Quick-Quick-Slow: Confessions of a Dance Instructor Who Could Not Dance
Aaron David ©
Registered US Copyright Office
Newsday and others published this story years ago but predicated on the reality TV programs, featuring dance, it is more relevant now than when it was first published and syndicated by the Los Angeles Times Syndicate. Ballroom dance studios owners and their instructors have seduced lonesome, awkward, or compromised, men and women into signing dance contracts some in excess of $250,000.
The greedy studio owner considered me nothing more than slab of meat, dangling from a barbed hook, dripping blood in the shark-infested waters as bait to beguile an innocent young woman into paying for dance lessons she could not afford. She was dying to obliterate the chain mail of suet she wore to insulate her from her anxiety provoking social interactions. She had hoped her dance lessons would transform her to replace doubt with grace and confidence, a metamorphosis, enabling her to live and to love, and for a while her goal was coming to fruition until…
For months, I had looked for work. Desperate for money I became a dance instructor.
The studio was located in the arcade beneath an apartment complex held together using duct tape and spit. The sun was an acetylene torch, in the parking lot, welding metal and chrome into bizarre configurations. A perverse sense of guilt, a nagging dreamlike notion I had murdered someone, overwhelmed me. But whom? What had I done? As I struggled to focus on this idea, it slipped away, leaving me confused and tortured. My face, framed in the side view mirror, was a bloodless white disk, and I realized I was the man I had murdered. For a moment, I sat in a sense of absurd detachment, watching blood refill the capillaries, lacing my hollow cheeks.
People in a dither packed the colonnade as I joined them, walking to the studio. Pausing in front of its glass windows, I scanned photographs of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers dangling on thick wires, giving the elegant couple the expression of dolls. A rain soaked Gene Kelly was kicking his heels while Singin’ in the Rain. Bill “Bojangles” Robinson rolled his eyes at Shirley Temple as they performed their stair step dance in The Little Colonel. A sign composed of large, red, block letters urged people to DANCE. Flinging my jacket over my shoulder, I stepped through the portal into a cavernous dark void.
Greg Crain sat in a glass-enclosed office, jabbering on the phone. He acknowledged me with a raised finger, ending his conversation. We shook hands, exchanged introductions, and he examined me, a diamond cutter hovering over a precious stone. Staring into my eyes, he cut a prefabricated smile, and said, “Did you say you had experience?”
“I don’t. You said it wasn’t necessary.”
“If you have talent, it isn’t. Let’s see what you can do.”
Crain had a lethargic gait, dragging his posterior as though it were a weighted satchel as I followed him. Beneath a spotlight, surrounded by mirror as if encased in rhinestone, he flipped through records, and said, “Let’s see if I can find something . . . ah . . . inspiring for you.”
A web of shadows crisscrossed the ballroom lit by overhead spotlights. The walls, mirrored from floor to ceiling, augmented the room’s preternatural effect. Mirrored columns transformed the space into a kaleidoscope, casting a network of fun-house reflections. The studio was a carousel, turning with every stride, making me queasy. Crepe paper ropes, stretched by humidity, and shriveled balloons hanged like desiccated bats around the throats of kliegs, crude reminders of a forgotten party. Standing in sepia puddles of darkened parquet, between the lights I was enchanted by the chamber’s tawdry, spectral magic.
Crain’s eyes glimmered as if penlights, poking glory holes in the intermittent darkness. A leer sliced Crain’s face, masked by a shadow. My gaze traveled from the deflated balloons to Crain who slid Michael Jackson’s Beat It on the turntable.The music detonated, I began to dance, and wondered: What am I doing here? Time seemed suspended, thickened by the latent sexual essence of the situation. Terror inspired me to capture the musical rhythm in convulsive bursts interspersed with the fluidity of a marionette controlled by a maniacal puppeteer. The absurdity of my predicament perforated consciousness, a spike through an inner tube.
Crain said, “That’s enough. Let’s talk in the office.”
He fell into a leather chair behind his desk. “I can use you. You move well and I like your John Travolta act.”
I sat on a metal chair painted a lurid crimson.
