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Out of 120 entries, Writer's Digest editors and readers chose this winning story, which was published in the July/August 2020 issue of Writer's Digest.
Taking the Lead
By Tassie Kalas Haney
After the last Greek Orthodox Youth of America dance, “looking for some hot stuff baby” was banned. Our Sunday school teacher, Mrs. Papacantpronounce, declared the dancing inspired by the song inappropriate for future church leaders—especially on church property.
“No more bumping bottoms.” She put her hands on her ample hips, waiting for our tittering to subside.
“I’d pay to see her do the bump,” a boy named Cord mumbled.
Mrs. Papa glared at him and Kiki, the buxom brunette beside him. “No groping during slow songs.”
To our horror, she declared all GOYANs would take dance lessons. A GOYAN mom and friend of the owner of Westbury Dance Studio arranged the classes.
“I don’t need lessons,” Cord scowled. “I’ve got the right moves.”
I glanced at my friend Celeste and rolled my eyes. That’s why we ran to the ladies’ room during “Stairway to Heaven.”
Saturday, six girls and four boys, forced by our mothers and bribed with the promise of ice cream at Rumpleheimer’s, met Mrs. Papa at the studio. Our instructor, an aging John Travolta look-alike, strutted out in tight white pants.
“Forward, two, three, kick! Back, two, three, kick!”
We moved like a herd of cattle. Mr. John frowned, sashayed to the record player, and blasted the Bee Gees.
“My assistant and I will demonstrate.”
A woman wearing a flowing skirt pirouetted up, batting her eyes. Celeste squirmed uncomfortably.
The pair shimmied across the room. Then Mr. John spun the woman, her skirt billowing, exposing creamy thighs and leaving nothing to our 13-year-old imaginations. The two had clearly tangoed before.
Mrs. Papa gasped, “This isn’t what we signed up for!”
“Find a partner, everyone!”
The boys fought to dance with Kiki. I cringed as Mr. John nudged Cord toward me. Towering over him, I stiffened as I positioned myself in his outstretched arms.
“Fever night, fever night …” Cord sang into my chest, then looked up at me, emphasizing the next line. “We know how to do it.”
He hustled forward when he should have hustled back, and I tried to correct him.
“I’m the man!” He tightened his grip. “You’re supposed to follow me!”
“Then lead.” I struggled to get us on the right count.
Mr. John split us up and paired me with Celeste. He studied our height difference and stated the obvious. “You’ll have to be the boy.”
He instructed the boys and me to form strong frames with our arms.
“Ladies, close your eyes and surrender to your leading man.”
I was thankful to be the male. It was better than being led anywhere by a boy like Cord.
“Ouch!” Celeste complained. “You stepped on my toes.”
Mr. John reached for her hand. “May I cut in?” He spun her effortlessly. “You dance like your mother.”
Celeste’s mother! I studied his assistant, her curly hair, the clingy bodysuit, and tried to imagine my own mom wearing something other than elastic waist jeans dancing with a man other than my dad.
Mr. John gave Celeste a final twirl. “You just need the right partner.”
Don’t we all? I glanced at the GOYANs who had resorted to line dancing, gyrating toward their bored reflections in the mirror. But I’m sure not going to find him here.
Class ended. The pressure to find the perfect partner was over, at least for now. I started for Rumpleheimer’s, the others hustling to keep up. Maybe I wasn’t a good follower, but that would be to my advantage anywhere but the dance floor.
“Hey,” Cord shouted. “I know a shortcut!”
Ignoring him, I continued walking, never missing a beat. And the others were happy to let me lead.