The Valentine’s Day Dance

Valentines Flowers2 The Watervalley Line-Dance and Bingo Club had the annual Mid-Winter Crisis Dance last night over at the Memorial Building. Mary Ann Marshall, the librarian out at Watervalley High stole the show. But it was nothing like last year. Her performance last year was an event approaching Pearl Harbor… a day that will live in infamy. At least, it certainly will in Watervalley.

For the church going people of Watervalley, dancing is like cholesterol. There are both good and bad aspects to it. The dance used to be called the Valentine’s Day Dance. But, not anymore. The LD&B Club changed it to the Mid-Winter Crisis Dance because it seemed to encourage more folks to come. Apparently, the word “Valentines” puts a lot of pressure on people. Mary Ann’s little recital last year certainly lends an “Amen” to that theory.

Despite the name change, the Memorial building was all decked out in Valentine décor. The club members opted not to have the pre-dance buffet meal this year. It typically included a three-vegetable medley and a perfunctory piece of rubber chicken. Smart call.

The dance started promptly at eight. The Dog Creek Howlers played again this year. Usually people drifted in like random leaves. But not this time. It was pretty much a packed house by eight-thirty. Nobody wanted to miss it in case Mary Ann did an encore performance.

Ten o’clock came and went and still no Mary Ann. It was a momentary downer. But eventually people remembered that it was a dance and that is what they should be doing. So, along with modest doses of unofficial alcohol from the various coolers stowed in the trunks of cars in the parking lot (alcohol can’t be sold on town property), everyone forgot about Mary Ann and started to have a good time. Even if she didn’t show, they had their memories of last year, and those were stout enough to hold them for a good while.

It seems that last February Mary Ann showed up all by her lonesome and then spent most of the evening as a sweetly smiling wallflower. She was forty-one, single, and petite. And while she had a pleasant smile, she came off a little bookish, and therefore intimidating. It was just enough to work as an effective repellent to the single Watervalley farmers in the room, even the good Christian ones. It wasn’t that she was limiting herself to a certain kind of John Doe, she’d dance with any Doe that came along, including Cookie, Tae Quan, and even Doe-see. Simply put; nobody asked.

All the women in the room, married and otherwise, looked at Mary Ann with sadly sympathetic eyes. Poor thing, they thought. Here was someone who desperately needed to make a trip to Nashville and pay a visit to the make-up counter at Dillard’s. Her pageboy haircut and wire rim glasses weren’t helping either. Still, she provided a certain odd comfort to them. Despite their own present status of romance, sag, or weight gain, at least they weren’t Mary Ann. Bless her heart.

She seemed like such a tidy little person, with tidy clothes, and tidy thoughts. At least…that’s what everyone thought at the start of last year’s dance. Some people say it was the band’s fault.

Despite their name, the Dog Creek Howlers were a pretty versatile group, able to play country, rock, reggae, and even a little polka. They also had a horn section. That’s part of what caused the problem.

Sometime around eleven o’clock, right about the time everyone at the dance had gotten well oiled and at the peak of partying (you have to realize, this is Watervalley, and Sunday was only an hour away), the band started to play “Hey, Big Spender.” Apparently, Mary Ann’s evening had included one to many episodes of “sitting this one out.” She had quietly taken off her glasses and button up sweater and decided to hit the dance floor solo. She did so in a big way. She cartwheeled onto it.

Just as the female lead singer, a woman in heavy make up and a husky voice, began to bellow out the words,

“I could tell you were a man of distinction, a real big spender,”

Mary Ann completed her third rotation to the center of the dance floor. Immediately, everyone cleared out as she began to launch into what would turn out to be a jaw dropping ten-minute display of sumptuous circumrotation, tribal gyration, and generally impressive flexibility.

They had all heard the phrase “dance like no one is watching,” but no one thought you were supposed to take it seriously. Mary Ann hadn’t gotten the memo.

At first, everyone murmured in nervous concern, but soon enough they were speechless. Without her glasses, Mary Ann’s face was a mask of stern intensity. But her bottomless dark eyes seemed to hold eternities of sensuous experience. And boy, could she dance.

With her back arched and her eyes closed, she lifted her arms above her head and began to sway to the music in such a way that all those present were drawn into her web, entranced in a stupor of slack-jawed wonder. Driven by her own secret revelations, she moved to the heavy throb of the music. Her bold display of unbridled expression left them spellbound, pulling them into her world of dark freedom.

Her movements began to absorb an ever-wider area and they yielded a larger orbit to her. She circled around like a figure skater, bending her body and hands up and down in hypnotic flowing movements that held the mind captive, and the imagination afire.