“You need discipline. You’re all over the place.” He gyrated, throwing his arms in the air, mocking him rather than his target.
“I’ll learn.” Perspiration, rain on a car window, deposited salt, and dirt on my lips.
“But you can’t dress as if you fell off a horse.” Crain knitted the syllables of each word into a song.
“I asked if I had to wear my tuxedo.”
He laughed. “You’re not an actor, are you? You remind me of someone,” Crain broke off a smile, a dry twig. “I invested in this guy, but he always wound up waiting on tables.”
“Don’t worry. I’m conscientious. It’s my biggest fault.”
His voice poured over me like plaster about to harden; his eyes seemed to dangle, a taxidermist’s glass orbs; his pockmarked face resembled stucco; my voice sounded like a steam kettle.
“I can’t afford the shoes . . . maybe next week.”
“You need a professional look. The boots have to go because they don’t bend. You have to feel the floor.” He paused, “I can use you. In fact, I can use you tonight.”
“Tonight! I haven’t learned anything.”
“This woman’s in a wheelchair… ” Crain paused and spoke as if thinking aloud. “I’ll have to teach you.”
I never met the woman in the wheelchair. Perhaps she only existed in Crain’s fecund imagination. The next afternoon I returned to the studio. Leading me into the ballroom, Greg shuffled as if warming up to dance. I joined him in front of a mirrored wall. “There’s a distinct difference between a tap and a touch. A touch is like caressing a woman. When you tap, you slap the floor.” Crain extended his leg and tapped the floor, a show horse counting. “Together now!”
We both tapped and touched. Two show horses counting. Sweat burned my eyes. You are how you move, I thought. Differentiating right from left while trying to follow him was difficult and every gesture revealed a phalanx of images, all reflected pieces in a kaleidoscope, until we became microdots.
“Good,” said Crain. “Dance is the shifting of weight to music or beat.”
Crain crossed his right leg in front of his left, touching the floor, then reversing the maneuver. He added finger pointing to the routine; I imitated him, reduced to snapping my fingers in a poorly lit cavern with a stranger, two men searching of a chiropractor.
“Now the other way; this is contra-body, one half, or side of the body moves in opposition to the other.”
During the next six weeks, Crain tried to transform me into a dance instructor. He placed me in a class with three kids with extensive dance backgrounds. Greg brought in a gold level dancer named Duane Scott to instruct us before classes every afternoon. My inability to execute the new steps caused the trio of young dancers did develop a sense of antipathy for me. Their overt disdain caused me to plummet further into a vortex of gloom. (The three levels of dance are bronze, silver and gold are delineated in a syllabus, and teachers had to acquire proficiency in both the male and female steps, which men and women execute in reverse. Men begin with their right foot moving toward his partner who retreats with her left foot.)
One day, Crain called me into his office. “You’re slow, very slow.” He tried to make me feel as if I were a child who had urinary incontinence. “You remind me of me when I first started in this business. My thing was the ‘slop.’ I’d watch the dance instructors. Whatever they did, I’d repeat it. The next day, I’d be teaching it.”
“You mean you kept one step ahead of the students?”
He nodded, and said, “I’m disappointed. You came in here like gangbusters, then nothing. Still, you have the rap. There are different facets of this business: I need people for telephone work and for greeting customers. There are ‘front’ teachers and ‘back’ teachers. A front teacher takes a student when they walk through the door. The front teacher’s responsibility is to sell them on dance lessons. The intermediate and back teachers work with them over the long haul.”
Crain had two back teachers: Joanne Soccorso and Achmed Hussein who’d reached the pinnacle of the dance business and was the studio stud.
“Achmed has long lasting charisma.” Crain said. “Did you ever see the legs on him?” Crain asked.
You couldn’t miss his legs if you were legally blind. Atop Achmed’s enormous Doric column thighs, sat the posterior of a centaur. His wavy hair, curly eyelashes, and chocolate pudding eyes, peering from his broad, flat face made him almost pretty. Crain had made a deal with me. He would let me participate in dance classes if I did “a little maintenance” around the place—mop the floors, throw out the garbage, and, oh, yes, you might begin by cleaning the bathroom and throwing out the cunt rags.”
