Monday, September 14, 2009

Thanks for the fantasy....

As my own special tribute to Patrick Swayze, here is the first piece of writing I ever did that earned me a paycheck. (It's nearly ten years old so forgive the anachronisms.) For that reason, and because of the responses it drew from all kinds of readers (including a number of men), it will always remain very special to me. You may want to choose your own favorite Patrick moment, but for me, it will always be that final scene. Enjoy.

If you have a VCR and a little time to spare, you have everything you need to understand women. In just two hours, you'll learn the secret to what makes women run, disguised as a sleeper hit from the mid-eighties. Its title has true "guy" appeal: Dirty Dancing.

No matter what, no matter when, I have to watch the final scene of Dirty Dancing whenever I come across it on TV. The goofy end-of-season resort talent show, the disgruntled dancers scowling in the back of the room because their leader was unceremoniously ousted from their ranks, the awkward table for three where Baby (Jennifer Grey) and her parents self-consciously sit and watch the entertainment.

It doesn't matter that I've seen it - oh, let's call it 50, 60 times - I have to watch it. Not because it's great cinema. Not for the awful singing of the older, less engaging sister. Not even because I have to hear that infamous line from Johnny Castle (Swayze): "Nobody puts Baby in a corner," before he hauls her up on stage.

No. Because deep down inside, I know and believe with all my heart that with just a few turns around the floor, I could learn the number from Patrick, wear the flow-y dress like Jennifer and do an unbelievable job with that final dance.

If you're surprised, it's because you're a man reading this. If you're a woman, you're nodding your head saying, 'Yes! Yes!" Am I right? Of course I'm right! Any woman worth her strappy, high-heeled sandals would say so. There but for the grace of a good dance partner go I.

So what does this have to do with understanding women? Try just about everything.

The teaching and the learning of the dance steps throughout the picture. The early challenges of Baby and Johnny's partnership. The first time they appear in public at a nearby resort, ultimately building up to that final ballroom scene where they put it out there for the world to see, is a road map for what women want.

What does Baby get from Johnny that she hasn't gotten from other men in her life? She gets exactly what all women want from their lovers: patience, dedication, and decisiveness, confidence in themselves and their partner, the good sense to share the spotlight - even step into the shadows occasionally - and finally, strength.

Think about it. Ever notice the way women stare at couples on a dance floor? Try wedding receptions. At the last one you attended, I guarantee you every woman at your table commented on a terrific couple on the dance floor and every other woman at the table nodded in knowing comprehension. We are all fascinated with the way they anticipated each other, the light touch on her back that commanded so much, the casual way they moved apart without ever really leaving each other.

Did Baby feel good about her first few turns around the room with Johnny? No. Did he believe he was quite possibly making an enormous mistake? Yes. Does that sound like countless first dates? Or maybe the first few years of your marriage?

But they made it through the toe-squashing and the missed moves. Somewhere along the line, Johnny's patience as an instructor paid off. His confidence helped Baby polish her own natural abilities and they became each other's perfect partner.

(Politically correct alert: Yes, Baby taught Johnny a few things, too. But that's another article.)

And the climax of the previously mentioned, never-to-be-missed, final scene? The lift! The scary, you-better-hold-on-tight-and-not-drop-me, I'm-not-sure-I-can-do-this, lift! With grace, trust, and a look of exquisite joy, Baby flings herself into Johnny's waiting arms and is...what? Elevated above and beyond, truly basking in the glow of her own pride and confidence, nurtured and encouraged all along the way by her lover and trusted friend.

So what's the secret? Arthur Murray? Maybe. But if you're not ready for the "take 12 lessons and the 13th is free" route, tuck these rules away and refer to them often.

Hold her. Hold her tight, hold her lightly, hold her passionately. Never think your touch is old and unwanted. When you stop holding her, you start missing even the easy steps together.

Let her go. A woman is nothing if not contradictions. She'll need to take some solo steps from time to time, and it will help to know you're in the wings, cheering her on, watching her make her own moves.

Pay attention. Dedicate yourself to getting it right. These "man / woman" steps get complicated sometimes. When you make a mistake, even a pretty bad one, move on together. Try real hard not to make it again.

Lift her up. When the rest of the world tries to defeat her, remind her through your indefatigable confidence in her that she's a goddess who can soar above mere mortals.

Look her in the eye. Fancy footwork will get you so far, but look into her eyes and confirm, "I want to take these steps with you for the rest of my life."

You'll get distracted: jobs, kids, life. You'll slow down in the years ahead, maybe even forget a step or two.

But your commitment to each other will make all the difference in your pas de deux. Like the couple dancing at the wedding, you'll fall into a comfortable, semi-private place every time you reach for each other, moving together like couples did so naturally, so many years ago in the Catskills.

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