Experiences at Balls

Donald Daniel

Originated 2001

Revised Feb 2012


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SHARING. I was sitting at a singles table at a ball. A middle aged married lady was there with her husband at another table. She was a friend of one of the single ladies I had already danced with. She was dying to do a Viennese waltz. Her friend introduced us and she asked if she could dance with me. She was an experienced dancer, but not in the Viennese waltz. An especially slow one was playing, probably about 50 bars per minute. She was so bubbly, bouncy and enthusiastic, I decided to risk it. We danced. As we whirled, maneuvering through the crowd, I could see that she was wide eyed and tense. I asked dryly "How are we doing?" Throwing her head back with gleeful exhilaration she said "This is WONDERFUL!!!" After the dance, I escorted her to where her husband was waiting. He said with awe "You two sure were smooth out there." I had no ambition to teach them myself; I lived too far away, but wanted to convince them to learn however they could. Seizing the opening his statement presented I asked him "Didn't it look like it would be fun to do?" She watched with breathless anticipation to hear his reply. Suddenly aware of the trap he had almost stepped into, he replied emphatically, shuddering and pushing back, "No!! It didn't look like it would be fun at all!" Reflecting on this later, I wondered what had happened to America's pioneer spirit of adventure and daring.

WHO CAN PARTICIPATE? Only on two occasions can I remember people in wheelchairs at a ball. It did my heart good to see them there, even if their pleasure was only vicarious. On one occasion there were several together side by side. When they realized that I was somewhat of a promoter, they eagerly peppered me with questions. It is so heartwarming to dancers to see that such people are included that I would offer discount prices for people in wheelchairs if I were running a ball.

STAMINA. One time my date at a ball was a delightful petite lady who danced with her eyes shut. This was not a problem, because I do the driving. Viennese waltz is exhilarating and challenging, requiring much concentration to maneuver through a milling crowd whirling as you go. We sat out every other dance to rest, and rested during the orchestra breaks. Toward the end of four hours of this, I was both mentally and physically exhausted on this particular night. Suddenly I lost the ability to look where I was going. Instead, my eyes gave up and insisted on pointing in the direction my nose was pointing. Everything became a whirling blur. I lost my sense of direction. I had never experienced this before. It took another three or four revolutions before I came to my senses and stopped before I ran us into another couple. She wondered why we stopped. After we sat down, she was surprised to hear I was so wiped out, because she was in better shape than I. I had her feel my heart pounding; she was convinced. I had not been getting enough exercise between balls to stay in shape.

MISSIONARY WORK. Eldridge Cleaver was known as a 60's radical black activist and author of "Soul on Ice". He had communist leanings in his youth, but had become an anti-communist after seeing it first hand during a period of exile. I attended a lecture by him. I talked to him about the possibility that balls in black ghetto high school gyms might have an uplifting effect on despairing ghetto youth. After great difficulty, I persuaded him to attend a ball at my expense to see for himself. He scoffed at the preposterous idea, but was willing to keep an open mind if I was paying. I picked him up at his apartment in Pomona, CA, and we rode together to San Diego. We stayed in separate rooms in the same motel. At the ball, he took up station with yellow legal pad in hand, sitting in a chair backed against the wall, taking notes of his impressions like an anthropologist studying the natives. There was a married couple at the other end of the table where we were. The man was sitting, his wife standing, looking longingly at the dancing, obviously unable to contain herself. With her husband's permission I danced with her. As we danced she said her husband had some crazy idea that the black man with me looked like Eldridge Cleaver. I assured her he was. After a while, Eldridge was surrounded by a group of former readers of "Soul on Ice" getting autographs. I had brought a stack of copies of my article "The Viennese Waltz " to place on the table in the lobby for free information handouts. Eldridge observed that they were not going very fast, and toward the end of the evening, while I was dancing, he went around to the tables of people handing out copies of my article. At the end, as people were walking out, an older lady complained to me that the copies ran out before she could get one. After the ball, Eldridge was excited about his experience. He was even planning to learn to dance himself. He admitted that my idea had a lot of merit, but would be almost impossible to sell. He would see what he could do. Unfortunately, he died suddenly three months later.

YOUTH AND OLD AGE. I felt out of place at the Duke University ball, there were so few adults. I felt like a pervert asking a college girl for a dance. I justified my presence by my new calling, adopted late in life, as a journalist for this web site. I did very little dancing. Sitting on the sidelines, I observed and contemplated. Declining defense budgets had pressured me into early retirement. My career as an engineer was over, my identity partially shattered. These young people were so well dressed and well behaved. They were fumbling at the Viennese waltz, obviously untrained, but having a good time anyway. They were at least the beginnings of a cross section of the United States: mostly white, some orientals and at least one black. All splendid. When I was their age I never had a chance like this to socialize in such an uplifting atmosphere with such wonderful music as Strauss had written more than a century before. I had been 50 when I learned the Viennese waltz. I was now 58, feeling old and acutely aware of the gulf between these beautiful young people and myself. But I found their youthful promise profoundly reassuring. When the ball was over, and I was walking back to my car, I looked up at the stars. For the first time I was comfortable at a deep emotional level with nature's plan. At that moment had I been stricken with a heart attack, I could have faced death with contentment. I had seen the future and it was good.

BUDGET LUXURY. When I first retired I wanted to exercise my newfound freedom by driving my car around the country. But I did not want to stress my finances in the process. So I bought food in grocery stores and ate at roadside rest stops. Whenever possible I slept in the car at roadside rest stops, and showered for $5 at truck stops. But I had my tuxedo in my suitcase. My little Honda civic hatchback car already had over 200,000 miles on it when the trip started, and was streaked with mud by the time I reached New York city. I attended an elegant Viennese waltz ball at the Waldorf Astoria. It cost $350 to get in, but think of all the money I had saved getting there. Their magnificent grand ballroom had two levels of balcony on three sides of the room, a stage on the fourth side, and a 49 by 67 foot dance floor in the middle of the room. A symphony orchestra provided live music for 535 people at the ball. After the ball I stood in line while the valet parking attendants brought the cars one by one. The other cars were large gleaming luxury cars in stark contrast to my little mud streaked econobox. It raised a few eyebrows, but I was happy.

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