When I first met Ezra and Michael, I was thirty-three years old and a retired professional ballroom dancer. I had competed in many international competitions with some of the best male dance partners, won titles, prestige, and then, shortly after my thirtieth birthday, one of my knees gave out during a Samba. Suddenly, it was time to end my glorious career. To earn a living, I put my efforts into teaching and opened my own studio. Some of my students were up and coming stars in the dancing world but most were men desiring to find a way out of their shells and add spice to their life or couples who wanted to have an active weekly “date night” together.

One afternoon, two handsome smiling men in their mid thirties walked into the studio together and asked to sign up for lessons. I happily agreed and we sat down in my lounge area to get to know one another and discuss a contract. Admittedly, they were the first gay couple that had ever sought me out. Ezra was the smaller of the two, by about a head, so I told him it would be easiest if he took on the role of the female dancer and that ballroom dancing was traditionally centered around the male/female dynamic but I saw no reason why two men could not be dancing partners.

Michael chuckled when I said this.

He said, “That’s fine by me; he’s the boss at home so this is finally my shot at wearing the pants!”.

Ezra slapped Michael’s shoulder playfully and tried to hold back a sly smile. I liked them already.

Before we signed the contract, I asked why they had decided to start dancing together and explained that this is something I like to ask all of my students. People want to dance for different reasons and it is my job as a dance instructor to not only teach people how to dance but also to help them have the experience they are looking for. Ezra reached over and took Michael’s hand. Ezra softly told me that he was dying. He had been diagnosed with terminal cancer and the doctors had given him 6-12 months to live. He admitted that they had been together a long time, experienced a lot of hard realities in the previous few years, and now they just wanted to have fun with what time they had left. I tried to find the right response but all that came out was, “Well, let’s have fun then”.

Week after week, they showed up to their lessons smiling and they quickly became my favorite students. They both had this unusual light in their eyes, a perfect blend of sorrow and joy. When I looked at them, I could see that in spite of the hardships and challenges of their lives, they both had hearts that refused to harden. I started them off  with the Foxtrot. Like all couples new at dancing, they were awkward at first, sweated profusely, stepped on each other’s toes, and laughed nervously. After some time, they found their own rhythm and began quickly mastering the steps. We eventually moved on to Waltz, Rumba, Mambo, then Cha Cha, Paso Doble, and Tango. With each new dance I was able to glimpse into a beautiful partnership and see the infinite ways in which the two men loved one another. They always ended each lesson with a kiss and I could often glimpse them through my window walking to their car holding hands. Before we knew it, a year had passed and they were stilly happily dancing together. I decided to surprise them for their one year “Danciversary” with a bottle of champagne at their lesson and we had a toast.

On one occasion, they arrived together and, though I said nothing, I noticed that Ezra looked thinner and a touch more pale than usual. The next lesson, he was even smaller and he grew smaller yet after that. Eventually, they decided to cut out the rhythm dances as they had become too taxing on Ezra’s frail body so I had them focus on their Rumba and Waltz. With each lesson, Ezra’s feet touched the floor less and less and I could see that Michael was carrying him through their steps. Watching them dance together during these lessons was the most heart breaking yet stunningly beautiful thing I have ever seen. I knew that, right before my eyes, I was witnessing a profound love. Though their time left together was growing shorter, their smiles when dancing never changed.

A week came when Michael called the day before their lesson. He apologized and explained that Ezra was feeling too sick to come and, hopefully, they would see me the following week. He promised that he would notify me if they had to cancel again. I told him not to worry at all and that I hoped to see them both soon. The following week arrived and Michael walked into my studio alone. His face was full of an inexpressible grief.

“Will you dance with me?”, he asked.

“Of course” I answered, choking back my tears.

“What would you like to dance?”

“Waltz” he said back.

I turned on the music, we stepped out onto the floor, he took me in his arms, and we began to dance. I tried to look at him but his eyes were closed and tears streamed down his cheeks. Despite this, he didn’t miss a step. I will never forget that Waltz. Though I knew it was not meant for me, I have never been touched more tenderly or felt more loved.


2 thoughts on “Waltz

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