Dancing With Dad

By Gail Rosen © 2013.

It had been a year since my father died. It was a rough year. He’d been sick for a long, long time and I found myself grieving not only his death, but all the years in which our relationship was limited and shaped by his illness. I found myself talking about him often, telling stories, trying to remember the stories of when he was healthy and strong. One of the stories I loved to tell was one I had told at his memorial service.

When I was little, Mom and Dad took ballroom dance lessons. Not because they wanted to be “ballroom dancers,” but so they would know how to dance enough to enjoy family weddings, bar and bat mitzvahs, and the occasional social event. My little brother and sister had to go to bed, but because I was the big – six years old – the babysitter was told that I could wait up for my parents.

When they came home, Dad would teach me the dance steps they learned. I would hold my Dad’s hands and I can still see my feet, in my fuzzy slippers, standing on top of his wingtips. That’s the way I wish every little girl could learn to dance, standing on her Daddy’s feet.

I don’t dance much now. The family events are fewer and parties are more often about sitting and chatting than dancing. But I am of a certain age, and so I go to the gym. I have to say I don’t love exercising, but I’m trying to be good and take some responsibility for my health so I go. I think the treadmill and other equipment is boring, so I take classes mostly – cardio, flexibility, strength training – but the one I mind the least is a Zumba class. It’s a dance exercise class based on world music, mostly Latin inspired, and there are moments when it’s even kind of fun. We dance the Salsa, the Merengue, Cumbia, Mambo and Rumba, sometimes tossing in a shimmy (not sure that’s technically Latin).

I was at a Tuesday morning Zumba class in April, and the instructor said, “Now we’ll dance a Cha Cha.” I was surprised because though we often do a Cha Cha step, it’s usually attached to a Mambo. We’d never done a whole Cha Cha dance. And then she said something else she had never said before.

“Everyone take a partner.”

In Zumba class we are in lines, all facing the mirrored wall, with the teacher in front. We all dance together in the same direction – all together forward, all together back, right, left. But she said, “Get a partner.” So everyone partnered up and I was odd woman out. We were an uneven number. The teacher looked at me.

“Come up here. You’ll dance with me.”

So I did. She started the Cha Cha. She went forward and I went back. She went back and I came forward. We both Cha Cha’d turning out to one side, then the other. And the whole time we were dancing, I was trying not to cry. It was the Cha Cha I remembered learning, standing on my father’s feet. It was the Cha Cha I most remembered dancing with my dad at all those weddings and bar mizvahs. I didn’t want to interrupt the class or make a scene, so I managed to keep it together and got through the dance.

When I got home that morning, I sat down at my computer to do some paperwork and pay some bills and I glanced at the date. It was April 23rd, my father’s birthday.

Now I don’t know what you believe. And actually, I’m not sure I can tell you what I believe. But I do know what it felt like. It felt like my Daddy was saying, “Hey, little girl, want to dance? Here’s a Cha Cha.”

Notes on the story:

This story is new but I have told it a few times in retirement facilities and in a pastoral care training on using stories in grief work. The story seems to introduces me in a way that helps people feel they know me and can trust me with their own stories. My experience is that it immediately evokes the stories of my listeners – stories of partners or parents, of dancing or of felt presence after the death of a loved one. That people so quickly want to share their own stories is a sign for me that the story “works.”

16 thoughts on “Dancing With Dad”

  1. Gail,

    I loved your story. It was so poignant, so heartfelt, tears welled up in my eyes. You captured such precious moments that you shared with your father. My father, brother and I were very musical, and spent time after dinner most evenings playing a variety of instruments. Your story helped bring back some of those sessions to me. Thank you for sharing such a beautiful memory.

    And by the way, that thoughtful instructor is my daughter, Vicki Marcus. She sent me the link because she knew how much I would enjoy reading about your experience.

    1. This story has many of the characteristic of good storytelling: She speaks from her own experience; the story subtly promises to deal with the “rough year” after her father’s death and show how the sadness was softened; and the reader can feel, see, hear the details that make the story come alive. Finally, I care about how the narrator is managing. Her story reminds me of my own dad and how he shared dancing with me as a child.

      1. Amanda Liebersbach

        Reading this story put goosebumps right through me. It truly is amazing how one small choice your father made, dancing with you when he got home, lasted in your memory this long. Your story is very heart warming and I wish I had a beautiful experience like this with my father to remember him by. I would also like to add how well written this story was, it honestly made me “need” to keep reading and relate to it.

      2. This story reminds me a lot of me and my father. He taught me how to dance on his toes, he’d race me around the block, to and from the bus stop as a little girl, as well as singing me all of his favorite Elvis songs, which happen to have carried with me all these years and are still my favorite. It’s always the little things in life that mean the most. This story was very well written. It is very emotional and it really drags you in and makes you want to continue to keep reading.

  2. The dancing story has several key narrative elements: The “rough year” is made softer by the end of the story; readers can see, feel, and hear the details that lead up to the resolution; and there is an element of surprise in how events play out, yet they all add up chronologically. I am asking my college students to read and comment on what they notice in this story, to write about what works for them, too.

    1. I thought this personal narrative was written very well because the writer was reflecting off of their own live, yet you can still relate in many ways to this paragraph. The examples that were used made it easier to connect with the writters loss, and get good visuals when she explained taking classes. She covered the outline of this paragraph very well, like sequence of events. It did a great job of keeping me interested.

  3. This story has many of the characteristic of good storytelling: She speaks from her own experience; the story subtly promises to deal with the “rough year” after her father’s death and show how the sadness was softened; and the reader can feel, see, hear the details that make the story come alive. Finally, I care about how the narrator is managing. Her story reminds me of my own dad and how he shared dancing with me as a child.

  4. Reading this story makes me cry. My father died a year ago and this writer was not able to see him due financial difficulty. This story reminds me of memories my dad and this author likes to do. You and your dad likes to dance; my dad and I liked to work in the farm. He encouraged me and taught me the virtue of work whether in school or in the farm.

  5. This story reminds me that everybody should not take for granted the relationships we have with our parents because they all do so much for their kids. I can’t relate to this story in that I have two healthy parents that I can go do things with but I know I will have so many memories growing up with them and I am grateful for having them.

    1. I really enjoyed reading this story, it was very heartwarming! The tiniest moments with your loved ones can make such a impact on your life. I couldn’t relate to this story, both of my hearts are healthy and alive. However, I have so many precious moments with all of my parents!

  6. This story really touched me. I have always been close to my dad and brings back lots of memories. I enjoyed all the details and how it was expressed. I didn’t realize such a moment could be so heart felt and very memorable for a six year old girl. I couldn’t believe that dancing at night with your father could bring that much joy for a little girl.

  7. Philip Drexler

    Gail, I am using this in my life metaphors group at the prison today. It is the day after Memorial Day. I went to the cemetary yesterday. I sat in a beautiful gazebo next to the chapel. I watched a woman my age lay a wreath on a grave. I greeted her as she came and as she left. She turned to me as she got in her car and said, “Enjoy your memories.” I replied, “Shouldn’t we?” She said, “That’s how I try to look at things.” I replied, “It is.”
    After she left I went to the grave. He was her father, no doubt, a veteran who died in 2009 at age 81. Mom is waiting to rest there with him. She is 84 years old. My father would have been 93 this year, my mother 90. She is the same age as Queen Elizabeth. Long live the queen!

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