Was he kidding? No. The next time I was in the studio, Crain asked me when I would stain the wooden trim. “Give me some money for the stain.”
“Lay it out; I’ll pay you back.”
When I returned to the studio with the stain, I wore work clothes. It took hours to stain the wood. After I had begun to clean up for the night, Greg ran over and put his arm around my shoulders. “Now it’s your chance to do something for me. Two seal wobbled in, I’m guessing they’re female. You take one, and Eric will handle the other. Go over and introduce yourself. Have them fill out a D. A.”
The Dance Analysis form, or D.A., was a preregistration form, a means of eliciting general information about clients: where they lived, where their employers, their dance goals. Not only was I unprepared for my debut, I was wearing a torn shirt, Frye boots, and my cologne was eau d’ turpentine. The sophisticated dance instructor was controlling his panic. “My name is David,” I said, extending one turpentine-scented hand. “You are?”
“Patti Kelly.” Patti’s hand dripped from sweat. Her eyes scurried along the floor, cockroaches in a flash of light.
“Renee Brent,” said the woman next to Patti.
“Well, what brought you girls here? What do you hope to gain from the experience?”
“We were curious,” said Renee, whose fractured left arm hung from her shoulder like had once belonged on a slot machine.
“Where do you work?” I asked.
A promotion in a local newspaper had lured them. For forty dollars, the mark got three half hours of instruction and a two-hour practice party.
“Trico’s,” said Patti. She had a brush of hair like a mink hat.
Greg glided over to me and begged the ladies’ pardon. He grabbed my shirtsleeve, dragged me into his office, and slammed the door. “This isn’t a fucking business meeting. They should be panting by this time, ‘YOU’RE MY INSTRUCTOR!’” Crain’s eyes bulged. He sucked in his cheeks like the vamp Theda Bara. He swung his hips for me, “They should be panting for Big David’s c$#k! I want their queafs dripping cum on my parquet!”
Walking back to the women, Eric came over and took the dance analysis form from Patti:
“What dances are you interested in doing?”
“Waltz,” said Renee.
“Waltz,” said Patti. They wanted to learn the waltz the way I yearned for castration.
Eric said, “How about the cha-cha?”
We lined up in front of the mirror. I swallowed hard and tried to follow but froze. Once I defrosted, I moved east as they headed west but they had failed to notice since Lisa’s beauty enchanted them, and they stood as if they had seen the way. She danced a medley of dances with Eric, enabling Renee and Patti to select ones they liked.As they danced, I became a catatonic who managed to elicit the composure to babble, “Each dance has its own character. The smooth dances with long, graceful strides. The Latin dances are ground into the floor with a strong hip action. Each dance is done within the line of the hips.” No kidding, I thought, like a moron.
We divided into two groups, and Patti who had a predilection for men who exuded turpentine scented pheromones, selected me. She was one hundred pounds overweight and moved as if she were on a trampoline. I began teaching her the eastern swing, but the moment we stood in dance position, she drifted to her left. “Try to stay in line with my shoulders,” I said.
“No, you’re still doing it. Let’s start over.” I positioned her arms and placed my hand in the middle of her back, giving her a solid, if Jell-O is rigid, frame. “Don’t look at the floor.”
She drifted, appraising the floor as if she expected a trap door to free her from this ordeal of this farce. “Try staying parallel to me. I know, but try.” Her fear provided me with courage, and I believed I could help her.
“Okay,” she said eyes, lasers, burning into the floor. I wanted to hug her.
In the fallowing weeks, something I projected hooked Patti. She said I gave a little extra. She had become obsessed her dance instructor and I believed I could help her.
Now watch, as Crain used me to extract $9,600 from this sweet shy young woman for dance lessons financed by a bogus company and cosigned by her elderly parents. In researching other studios, I’ve discovered verified dance contracts in excess of $250,000, more often than you could imagine, and I heard of single contract for one million dollars.
While some of the people learned to dance, 90 percent of the patrons (an estimate I heard from an owner of an independent studio) were looking for a dramatic change in their lives, especially love, sex, and romance in every incarnation, and many instructors convinced pupils they would marry them despite an age difference of a half a century.
