About a year ago, a local lesbian group began promoting these monthly “Dyke Dance” nights at a club in a town nearby. The first hour of every evening is a dance lesson in a featured style, usually swing, foxtrot, waltz, or salsa – that kind of thing. Part of the fun of the evening is seeing all the butches and femmes dressed in their dance best, interacting. And naturally, all the butch girls are there to learn to lead.
I smoothed my rayon skirt over my knees. That night, I was dressed in a 1940’s style dress covered in a cherry pattern. Red ankle-strap shoes and matching lipstick completed the outfit.
“May I?” A hand was gallantly extended to me.
“Oh, Chas, I’d be delighted.” I took her hand and followed her to the dance floor. I just love the mock formality of the dance environment.
Charlene and I have known each other for years. She’s tall and handsome and a great dancer. A vineyard manager by day, she’s usually seen kicking around in boots and jeans. She knows how to dress to dance, though, and that night she was dressed in a black suit with a white silk shirt buttoned up to the collar. Her short, wavy hair glistened with pomade. Freshly polished black wingtips gleamed on her feet.
Even in heels, I don’t come close to matching her muscular frame.
Chas took my right hand in her left and gently turned me to face her, her right hand pressed to the small of my back. We began a smooth foxtrot, stepping and turning around the floor. She led expertly, using the slightest pressure of her hands to guide me. Sometimes I have to strain to remember my junior high ballroom dancing lessons. I can still hear the teacher counting in my head. But it comes effortlessly to Chas and when I’m dancing with her I never have to struggle to keep up. She makes me feel like Ginger Rogers. She led me through a series of tight turns, making the full skirt of my dress swirl around our legs, and dipped me for the big finish, her strong arms giving me confidence.
“Thank you, honey.” She led me back to my table and kissed me lightly on my cheek. “Always a pleasure.”
Looking around, I noticed that Kathy had arrived late and was leaning against the bar, nursing a beer. If Chas is Fred Astaire, the gentleman butch of the dance floor, then Kathy is James Dean. It’s not that she can’t dance, because she can. It’s just that she rarely unleashes her talent. I’ve seen so many pretty women compete for her attention on dance night, but she rarely favors them with a dance, preferring to slump back in her freshly pressed jeans and button-down shirt, black leather jacket hung on her shoulder, watching the couples moving around the room. She favored me with a dance once, and I know from experience that she smells like Old Spice and tobacco. Her body is hard and lean. Her arms and hands stringy and tan from hours spent on her motorcycle.
The DJ began to pick up the pace with a swing number. There was a flurry of activity as women scrambled to find a favorite partner. Chas came striding across the floor with a gleam in her eye. At first I thought she was heading for me, but she passed right by me and continued to the bar. I watched her in curiosity. Chas is never one to sit out a dance.
She and Kathy embraced at the bar, clapping each other on the back. I saw Chas whisper something in Kathy’s ear. Kathy shook her brush-cut head “no”. Chas whispered again and Kathy shrugged her shoulders. She downed the last of her beer, hung her jacket over a chair, and followed Chas to the dance floor. A second swing number was just beginning.
The two of them attracted plenty of curious attention: Chas in her wingtips, Kathy in her motorcycle boots.
They jockeyed a moment for the lead, both extending their left hands. I saw Kathy again shake her head. Finally they faced each other and joined hands evenly, their feet beginning the rhythmic “backstep, touch, touch” of the swing. They eyed each other with the cautious, unsmiling gaze of flamenco dancers, eyes narrowed. As the tempo increased, they began an in-and-out step, arms extended to the side. Finally, they broke hands and stepped back, dancing free for the moment.
The other couples eyed them cautiously, sensing a new tension on the dance floor. Instinctively, they moved towards the edges, giving the two women space.
Suddenly Kathy reached out with her left hand, grabbing Chas’s right and turned her quickly under her arm, swinging her out and back with a snap. Again Chas flew out and this time they passed each other as Kathy changed hands behind her back. Back, they extended to arm’s length and then spun, arms around each other’s waists, sweeping a circle onto the dance floor. And when they stopped spinning, stepping into a simple “push break,” they had switched places and Chas had ahold of Kathy’s right hand.
I stood to watch. Many of the couples had stopped dancing altogether, and clustered at the end of the dance floor.
It had become a dancing duel, as these two gorgeous butch women struggled to outdo each other on the dance floor, each waiting in turn to seize the lead. I could see the shine on Chas’s forehead. Kathy’s shoulders shrugged forward and her hips slinked with the snaky moves of a Reno cowboy, as she frowned in concentration.
Together they whipped and spun around the dance floor. Finally, as the music rose to a crescendo, Kathy reached for Chas, intending to dip her. Chas sensed her move and side-stepped, and in a move borrowed more than Bruce Lee than Fred and Ginger, tripped Kathy from behind, dropping her neatly over her knee for the finale, her right fist raised in victory.
The two women rose, breathless, to applause. They looked at each other sheepishly and began to laugh.
“Let me buy you a cold one,” Chas said, leading Kathy back to the bar.
I returned to my table and chewed my ice cubes.
I was just as breathless as they were.