Elizabeth was relieved when another man claimed Georgia for the next dance, a waltz, and Art came to ask her to dance. They danced well but dispassionately. Elizabeth felt inhibited, and he seemed distracted, hardly meeting her eyes.
After the waltz, Elizabeth escaped to the women’s lounge. She sat in front of the mirror, put her elbows on the counter, cupped her face in her hands, and closed her eyes.
She felt embarrassed and angry at herself for reacting this way. She still mourned her husband, Jim, and hadn’t been consciously aware of any romantic feelings toward Art. Now though, seeing him with Georgia, she knew that she’d grown dependent on his company, at least in the confines of the dance studio. He was a special dance partner, and she liked to think that she was special to him, too.
Someone pushed the door to enter the lounge, and Elizabeth quickly looked into the mirror, smoothing her hair. She stood up and regarded herself critically. Her petite, slender, small-bosomed figure always had been a source of pride, but now she thought she just looked shrunken. Her fine gray hair, worn in a natural, blow-dry style, seemed merely matronly, not attractive as her husband Jim had always said it was. She felt both old and adolescent.
Taking a deep breath, she steeled herself to return to the dance. Under Marge’s scrutiny, she wanted to appear nonchalant. She danced in the 10 o’clock circle, smiling gaily at her partners and, shortly afterward, made her excuses to leave.
Marge leaned toward her conspiratorially. “I’ll watch Art for you!” she said, rolling her eyes.
It took only two weeks before Art told Vera that his schedule had changed, and he could no longer come to the Wednesday evening class Elizabeth attended, and, sorry, but he wouldn’t be able to practice for a rumba exhibition either. To Elizabeth he said nothing. Seemingly, he was insensitive to any feelings she might have about suddenly being dropped as a dance partner.
Vera, who had encouraged many would-be dancers with two left feet and soothed hurt feelings of others in similar situations, asked Elizabeth if she would be a helper and dance with a new male student who had signed up for a beginning class and had no partner.
Oozing phony sympathy, Marge reported three weeks later that Art and Georgia had signed up together for an advanced class on another night.
Elizabeth started dancing with the beginner, Ed, a shy man in his late thirties, who, though not naturally rhythmic, seemed determined to become a good dancer. She liked Ed but just wasn’t up to teaching him. She had to force cheerfulness and encouragement.
Two weeks later, when she came down with the flu, Elizabeth almost welcomed the illness as a respite. She needed to withdraw, grieve anew for Jim, sort out her feelings, and reexamine her life.
On the sixth day, she began to recover. Her daughter, Leah, a nurse who worked at a nearby hospital, swept cheerily into the house, bringing some videos.
“You’re looking much better today, Mom. I thought you might feel like watching a movie.”
She held up two Fred Astaire/Ginger Rogers videos.
“You need to get well so you can do another exhibition with — What’s his name? Remember, I get to come and see the next one.”
She’d never told Leah about Art’s defection, and she didn’t feel like telling her now.
“Well, we’ll see,” she dissembled. “I don’t think I’m going to feel like dancing for a while.”
In the following weeks, she used weakness as an excuse not to return to the dance studio, but she was starting to feel like a whiner, and Leah was urging her to go for a medical checkup.