He was a great dancer, popular with all the single women who attended the Wednesday night folk dance sessions. Always more women than men, they flocked around him, some waiting to be asked, others asking him. His dance prowess spoke louder than his looks.
The first time he asked me to dance, a particularly complicated Swedish dance, I was thrilled and nervous. The woman and man do different steps in a complex rhythm that only works if the woman allows the man full control, swinging and swirling her in time to the music. My father taught me the dance and whenever we danced together, I could feel my mother’s jealously. She had always been his partner until an automobile accident put an end to her dancing. Similarly, while dancing with the man, I felt women’s eyes on me and my discomfort increased. His arm around my waist, almost to my breast, felt supportive and dangerous as he led me around the hall. After the dance ended, he said, “You’re a good dancer. I like dancing with you.” I nodded, mumbled thanks, and walked away, not wanting to appear as if I were asking him for the next dance if it was a couple’s dance.
I don’t like dancing with men who don’t dance well. I sympathize with their lack of ability, but my compassion doesn’t extend to the dance floor. When a man who can dance, asks me to dance, it’s a pleasure that warms my heart and lifts my spirit. After the man asked me to dance a few times I began to look forward to dancing with him, easily one of the best male dancers who regularly came to folk dance.
The only time we ever saw each other was when we danced so I was surprised when the phone rang and it was him, asking if we could meet for dinner. I had a seven-year-old son so I told him he’d have to wait until I found a babysitter who could also give him dinner. “Okay,” he said, “let me know when you’re available—the sooner the better.” I couldn’t imagine why he was suddenly asking me out. All we’d ever done together was dance. We never even talked between dances.
I was on a tight budget so being invited to a restaurant was a treat but I was also curious as to why he’d asked me to join him for dinner. I waited for him to tell me what the dinner occasion was all about, but all we did while we ate was chat, pleasantly, which kept me wondering. It wasn’t until coffee was poured that he came to the point--forthright and clear. “I’d like to have sex with you once a week for a year. I’ll pay you $4000.00.”
I was stunned. Shocked. At the time, I was earning a lot less than $4000 a year with a graduate fellowship and a summer Title One Grant. This would more than double my income, and yet, could I have sex with a man with whom I had no chemistry except while dancing? How would he claim his “right?” Tattoo my toe? I’m not a prude. I don’t judge prostitutes—they do what they do for their own reasons. But the idea of a man owning my body, even for a few hours once a week, even for badly needed money, filled me with revulsion.
When I regained my composure I said, “I appreciate your thinking of me but I can’t do it.”
“Why not?” He asked. “We like each other. We dance well together. It’s no big deal. I’m a good lover and we can have a great time.”
“Okay, forget I said anything.” He paid the bill and left.
He never asked me to dance again.
Was there a time in your life when you were given an offer that, in one way would have made life easier, but in another way would have been emotionally disastrous?
Nancy King is a widely published author and a professor emerita at the University of Delaware, where she has taught theater, drama, playwriting, creative writing, and multidisciplinary studies with an emphasis on world literature. She has published seven previous works of nonfiction and five novels. Her new memoir, Breaking the Silence, explores the power of stories in healing from trauma and abuse. Her career has emphasized the use of her own experience in being silenced to encourage students to find their voices and to express their thoughts, feelings, and experiences with authenticity, as a way to add meaning to their lives.