Before the women returned for a second session, Crain called Eric and me into his office to plan our strategy. He said we were preparing a psychological assault. He stressed the importance of looking into a woman’s eyes.
“I’ve got a problem,” I said. “Patti wants to learn the underarm turn in rumba, but I don’t know it.”
Crain got up from behind the desk and took the passive position, the female stance, backleading me through the maneuver Holding the lovable monster in my arms, I felt the heat of his breath, smelled the garlic of his partially digested meal. My spinal cord had turned into what was a large spring. After months in psychiatric facilities, thousands of dollars for endless vials of drugs, swabbing the toilets, cleaning ashtrays, and throwing out garbage, I stood in a cramped office holding this strange man, in the hope of charming a sensitive overweight kid out of her life savings.
“Do you know the arm position?” he asked.
Patti wore baggy pants, and I taught her the swing with variations and the rumba keystep. Crain had told me to hold my students as though they were children and break dance elements into their simplest components. The key phrase is, “this is nothing more than,” and went like, “The fox‑trot is nothing more than walking.” An instructor often stood behind their students, guiding their movements like training wheels on a bicycle. Crain emphasized the importance of tactile stimulation as a primary component of removing money from hidden pockets.
Patti enjoyed her lesson. She was almost comfortable with me. We danced in the back room. She blushed and blotches of crimson covered her cheeks. Crain had warned me if I didn’t sign her by the end of this lesson, we would lose her. “Do you want to continue with the lessons?” I blurted out.
“Yes . . . very much.”
Now–at the thought of her lessons ending–she trembled. My hand guided her back and her perspiration soaked shirt, fearing dripping through my fingertips. In order to continue, I told her, it would cost $680. Emotional pain and desire twisted her features into a smudge.
“Why is it so expensive?”
“The overhead is enormous. It costs a lot of money to run a place like this.”
“My friends told me not to sign anything. They warned me!”
I escorted Patti into Crain’s office, where Carole had been waiting. Carole was responsible for signing new students in Crain’s absence. We sat around Crain’s desk. Seated next to Patti, I draped my arm over her shoulders. Fondle your student whenever possible and keep their nerve endings firing.
“All I can afford is 55 dollars a week,” she said.
It was a plea. She squirmed in the chair, rocking back and forth as if expecting the arrival of the executioner. “They told me not to sign,” she said, writhing as sweat bandaged her nose to her upper lip.
“I’ll it says is that we can keep five percent if yoy cancel.”
Despite the admonitions of friends and family, Patti signed. She never had a chance. She had viewed the promised body; fell in love with life, and her fraudulent instructor. We had mugged her.
Crain was elated. “This is just the beginning,” he said. “I don’t want any negatives. Do everything I say. You did well. I know I have something in you.”
I told Crain money might be a problem for Patti. He said, “If money were the issue, she would have gone for lessons in Jamaica.” He parted his lips, a crocodile’s mile. “I don’t want any negatives.”
Before Patti’s first private hour, Crain called me into the office and handed me a white manila folder with printed forms, lesson accomplishment sheets, homework, and the supervisor’s commentary.
“Listen to exactly what I say. Teach her fast. Tell her that you are trying to determine her absorption- to-retention ratio. You’re going to see whether it’s slow, average, or fast. Tell her how long it will take to be basic, intermediate, or advanced and give her a grade. Give her homework and book her Monday. Remember, no negatives.”
Crain jotted notes onto a legal size pad.
“Aren’t you concerned that I won’t be able to dance?”
“How much sex is necessary?”
“You have to dance. If you don’t know your craft, you resort to sex, but the sex comes with the ability to dance. An hour ago, Achmed sold Karen 165 hours of private dance. She just divorced her husband who left her in debt. But she needs what Achmed gives her.”
There was one goal: To get her to pay for dance lessons for life. I was the bait, and my cut came to $12.00 for an hour for instruction, plus a 5 percent commission on the sale. (I earned a total of sixty dollars from late June through March of the following year.)
