karen’s accident—and also our Third Annual Karen P. Lindben Memorial Dance Showcase. If Karen were still here, I know that she would be happy about the hard work my students have put in to remember her. Two of my students went so far as to prepare a bachata for the performance—something for which I don’t have either the time or the emotional strength to teach to my students. I must say, it was absolutely elegant. Executed perfectly.
By now, Professor Lionel fully realizes that he has been talking to himself as he remembers Karen’s story. Laughing to himself, he simply stands up and begins to walk towards stage right. Suddenly stopping, he looks at the place where he once sat—the only spot on the entire stage that remained lit. Looking up towards that lone spotlight, Professor Lionel mouths the words, “thank you,” and walks off-stage.

© Copyright 2018 Ryan Daniels. All rights reserved.

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