When I turned a tomboyish 12, my mother decided it was time to socially refine me. So she signed me up for ballroom dancing classes. A friend of hers, in cahoots, signed up her 12-year-old son. The results, for a girl more interested in sports than in deportment, in running more than in romance, were all too predictable. My cha-cha was more of a chug-chug. My box step never broke out of the box. And since we girls were all taller than the boys (Mom’s friend’s son included), my swing dance looked more like the limbo whenever my partner tried in vain to twirl me under his upraised arm. As the popular limbo lyric asked, “How low can you go?” I couldn’t wait for the class to end, after which I vowed never to set foot in a ballroom again.
My vow broke, though, last Friday when I found myself attending a grand ball at the Fill. Oh, not in any of the CUH’s buildings. This one was staged in nature itself, and its stars were two Belted Kingfishers. I was privileged to have a front-row seat on my camp stool. The show began, as such affairs often do, with the pair making a dramatic entrance. The female came first, swooping in from the marina and chattering her castanets. The male followed, trailing his wings like a cape. Ah, I thought, the passionate, Spanish-inspired Paso Doble. The two circled each other, now almost touching, now flying apart. Then the male hovered in place while his partner danced all around him in a wild clatter of skirts. So fiery was she that one of her feathers flew off and blew away on the wind.
Then the mood changed, and the dance became a languid waltz, with the pair drifting over the bay and dancing back as one, swirling around each other in endless spirals of beauty. I found myself nodding in time to the unheard music. A Strauss tune, without a doubt. The minutes passed, and still the pair danced, on and on without pause. I watched for over an hour.
Then the mood changed again, as the two flew apart into different corners of the ballroom. I sat up on my camp stool. Something dramatic was about to happen. It began with the pair flying furiously toward each other, crossing in midair, turning back, crossing again, then circling to draw vast O’s and X’s in the sky. Finally, they joined for the most spectacular of all dance runs: the grand passage of the Quickstep. In a diagonal across the entire Fill, the two danced intertwined, wing beat matching wing beat, swoop following swoop, the moves too quick for the eye to follow. I thought my heart would stop.
The kingfishers reached the edge of the ballroom, flew back, and met again over my head, prepared for another pass. How much longer could they keep it up? I wondered. My derriere had long since lost all feeling, but neither bird showed any sign of flagging.
Then, just as they were starting their second grand pass, another male appeared and tried to cut in. The first male objected. A fight ensued. The female, no shy flower, egged on her chevalier from the sidelines. But as the fight continued, she seemed to realize she had lost their focus. She tilted her head, puzzled. “Wha?” she seemed to ask herself. “I, no longer the center of attention? This cannot be.” With a final (probably unprintable) remark, she flounced off the stage and went home.
Dance floor dudgeon. How well I understood.