“You got to get her in here at least three times this week. If you can’t, then she doesn’t like you.”
“Maybe she’s got other things to do?”
“What does she have to do? Sit home and play with her knob? How come you don’t kiss her?” Crain made grotesque smacking noises with his lips, spittle clung the corners of his mouth.
“Did you get her birthday?”
“How do you get along with Geminis?”
“You don’t believe in that, do you?”
“No, but women go for that romantic crap. By the way, my wife said you’ve been doing a crap job of cleaning up the toilet. What gives?”
Crain imparted more of his philosophy: “The submissive ones, you have to take their hand and lead.” He made a sweeping gesture with his hand, his fists clenched until his knuckles blanched a gesture worthy of any autocrat.
My first two private lessons with Patti went well. She liked me, and I told her to practice the underarm turn for the rumba. I gave her a homework, and exercises, and asked her to answer the question: “To help your teacher plan and personalize what you want from dancing, please answer the following question in paragraph form, “What kind of Dancer I want to be, and why?’”
Later, Crain read her answers aloud: “My aim is to be as good a dancer as I am capable of being. I have always wanted to be able to dance with a partner, to be able to follow with ease. I know that I need to build up my confidence personally and socially, and I am hoping that these dancing lessons will help me do just that.”
At the end of each sentence, Crain paused to reflect. His eyes glowed and his smile verged on demonic. Then he burst out laughing, “Soon you’ll show her your @$%# She’s gonna be starving for big Aaron’s @$%#”
Though nauseated by my role in his chicanery, I remained fascinated by Crain’s sophistry. At times, I felt thrilled by my apparent power. After all, I was the bait, and the rabbit. Such ambivalence!
At the end of three sessions, Crain invited Patti to dance with me in the pro-amateur competition. The mention of a contest made her skin flush. Despite her weight, her face was adorable. Crain told her she would appear on the dance floor with other contestants, she began, rocking in her seat, and my heart beat as if it had sprouted wings.
He handed me a legal pad and dictated the following, which he rattled off: “Rarely does an instructor have an opportunity to work with a student with the potential of Patti Kelly. I consider it a pleasure, a great source of satisfaction to work with such an agreeable student. Of all the students I’ve taught, never have I worked with someone with such desire, who practices so intensely and wouldn’t let me down.
“Once you see the amount of material Patti has been able to absorb and retain, you’ll approve my application for her guaranteed program, and you will agree with me that Patti will be an asset to our studio.”
“She’ll like that,” I said.
“We’ll find out how much money she has. Does she live at home with mommy? You must realize we’re in a different era with her now?” Crain laughed.
“I don’t give a @$%& about money! Piggy needs this more than food. Now, here’s the pitch: After the lesson, you get me and say, ‘Greg, can we see you in private?’ Do it with enthusiasm. We sit very close. You put your arm around her. ‘We want to put in our application for Patti’s guaranteed program. Could you make arrangements for a progress check?’ You’re probably more nervous than she is.” He snorted; he cackled as if deranged.
That night, I asked Patti, “Have you done your exercises?”
“Yes,” she said, staring at the floor.
Patti had lost fifty-two pounds and it reaffirmed my contention, she had modeled herself after her lithe dance instructor.
“Rumba!” I said.
I provided her with a good dance frame, but she gravitated toward the corner of the room, tugging me with her. She gulped air as I whispered the rumba keystep count quick-quick-slow into her ear. Perspiration had saturated her blouse. Beneath her Sweet Ambiance rose the rank stench of dread. She was on the cusp of hysteria and her pain was exquisite. I shortened the lesson according to plan, and we met with Crain in the back room. I said, “I’m enthusiastic.”
“What kind of dancer do you want to be?” Crain asked.
“Advanced,” said Patti without hesitation. Crain’s eyes twinkled in the dimly lit room, a pinball machine on the verge of tilting.
“And where do you work?”
“Tricos,” she said.
Crain underscored the importance of knowing just what you wanted out of life, plus the determination to stick with the program.
Then he asked what her father did for a living. “Oh, he’s a retired cop.”
“I don’t want you to worry about the money,” he said, “It will be financed.
