On his Toes
I had my first dance, my feet on his toes, my body held up by the lift of his hands under my shoulders. Charcoal suit. Crisp white shirt and gold cufflinks.
Photo by Radek Skrzypczak on Unsplash
Neck craned up as he twirled us around and around, my dress following, half a beat later, the folds of navy blue and little white dots trailing. Princesse: the name of the shop in Brussels where he bought such dresses for me - by the suitcase. Also, the name he gave me; one every granddaughter should hear.
I probably had my first dance to a Sinatra or Aznavour. I cannot recall; other dances followed, not all on my grandfather’s toes. I had some, my feet gliding on air, my arms around my father’s neck, spinning so fast I was sure I would fly. My shrieks and laughs trailed us then. Others I had, perched on his shoulders, making a mess of his hair. The back of his neck, clean fold of his collar. The freckle above it. Pine scent.
Others were quieter, asleep in his arms, my legs wrapped around his waist. Warmth through his soft sweater. Cashmere. His moustache prickly on my cheek.
A little later, he danced me to Armstrong, Ellington, Coltrane, and Cole. Tulle dresses. Montand, Brassens, Brel, Dassin. My first heels. Dalida, Piaf, and Greco. My feet were firm on the floor by then, my chin rising slowly to his, my knowledge of the words good enough to know he made them up as he went.
And the steps too. Not that I cared. He led, I followed, lucky girl. The luckiest, I still think, in the world. Polished brown leather Oxfords.
I got luckier. I had no débutante’s bal or quinceanera. Instead, I had two younger brothers. Baby shampoo, talcum powder. We danced. Sometimes, but not always, to music. Sometimes to the sound of my voice. We danced to bedtime and through tears of cuts and scrapes. Nutella stains on pyjamas.
This time, the roles were reversed; their feet were the ones floating on air, their heads drooping heavy on my shoulder, their hearts beating on my chest. A little later, they stood on my toes. Feather light little foam shoes. That did not last; soon I had to stand on mine in order to reach their necks. They still stepped on my toes, but with muddy, bulky sneakers by then.
I danced with other boys to other songs. They came and went like perfumes. Then I danced with one whose arms fit just right around my waist. His smell lingered. White and blue fine checker shirt, V-neck sweater. His chin was just the right height. We had our first dance inside a nightclub, hiding under a table.
Our second, outside a bar and in plain sight under a streetlamp. The notes and yellow light spilled onto the street and into the parking lot. We danced on subway platforms, in subways, past subway stops, on subway rides back. Then we danced across oceans and time zones, through security to departure gates.
He danced me to our wedding, where my father danced me down the aisle. We danced under showers of rice and petals. Silver cuff links then. Now I sometimes dance in the kitchen as I wait for the water to boil. Then I make coffee for two, lucky girl. The luckiest girl in the world.
To have been danced for twenty-eight years. To have been loved just as long. To have had the right to step on the toes of such men and be swirled around.
To every one of them: thank you for dancing me from one moment to the next. And thank you for the dances themselves; those moments were my favourite.