Last summer, my family and I spent a week in Vermont at the kind of family resort that promises fun for all ages. It delivered: while our three kids participated in wholesome summertime activities with their peers, my husband, Ken, and I had time to reconnect during long bike rides, canoe trips and swims in the lake. Each night, the resort offered after-hours activities as well, most of which did not appeal to me. Bonfire and sing-along? Too hokey. Trivia night? Too geriatric. But Thursday night’s offering seemed perfect: Dance night with DJ.
I love to dance. Years of childhood ballet have not translated into a lifetime of grace, but give me a few drinks, blast some pop music and I’m unstoppable. At 40, the opportunities for dancing are few and far between. Before last summer, the last time I had been dancing was four years earlier at a friend’s wedding. I danced non-stop, sweating through my dress, pausing only when the DJ took a break for the father-of-the-bride’s toast. So any chance to dance, I’ve come to learn, should not be passed up.
Ken and I reserved a babysitter, put our kids to bed and headed up to the inn. The breakfast room had been transformed into a dance floor, complete with disco ball, strobe light and a mountain of sound equipment. When we entered the room, a few guests were taking salsa lessons. I sipped my maple mojito through a skinny straw and watched the sad scene unfold.
“What’s up with the salsa lesson?” I asked Ken. “I thought we were here to dance.”
“Calm down. There’s the DJ,” he said. “Let’s just wait.” He patted my hand, trying to keep my tantrum at bay.
Dancing, or the promise of dancing, can bring out my nasty side. At my five-year college reunion, fueled by several foamy beers and the crush of alumnae dancing around me, I had yelled at the college students sneaking some grooves on the tiny square of dance floor set up on the grass for the class of 1995.
“This is our dance floor, yo!” I’d hissed at them. “Get the hell off!” I couldn’t stand the thought of them dancing every weekend the way I used to, traipsing from frat house to frat house in search of the best crowd and the best tunes, while we returned to entry-level jobs in the city, our weekends spent in overpriced bars with nary a DJ in sight.
The salsa lesson ended and the dance floor cleared out. The DJ started spinning some tunes, mostly unoffensive, generic stuff: “I Will Survive,” “Holiday,” “Dancing Queen.” All in all, pretty uninspiring. The crowd apparently agreed with me: fifteen minutes in, the dance floor was pretty much empty.
“This is lame,” I said to Ken, eyeing the middle-aged crowd around us.
“Do you want to go?” he asked.
Before I could answer, the doors opened and a crowd of staff members entered the room. This could get interesting, I thought and ordered another drink.
The young men and women, released from their day jobs as camp counselors, waitresses and Zumba instructors, sauntered in in groups of four and five. Having shed the cocoon of their uniforms, they emerged like butterflies in low-slung jeans and baby doll dresses. All week long, I had been obsessed with the group of young people who kept the resort running. I invented fictions about them–love triangles, bitter breakups, kinky sexting. Each morning, as I biked from our cabin to the resort’s main buildings, I passed by the staff’s residence. It was a shabby Victorian-style house covered in layers of colorful paint and strung with Christmas lights. I could only imagine the amount of screwing that took place inside.
The staff greeted each other, some affectionately, others nonchalantly. I recognized the waitress who served us breakfast each morning standing on the periphery of a loud group of girls. She was wearing a brightly patterned dress, high-waisted and billowy around the hip. Looking around at the other girls, I noticed they were all wearing different versions of the same dress regardless of how it suited their figures. They were too young to know how to dress for their bodies, but young enough for it not to matter.
Watching them, I couldn’t help wondering how I had entered this other group, parents–or “guests” as we were known–when deep down I felt like I should be hanging out with the the staff. Why had I never had a job like this instead of wasting my college summers working at internships in fields I’d never entered? They got to go dancing.
As Ken and I sipped our drinks and grooved half-heartedly to ABBA and Van Morrison, the staff played out their own dramas, oblivious to us. My eyes tried to meet theirs across the dark room. Can’t you see? I tried to telegraph. I’m really one of you.
After a few more songs, I walked over to the DJ.
“Are you going to play anything more current? Like Katy Perry or Rihanna?” I asked the boy-girl pair parked behind the turntable.
“Yeah,” the girl answered flatly. “We usually play the older stuff first for the older crowd and then we’ll start with something more modern.”
My eyes met hers straight on. “Well, let’s hit it NOW, O.K.?” I think I kind of yelled.
Seconds later, Macklemore’s “Can’t Hold Us” exploded through the speakers. I ran out onto the dance floor, pumping my hands toward the roof as the chorus rang out. I twisted and grooved through the twangy horns section and stamped my feet during the final na-na-nas. The music continued, the songs of summer streaming out one after the other. I knew them all from listening to the radio in my minivan. I closed my eyes and felt the music pulse through my body. I shouted along with lyrics that had nothing to do with my life anymore, stories of love and breakups played out in school yards and on city streets.
After awhile, I gave Ken the O.K. to head over to the bar, and I moved around, unfettered, looking for a new group to join. I found our waitress dancing with a group of her friends. Their circle opened slightly and I poked my way in.
Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines,” the biggest hit of the summer, came on and the crowd screamed. It was a song my kids and I had hooted along to during our morning ride to day camp. Now I mouthed the lyrics seductively in the dark: I know you want it… I know you want it. The girls and I swiveled our hips and shimmied our shoulders, shouting when Robin anointed us all “the hottest bitch in this place.”
Wanting to end the night on a high, I slipped off the dance floor as soon as the song ended. But before I left, I grabbed the waitress’s arm and pulled her toward me.
“Listen to me,” I said, my lips close to her ear. “Go dancing every night you can, OK? And just, like, own it. Do you get me?”
And then I was gone, pulling Ken away from the bar and out into the summer night.
“Did you have fun?” he asked as we walked along the dark path back to our cabin.
“It was good,” I said, yawning. Nestling closer to him, I remembered that all I’d ever wanted during the crazy nights of my youth was a man to walk home with afterwards. All the primping and preening, the sexy moves on the dance floor, all of it had been in pursuit of the life I had now. The moon rose high in the nearly black sky, crystalline stars stretching on as far as I could see.
Daisy Alpert Florin is a freelance writer. She lives and works in Connecticut.
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