I said goodnight to Patti. Greg called me back into his office. “I didn’t sign her big. I stopped when she threw in that business about her father w. We’ll go small – maybe six or eight hundred. Then, later, we’ll bang her. Years from now, she’ll be doling it out.”
Crain shrieked with laughter, a high-pitched, frightening sound. He peeled bills from an imaginary roll. I reminded him that he’d asked what her what her father had done for a living.
“It’s important to dance with Patti in a competition. It’s a little seedy dancing here all the time. “She’ll have an opportunity to see hundreds of people from the worst to the best. Everyone gets excited. We come back to the studio, take pictures, and renew. We have the perfect product. They never get tired of sex and dreams.”
I said, “Money, sex, and religion are the levers that move this world.”
After the progress check, Patti signed for an additional $1220 for eight hours of private instruction and 12 group lessons. In some macabre way, her signature gave me a sense of power. I brought Miss Patti Kelly to the next plateau, and scheduled her to dance the rumba and swing at the contest. Greg Crain’s instructed me to make sure she was in the studio three times a week in order to ‘burn’ her hours, forcing her deeper in debt.
We danced the rumba ad infinitum, and I made numerous technical mistakes. We had now begun dancing in the main room and the mirrors confused me. Our images were stacked one atop another melding, shuffling playing cards. When we lost balance and nearly toppled, she looked at me with utter helplessness. She needed my guidance, the tutelage of a fake.
“When we dance in the competition, I don’t know if I can handle it,” she said. “You don’t know me in crowds. I stutter.”
“I’ll be there for you.”
“What if I forget?”
“I’ll lead you. Just close your eyes.” I led her through the swing. She kept her huge blue eyes closed and sighed. We danced and danced the same steps until the room spun.
Prior to the competition, Greg developed a strategy for extending Patti’s contract. “It’s time to bring Achmed in,” Crain said. “In her subconscious, she has to realize you’re just a beginner. Tell her about Achmed’s training in Moscow, how as kid he toured the world. (Crain had told everyone that Achmed had toured with the Bolshoi Ballet for nine years. The idea that a man of Arabian ancestry toured with a Russian Ballet troupe was nonsense.) Mention he’s a gold dancer. The idea is to tell her that Achmed is a friend of yours and that he helps you.”
I relayed the story to Patti verbatim. She was very excited about the prospect of extra coaching but only if I remained her teacher.
The night of the competition, the temperature was close to 90 degrees. Tables draped in cheap cotton cloth surrounded the dance floor. The air-conditioning unit died with an emphysemic gasp, and with 700 people, it turned the hall into a steel smelting plant. Most of the women wore sequin gowns in shocking colors, costumes you’d expect to see on circus performers. The men wore cat suits (jump suits with sleeves), bow ties and ruffled shirts. They resembled androgynous waiters on the first public space shuttle.
At the door, I a woman handed me a white placard with black numerals, “94.”
“The men are wearing the numbers today.” Her hair resembled been a chiseled chunk of flagstone. She sat at a table with a fish bowl containing buck-and-a-half chances on “A Basket of Cheer.” Behind her, a peddler was hawking dance shoes.
The group from Crain’s studio was at the end of the room, near the podium. Patti wore a navy blue dress with white polka dots and puffed sleeves. Her cheeks had the usual crimson flush, and she clutched a program. She looked like a doll with its face hand-painted on a white glass bulb. When I kissed her fervent cheek, she sighed.
We would dance the swing in heat 35, and the rumba in heat 80. Patti pointed with pride to our names in the program. I handed her my keys and my sunglasses for her to place in her purse. Beyond the sexual symbolism of the gesture, it was quite touching.
The heat was intolerable. In the men’s room, contestants were in various stages of dress. Men exchanged pills and cocaine. I straightened my tie, arranged my curls, and ate a couple of milligrams of Ativan. Then, with number 94 affixed to my jacket, I emerged from the lavatory, ready for the contest but cognizant of the reality: A man incapable of proper execution was going to lead an agitated woman through two dances in the presence of 700 frenzied strangers and judges.
