Doin' That Old Soft Shoe




If you want to know the power of a well-timed compliment, listen up. Once when I was in seventh grade my social studies teacher put on a record of "West Side Story" and had the class divide up into Sharks and Jets. Then she had us take turns improvising some dance moves. I have no idea what the point was - maybe she had just left her lesson plan at home - but, when the class ended, a girl I'd never spoken to and whose name I can't recall said to me, "You dance good."

Since that day, 40-something years ago, my entire dancing career has consisted of some embarrassing psychedelic noodle dances at various rock concerts and a brief spin around the floor with my wife on our wedding day. But somewhere, deep inside, I've always suspected that nameless girl so long ago might be right.

So when local promoter extraordinaire Jim Roach asked me if I'd be willing to enter a competition titled "Dancing with the Local Stars," my first thought was, "Why not? I dance good." My second thought was, "When did I become a 'local star'?" but I soon discovered that men aren't typically eager to participate in such events and they lured a lot of them out on the "Local Stars" dance floor last year. They were probably scraping the bottom when they found me.

The only other guy in the competition was to have been Manchester Mayor Ted Gatsas. He dropped out shortly after I agreed to compete. Coincidence? You be the judge. I'm not saying he's afraid of my moves, but I do have a bit of tiger blood in me.

The event will take place Apr. 30 at the Mall of N.H. It's a public space, so consider yourselves invited. To defend my honor, I've just embarked upon a series of dance lessons at the Royal Palace Dance Studio in Manchester. My instructor/partner is a stunning 24-year-old professional dancer named Julia. She's been on dance teams that have won national awards, but she seems to enjoy the challenge of connecting muggles like me with our inner dancers. My wife, who hasn't danced much either since that spin we took in a church basement 25 years ago, finds it all amusing. I guess I'm sufficiently over the hill that she's not worried about me losing my virtue with a woman half my age.

OK, less than half my age.

My competitors consist of a bunch of younger, spryer and far more attractive-than-I females including Erin Fehlau of WMUR and New Hampshire Magazine's own event and marketing manager, Tricia Baker Schmitt. Oh, and rumor has it Mayor Gatsas is replacing himself with a young ringer in hopes of taking me out. We'll see about that.

If all this competive bluster leaves you cold, maybe this will warm you up.

One dancer at the event will not be there to compete but to fulfill a dream: a young girl, a brain cancer survivor, representing the Make-A-Wish Foundation who has always wanted to "dance like a princess." As I write this, the organizers are arranging for her to waltz in a glittering gown for the crowds at Dancing with the Local Stars.

When she does, I'll have three words from another young girl to pass along to her.

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