I grew up in the ballrooms of dance studios and hotels. It’s where my parents first met, what brought them together, and what made them fall in love. Before my mom did hair, before she had me, she and my dad danced. They danced competitively in ballrooms all over the world.
I grew up on those sprung wooden floors underneath the tall decorated ceilings surrounded by love and music. The ballroom taught me everything I know.
My dad and I danced together for years when I was little. He taught me poise and to hold my frame. “No spaghetti arms” he used to tell me. He showed me how to be strong, hold my head high, and to have confidence on the floor.
We danced in ballrooms scattered across the cities of the states: Las Vegas, New York, Cincinnati, Dallas, Atlanta, Baltimore, Seattle. The ballrooms taught me more than any formal education ever could. My parents used their digression, and kept me out of school… often. They valued time together, and advocated for learning outside of the classroom.
The ballroom taught me that anyone could be anything they wanted, no struggle or limitations. And my gracious mother never asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, so I never thought I could be just one thing. Instead she tells me, “Find what makes you happy, and the money will come”. I watched my dad dance on the ballroom floor, and I could see the truth behind his smile. He loves what he does.
In the ballroom, I met my dad’s friends from all over the world. They had different names, skin tones, eye colors, and foods. The ballroom taught me that people were unique, and that it was good. My dad’s Russian friend Sasha at Dancesport would always bring me Alyonka chocolate bars, and his Brazilian buddy Sisto shared his coxinhas, oval shaped fried goodness filled with creamy shredded chicken.
On the ballroom floors, I would sit with their daughters; all of us watching our daddies compete, not knowing that they were dancing against each other for money. I would play with the girls. We’d compare backyard swing sets and talk about our doggies. I loved the way they spoke. I grew up thinking you got to choose your accent, so I would often try one on for size. My dad would try and tell me to stop, and in my best Spanish impersonation I’d respond, “por qué papá, thiz is how I’m talking today”.
In the ballrooms, I met boys with boyfriends, so I grew up thinking everyone had the choice to kiss a boy or a girl with no inclination that it was strange. I remember meeting my dad’s coach Dustin and his partner Ricky; my parents did not deem it necessary to explain any further than “you be with the person you love”. I thought everyone had the option to choose, but I did know that I had a prince charming waiting somewhere out there for me. I thought, and I know, that the only prerequisite to being with someone was the mutual want to be with him or her.
The ballroom taught me that people are much more alike then they are different. In the ballroom, all people were kind, and all people were fabulous. They were all covered in extravagant heavy rhinstoning. I was fascinated by the way the light caught those sparkling tiny rocks, and I was consumed with the colors. To me green wasn’t green; it could be dark moss green, ernite, royal green, peridot, opal, or chrysolite.
Off the floors of ballrooms from the time I could walk, I collected the fallen makeshift Swarovski crystals. As the dancers twisted and shook, the stones would fling off their dresses. By the end of the night, rhinestones littered the wooden floors enough to make it sparkle. I would walk the floors, wall to wall, collecting them in a cup. I felt rich.
For much longer than I’d like to admit, I thought those shiny little stones were commodity. I was convinced there had the same value of diamonds. My dad still tells me of the times I offered to pay for groceries pulling out a handful of crystals from my pocket, “I got this”.
I laugh when I tell people what my dad does, and they respond “like Dancing with The Stars”.
The Reality TV show attempts to re-create my ballroom. Instead, they have made a cheesy reenactment of real ballroom dancing with their show dancing, lifts, and flips. It’s flashy and trashy and makes a mockery of the legitimate dance moves that require physical power, beauty, and pure emotion.
So, tonight, when you here that familiar theme song, think of me, my dad, and the deeper meaning behind those sprung wooden floors.