It was time. Patti looked as if some entity sewed her eyelids to her sockets with catgut. Dew-like sweat mantle covered her. A judge called our names and we stood on the scaffold of the dance floor. Time inverted. The white lights and the heat were bearable because she needed me. Recorded music exploded from the amplifiers and engulfing us.
Holding Patti close, I began the triple step of the swing. Caught up in the competition, I pushed Patti to her limit, prodding her as hard as possible until we almost met the floor. “Come on!” I shouted. She had a glazed look on her face; her eyes and the floor formed an invisible seal. “1‑2‑3‑2‑2‑3 rock-step,” I shouted. The hall was an inferno of noise.
Achmed wore a tuxedo and vest. His black, curly hair looked moist. After each of his heats, he removed his jacket, mopping his brow by a table conjuring images of Jackie Gleason in The Hustler. He danced in twenty heats and fared very well. He garnered several first place trophies, several seconds, and many thirds. It was time to introduce her to the king whose students he blessed with trophies. I sat next to Patti, leaned over, and spoke in her ear, “You know I’m not a gold dancer.”
My statement confused Patti. “I was trained to teach beginners. I’m just at the silver level. We have a great opportunity.” Then I told her all about Achmed and said he had agreed to work with her.
“He’s my friend. It’s a unique chance to get an expert to coach you. Greg charges another $205 an hour for coaching sessions, but for you it will be part of your program at no additional charge.” She looked to the floor. “I want to get you to the highest level possible,” I said.
Her innocence made all acts of deception despicable. I was in emotional quicksand. I went over to Crain, who stood near the podium. “She’s primed,” I said.
“Make it spontaneous.”
“You mean, make it seem spontaneous.”
I led Patti to Achmed, introduced her. The King said, “I would be happy to coach you.”
“Thank you,” she said. “I’m glad.”
I felt as if I was watching a white pearl disappear into a vat of tar. She loved me the ineffable essence of transference that transcended sexual intimacy. We talked about confidence while I cradled her in my arms, preparing her to dance the rumba.
“I’m sorry, I’m so nervous,” she said.
“Never be sorry. No one cares if you fell down and hurled. Your life will continue without a hitch.”
“Will you give me a strong lead?”
“You’ll know exactly what you need to do.”
We danced the rumba against a coterie of excellent Latin dancers. The following night, Patti and I sat at the table in Crain’s office, my arm around her shoulder. Greg sat behind his desk with a corkscrew for a smile. Patti with pen in hand, rocked back and forth, soaked with perspiration. She signed a guaranteed contract for $7,200, plus a $2,700 finance charge. As her dance instructor, I was glad she had signed. At first, I had deluded myself into thinking I could help Patti. However, I began to realize that she would have sold her firstborn for the privilege of giving Crain money so she could continue to dance with me or another instructor who provided her with ‘a little extra.’
I wish to thank Jack Woolheiser who had illustrated the piece and captured the comic aspects of the tale. We took these precautions to avoid the inevitable lawsuit we expected. Greg sued me, a woman who he had hired to manage his dying studio, numerous students, his brother for having appropriated the genetic familial dance endowment, and he began selling life insurance. He became a dispatcher for a bread company, and one of the truck drivers beat him up so badly he required hospitalization. His lawsuit defended by Newsday for defamation and libel–for what amounted to seventy million dollars without the punitive damages– inconvenienced all of those involved in this story. A Judge Hentel tossed it out at summary judgment as frivolous and without merit.
Patti made great strides toward her own independence while the studio remained intact. She had lost fifty-two pounds and had begun dating. Her coaching lessons with Achmed dribbled into the absurd. Despite Crain’s fears regarding her perception of my dance aptitude or liabilities, she said, “I don’t know what your dance limitations are, but I only feel comfortable dancing with you.”
Patti and I remained friends for another five years when she contracted a severe case of Lyme’s disease. My depictions of Patti hurt her in spite of my explanations regarding a writer’s use of augmented images, metaphors and other literary devices, for having inflicted pain on this wonderful young woman, I remain sorry I had depicted her like I have in the article because it hurt her feelings and I was too young and ignorant to understand that the written word can be stronger than the sword.