Volume 5 Number 3


Summer 2007

Gypsy Woman

by Diana Woods

"I have a hunch that you'll enjoy contra-dancing," Wendy says. "There'll be something in it for you." I wonder if she thinks that I'll find a man.

Back in the disco days, when she and I first met, geysers of hot energy fueled our dancing craze. Restless and lonely, I found lovers while grinding my soles on polished floors. We braided our legs together in the quicksands of romance. A wild woman, the Dakini of Buddhist lore, lived inside me then.

Now I respond, "How about a movie?" Soon, I'll be left with a Medicare card and a bundle of memories. I dye my hair red but never expect to meet anyone.

If I dance again, I'll feel the cold fingers of strangers, faces distant or disdainful, not like the days when men breathed fire to take my arm. Even the old guys prefer young girls.

Wendy persists and, finally, I agree. "Just once, I'll dance," I tell her, "to celebrate our yesterdays."


The door of the Masonic hall opens wide as we arrive. I hear a mandolin player tuning up strings as I step from the car. Men in blue jeans and khakis, women in billowing skirts and pinafores, stand in a circle on the dance floor.

Wendy and I drop our jackets on a folding chair and rush over for the lesson. "Find a partner and stand in groups of four, ladies on the right," says the instructor.

An Asian man, stocky and short, dressed in a forest-green shirt and brown pants, steps next to me. "My name's Martin. We'll learn together." Like a tree, he anchors me as we practice our spins, eyes glued together to keep our balance.

"Are you having fun?" he asks.

"Oh, yes," I tell him as I trip over his feet.

Thirty minutes later, we stand in a line of foot-stomping, hip-swinging people that extends from the front stage to the back kitchen of the great hall. "Divide into foursomes and face each other," the caller yells. Martin and I will move down the line together to dance with every couple.

A young gal in blue jeans, rhinestones on her belt, fidgets in our group of four as we wait for the music to start. Afraid of embarrassing myself, I don't share her enthusiasm. The pace of the music scares me. New faces overwhelm me. My feet stick to the floor.

The other man in our foursome laughs when I tell him that I can't dance. His eyes beckon me to faraway places as the distance between us widens. I never learn his name.

At first, I concentrate on the steps, reaching for Martin's hand as if I were falling from a cliff. When I miss a beat, the others nudge me. It all happens quickly; many arms and feet synchronize. I don't have to save myself.

When the tune finishes, it's time to change partners. I hate to leave Martin, but ask another man to dance. He wears khaki shorts, has a paunch and thinning hair. I don't worry that he'll reject me.

"I'm Bob. How long have you been dancing?" he asks.

"First time," I say.

He shakes his head. "Next time will be easier."

Whirling with Bob, I think about Martin, the way he arches his back and balances me. Bob wobbles, and I end up dizzy.

As the hours pass, I twirl in the arms of dozens of men and pass shoulder-to-shoulder with the women. We lock our eyes together, whether maidens or crones, and place our hands on our hips, pretending to be gypsies.

When a young czarina in black skirt and blouse pirouettes beside me, chin high and eyes sparkling, I hear a Dakini voice: "Follow her." I throw back my shoulders and point my sandaled feet.

A tall, thin, blonde with his right arm in a sling chooses me for his next partner. My arms surround his as we twirl. "So many beautiful women tonight," he says as he looks into my eyes. I hold him tight and pace my steps to his rhythm.

I play the gypsy with a hunchbacked woman who wears flowered gingham and yellow lace. Despite her age, she strolls like a princess. I envy her smile and watch the men bow as she passes.

My Dakini, her hair standing on end and her body flame red, leaps as she dances above me. With the head of a tiger, a jackal, or a crow, and her tiara of skulls, she'll be the nemesis of many, but I welcome her like a lost friend. She leads me to the place beyond ego and the body. I trade my fears for her freedom.

There are old men and young men, neat or slovenly, all with shirts soaked in sweat, some odiferous, some not. They smile as they grab me and hold me as we pivot. Their eyes hide secrets that I'll never hear. They have names, but I won't remember all of them.

Attracted to one and neutral to the next, I clutch every finger and gaze into every eye. As we spin, the world tightens between us for a brief moment. When I'm with Martin, I feel less pressure to dance well. He knows my limits.

Of all the men, I have a favorite. His eyes draw me in, young but wise, mocking but kind. He wears an Englishman's cap, grey wool covering his brow; curly brown hair falls on his neck. When he removes his cap, the crown of his head is bald.

"Do you like movies?" I ask.

"Not really," he says. "I hike into the mountains where I can be alone." He doesn't invite me along, but I don't feel scorned.

When I circle back to Bob, he acts like a friend. "Tell me about you," he says. Maybe we'll talk later, I think. Maybe not, if I end up with Martin.

"Meet anyone special?" Wendy asks later that night. Her eyes glow like rising moons.

"You're right, Wendy. There's something here for me."

"Martin or Bob?" she asks.

She sees only the men. Later, I'll tell her about finding my Dakini.