She was incredible. She was magical. She didn’t sweat much, either. She was a confident, libertine goddess. This was no mere pretender to the throne. This was the Queen of the Dance.

Her unabashed gesticulations sent ripples of primal thoughts through the men in the room, bringing them in touch with emotions they hadn’t visited in years. Every man in the room wanted to dance with her and every woman in the room wanted to be her…at least, her, along with a more up-to-date haircut and slightly better make-up. Everyone wanted her to continue. No one wanted to spoil the moment.

But one man wanted to dance with her more than any other. He had always wanted to dance with her. But he was five years older, and shy. It was Herbert Densen, the librarian at the Watervalley public library. He was a short, trim man with stylish glasses. He had worn a tweed jacket and felt self-conscious because his best look was in a seersucker suit and a bow tie. But he did have nice hair. He wondered if she had been reading Balzac, or some other author known for moral ambiguity.

He squinted his eyes and dreamed of being her partner, dreamed of flowing with her to the ebb and sway of the music. But then, just that quickly, the music stopped.

Mary Ann came to a graceful finish, ending in a slight bow. It was only then that she opened her eyes, glancing stealthily to the left and right. The applause was thunderous and long and universal. Even the band clapped. She never looked at anyone directly, but with a quiet, prim face, she turned and walked back to her chair and put on her glasses and sweater.

Suddenly, every guy in the room wanted to find an opening on her dance card. But it was not to be. She got her coat and quietly left. The following Monday, she resumed her life as the quiet librarian at the high school. A few people asked, but she would never talk about it.

Dr. Bradford had been told this story about Mary Ann about a month ago. The whole affair had been a rousing topic of conversation with the clinic staff when the advertising for this year’s dance first came out. But he just smiled and listened, offering nothing to the conversation.

He knew the rest of the story. Months before, Mary Ann had been to see him about some arthritic pain she was having in her ankle from a long ago injury. It seems that in decades past, Mary Ann had studied ballet for many years. She had been in hundreds of performances with the Atlanta Ballet Company and even played the lead role in Giselle. But a bad fall ended all of that, and even worse, it led to a break up with the man she thought would be the love of her life. He was also in the ballet. But when they no longer had that to share, the relationship turned sour.

She had a degree in library science and took a job at a local university. But two years ago she decided she want to make a change. She responded to a job opening for a librarian at Watervalley High. She was hired. She moved here to forget about dancing and her past. It was too painful on several levels. She had more or less let her self go.

But something in the music of the Mid-Winter Crisis Dance last year changed all of that. Mary Ann had a moment of clarity and cut loose. She told Dr. Bradford it had been wonderful, exhilarating, and in the end… a little embarrassing.

One good thing did come out of it all. A month after the party, Herbert Densen asked her out. She accepted. They’ve been dating ever since.

So last night, when Mary Ann finally did show up around ten-thirty, she wasn’t alone. She had a dance partner. It was Herbert, dressed in his seersucker suit and brightest silk bow tie. To heck with winter. It was all about looking good.

And looking good definitely personified Mary Ann. The woman walking through the door on Herbert’s arm was not same dour librarian of last year, but a smartly dressed blonde with sparkling eyes and sensuous lips as red as a strawberry. She was definitely exuding that certain sexual something. The contacts helped.

Along with the band’s cooperation with the music, they put on a show with a few extraordinary dance numbers. There was some Brazilian Samba, some Cuban Rumba and a little bit of Charleston thrown in for good measure along with several others. It was Watervalley’s version of Dancing with the Stars…or, at least, in this case, the librarians.

They were fabulous. Everyone clapped and laughed and celebrated. It was contagious. Everybody danced. There were no wallflowers this year, even those who really wanted to be. New Valentines were made and old Valentines were made stronger. Quite a few, however, should consider taking dance lessons before next year.

BallerinaSeveral months ago, after hearing her tell the story, Dr. Bradford had quietly asked Mary Ann why she got up and danced like she did at last year’s event. She had a simple answer.

She said it was the music. “For years I had the dream of being a ballerina. And I was lucky. I got to be one, even if it was just for a short while. But our dreams are like music inside of us. And some people go to their graves with music still in them. So I decided I would let my feet know before it’s too late. Something about that night and the music and living here in Watervalley helped me see that.”

Dr. Bradford smiled and nodded. It was a thought worth remembering.

This Valentine’s, I hope you dance.

I’m j. high, and for now in Watervalley, that’s pretty much the high point.