Lasciate Ogne Speranza, Voi Ch’Intrate… Cha Cha Cha

I’m struggling for the words to describe what I’ve seen this weekend, and I’m coming up short. I guess I’ll have to lead up to it.

Kate and I have been taking ballroom dance lessons for about a year now, on and off, and we keep telling ourselves that we should really get out and practice. There aren’t that many places to practice, though. There are swing clubs, which is not my thing, and there’s Latin clubs, which are fantastic, but where do you go when you want to practice the waltz?

On the spur of the moment, then, Kate and I piled into the car and did Google search on my iPaq. Twenty-five minutes later, we pulled off the turnpike into Levittown. Ten minutes after that, we were rolling through a double row of abandoned drive-through liquor stores and pancake houses; we locked the car doors. Five more minutes, and the strip mall parking lots on either side were choked with weeds.

Five minutes after that, and we had arrived at the Paso Doble Ballroom. We locked the car (the only Ford in a sea of Lincoln Town Cars), and walked through the door, huddled together for protection.

The room is colossal, enormous, endless, a giant square with a suspended ceiling painted black. Half the room is filled with round tables, seven feet in diameter, eight seats to a table, covered in red tablecloths, forty or fifty tables in all. The floor is carpeted with red nubbly carpeting, in the “wrinkly brain” pattern popular in the late seventies. The carpet is old, ground down, and smells a little mildewy. The carpet extends up the walls all the way to the ceiling, where projectors hang, shining bizarre, unrelated images onto the carpeted wall-panels:

  • An undulating sixties flower pattern
  • A clown with an umbrella, alternating with the cursive motto “Best Wishes!”
  • A rotating scene of a scuba diver tethered to a submarine, the submaring fighting with a giant squid, the squid being attacked by the diver, round and round.

The entire room is festooned with Christmas garland, wrapped in white Christmas lights, draped with tinsel. There are thousands of feet of garland, hundreds of thousands of lights. Mark Twain, in describing the cathedral of Saint Paul, tells a story about an army regiment of ten thousand men that arrived early for mass. They fit so neatly into one cavernous apse that their commanding officer, arriving late, failed to find his men; he thought they hadn’t arrived!

That story describes the Paso Doble ballroom’s dance floor, a vast sea of canadian maple, NINE THOUSAND SQUARE FEET in size. Let me say that again: NINE THOUSAND SQUARE FEET. Nine thousand square feet of dance floor, host to twenty or thirty eighty-year-olds dancing the rhumba, shaking their asses in the merengue, wearing matching two-tone ballroom dance uniforms, smiling the unmistakable vaseline smiles of the Professional Ballroom Dancer Wannabe. All this freakiness, all this octegenarian mojo was spread thinly on the colossal polished expanse of this endless wooden acre, surrounded by mildewed carpet, festooned with Christmas garden, decorated with Scuba divers.

How can I tell you all about it? How can I make sense of the toupees, the comb-overs that started at the base of the neck, the saxophonist on crutches, the toothpicked jalapeno cheese cubes at the snack bar? How can I make you understand my feelings when Headband Man galloped across the floor with his partner in the Meringue, porn-spanking her the entire distance? Or how I felt when I saw them head the other way, except now Headband Man’s partner was porn-spanking him back?

God help us. God help us all.

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