tuesday night. it’s a phase three waltz, and i’m dancing as the follow. my partner is lead, but so far, i can hold my own; he doesn’t need to lead me through any steps. i was taking a phase two waltz class, at the time, so i knew most of the basics. the cuer’s voice tells us the steps. two right turns, which is one two three, one two three; then twirl vine three, spin step behind; thru face close, one two three; whisk, one two behind; forward forward lock forward,
which, in my mind, is step step cross step. that’s four steps, i know that. i just learned that, yes, we just did that call last night. my mind says step step cross step, but my feet do step step step. one step less than i should have. the next call is pickup. one tw—wait,
that starts with the left foot, but it’s my right foot that’s free. i realize the mistake, putting down my right foot, lifting my left, as my partner nudges me in front of him. i shuffle my feet into place, finishing the count. right foot free, i tell myself. the cue is forward waltz, and i’m on the correct foot again. one two three, one two three.
the tricky thing, you see, about forward forward lock forward, is that it’s a call with four steps. waltz music is in three-fourths, which is one two three, one two three. you have to fit four steps in three beats, unlike almost all other figures.
the rest of the dance had footwork i was used to, so i thought about my form. two right turns. keep my back straight, as if my head was stacked on it. twirl vine three. elbows up, shoulders relaxed. thru face closed. pressure on my partner’s shoulder, but not too much. whisk. bend knees on one, back up on two. down up three, down up three. forward forward lock forward,
and i step,
and then it’s pickup, and i missed a step, and i switch feet, and my partner nudges me, and i get into position, and i switch feet, and i switched too much, and i switch feet again, and it’s forward waltz, and it’s on the two beat, and i haven’t moved, and i take two quick steps back, and—one two three, one two three. i’m on the beat again.
we dance for a couple more measures before the song ends. the ending is step apart and acknowledge: take a step back, point up and away, make eye contact, and smile. after the dance, my partner tells me i did a great job.
“good form,” he says.
and i say, “sorry. that was pretty bad,” before correcting myself, and saying “thanks.”
sometimes life throws shit at you that you’re not prepared for.
last thursday, a little past 5 pm, i got an email about new policies on mit events. the restrictions all seemed reasonable, even expected. suspending all international travel. “weigh whether any domestic travel… is essential”. quarantine. and then,
Effective immediately, if you are planning any in-person MIT event with more than 150 attendees that will take place between now and Friday, May 15, on campus or off campus, you must postpone, cancel or “virtualize” it.
i stopped reading the rest of the email, and forwarded it to esp. it looked like the email was rolling; not everyone has received the email yet. spring hssp, our six-weekend program for seventh through twelfth graders, just started the weekend before. it was set to happen that saturday, and then for the next month. spark, a one-weekend program where a thousand middle schoolers come to campus, was scheduled to happen on march 14, the next week. presumably, both would be canceled. other events that would be affected were cpw, senior ball, ring delivery.
the next few hours were a blur. my phone constantly vibrates through the evening as i got email after email. i go to an advanced class for squares, and we dance for two hours or so. we talk about the new policy, but almost as if it wasn’t entirely clear what the new policy meant, as if in disbelief that it could even happen. by the time i’m back in my room, i have twenty unread emails, all of which i ignored. i work on my 18.702 pset, which i needed to finish by that night.
by the end of the night, it was clear that esp had to cancel spring hssp and spark. an email was drafted, and edited, and edited, and edited. “We’re very sorry to inform you that we will not be running Spark this year.” or “We’re very sorry to inform you that we will not be running the remainder of Spring HSSP this year.”
how do you tell a thousand students, in a clear, kind, and professional way, that a program is canceled? how do you acknowledge their disappointment, and how do you communicate that we too, as organizers, are heartbroken? and how do you say that, despite all of this, we appreciate that mit is taking steps to keep everyone safe and healthy?
perhaps the strangest thing about it was how weird it felt, at least, to me. i’ve seen members of the esp team put in hours upon hours of planning and effort to get the programs running this far. stacks and stacks of signs and stanchions, stacks of student schedules and liability waivers; dozens of teacher interviews for spring hssp, and dozens of hours designing art; hundreds of posters and postcards, and hundreds upon hundreds of emails. and somehow, although it felt bad that the programs were canceled, it didn’t feel like the end of the world.
all this coming from someone who didn’t even spend a lot of time helping prepare these programs. the email about mit’s new policy had taken me aback so badly, i was in awe that others in esp had the strength to write the announcement email at all. and i haven’t even begun thinking about the effort already put into preparing for cpw—
on friday, i go to an interview, and then i go to class. i ate lunch with professor bucci, organized by the office of the first year, and we talk about nuclear reactors and course 22. i pack clothes, and head to another class, and ride a van up to new hampshire, because this weekend was tech squares weekend. we dance friday night, and all day saturday, and sunday morning.
i remember the last rounds dance on sunday morning. it’s a phase four cha cha, and i’m dancing as the follow again. since i’ve never actually taken a cha cha class, i knew how to do some of the moves, but i didn’t have any technique. i didn’t know anything about the right form, or the right handholds, or anything like that.
my partner, who was leading, was gracious and patient enough to put up with my cluelessness. we danced the first few measures, which were mostly figures i knew. cucaracha twice, which was like stepping in place but to the rhythm. full chase, first the lead turns around, then the follow turns around. basic, new yorker, underarm turn.
the tricky part, which probably earned the dance its phase four, was new yorker to fan, hockey stick. i didn’t know what to do, and it looked like my partner didn’t know either. they swiveled me around, and they stepped in place, and i looked at the other people and i guessed that i should be walking forward or something. we fudged the next two measures until we got new yorker, underarm turn, and we were dancing familiar figures again.
i sure as heck didn’t know what i was doing. but i was moving to the beat, and i knew enough of the dance that it felt like i was actually dancing. i smiled. the dance ends with through to aida and hold, which i didn’t really knew how to do, but i posed and pretended like i knew it anyway.
my partner smiles at me. “that was a lot of fun,” i say.
it’s strange, i guess. dance follows form, but form follows function, and the function is to dance. sometimes you just gotta keep moving and maintain form. sometimes, the cuer’s gonna throw a move you don’t know how to dance to, and you just have to roll with it. it’s gonna happen, and it’ll look smoother if you act like you know what you’re doing.
we leave after sunday lunch, and take the van back to campus. i take a nap. i catch up on my email, do a practice exam, head to office hours. i’m moving. tomorrow, i will wake up, and head to class, and head to lunch, and i’ll keep moving. i’ll head to class, and head to a meeting, and then i’ll dance again.
it’s hard. yet i’ll maintain composure.
i don’t know how to do this next bit, but i’ll keep going until i know the moves again.