A couple of years ago I decided to brush up on my dancing skills. Before I had kids you couldn’t keep me off the dance floor, but as life happens, years can pass before one day you realize something is missing. For me, what was missing was dancing the night away to Latin music. Since it had been years since I’d been out, I didn’t want to make a colossal ass out of myself upon my return so I did what any self-respecting woman would do: I showed up early one evening and took advantage of the free lessons.

Our instructor that evening was a stocky gentleman in his mid-fifties, pants cinched firmly at his ample waist, with a few wisps of unnaturally jet black hair painstakingly combed over his finely polished scalp. He was the epitome of efficiency, equipped with a wireless headset that allowed both hands to wave about freely as he demonstrated the intricacies of salsa. I was there for a refresher on dance…but what I received was a lesson on relationships.

Lesson One: Learn to approach a woman. Our esteemed instructor moved quickly and purposefully throughout the 25 or so of us that were awkwardly standing around, awaiting our first lesson. He divided us into two lines, men facing the women, at least five paces apart. His deep, heavily accented voice projected from the speakers, with a generic beat in the background serving as a sexy metronome, his instructions equal parts English and Spanish. “Mira!” he said he said as he walked down the newly formed aisle. “Lo que pasa es que  — no woman wants to dance with a limp fish.” On beat, he strode across the aisle, head up, eyes intent on the woman he approached, hand extended. Unwittingly, she giggled like a schoolgirl and stepped forward into his arms. I glanced at the woman next to me. Damn. Point noted maestro, approach with intent.

Lesson Two: Learn to lead. Once he had her in his arms, he paused for further instruction, “El hombre tiene que comunicar with his body! Show her, con confianza!” He stomped his modestly sized, wingtipped shoe and squared up with his partner. He kept a healthy distance between their bodies, made eye contact, paused for a beat then dropped both his shoulder and his eyes in the direction in which they were both headed. Off they both went without another word uttered and without an ounce of verbal communication. I slowly shook my head. Of course, I thought, who wouldn’t want to follow a confident lead.

Lesson three: Learn to showcase. A few basic steps later and slightly glistening from the exertion, our instructor changed partners to demonstrate a spin. “La mujer siempre, siempre es la flor.” He turned slowly to be certain we all understood this point. Gravely, we nodded in agreement. “El hombre, no. He is there to showcase his woman. Como este.” He counted it off from the top and spun her this way and that. He was her axis as she twirled, his hand at the small of back signaling changes of movement. They practiced the step twice and by the third time she was visibly confident in her own abilities. I witnessed a beautiful transformation as she began to smile, laughing and relaxing fully into the rhythm as he guided her, letting her shine. Huh, I thought to myself; a confident man will share the spotlight and let his woman enjoy her time.

Lesson four: Learn to improvise. Midway through the next lesson, there was a change in music and tempo. Several couples smashed into one another and a collective look of panic crossed our faces. Our good natured instructor clapped his hands slowly but in time with the beat. “La vida es así!” He spun his latest partner away and deftly selected another. “You must be ready for change!” He held his partner by one hand raised high in the air, circling, he never lost eye contact with her as he spoke, “Make it a part of the dance.” He pulled her firmly to him, paused for a beat, dropped a shoulder and off they went. My jaw dropped and I looked around. Did anyone else hear what this guy was saying?

Lesson five: Learn to end with a strong finish. We were several songs in, and I felt cautiously optimistic in my abilities, when our instructor circled back and relieved me of my partner. My palms began to sweat as I accepted his hand and timidly placed my hand on his shoulder. A firm arm that was in stark contrast to the cautious touch of my former partner was a welcome relief. I was eye level with my instructor’s forehead, so I fixed my eyes on his remaining black strands of hair and began to relax. He sensed the change, pulled me closer, dropped a shoulder and off we went. An exhilarating song later I found myself breathless, back arched and the crown of my head inches from floor. With one arm raised to the ceiling with the grand flourish of a bullfighter he shouted triumphantly, “Eso es!” Smitten, I had to agree. Yes, it was.

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