It was the third week of Salsa lessons at the Infosys Bangalore Campus (My Office then) . Anybody from the campus who found themselves in and around ‘Golconda’ food court at around 5.30 PM in the evening on Tuesdays and Wednesdays would tell you about a bunch of people desperately trying to stay on their feet while waving their arms wildly like an ostrich would, if it ever tried to make an attempt at flying. There was a time when I used to belong to the “onlooker’s clan”, never missing a chance to make my presence felt at the periphery of the dancing area ready to ‘Release the Cracken’ of mockery when my friends were done with their lessons. But, now I was on the other side and trust me when I say this, “No matter how embarrassing and funny it looked from the outside and no matter what anybody said, the lessons were pretty cool.”
Yes, I had decided to join the class this time and the news came as a shock to anyone who knew me because they never thought I would be the ‘dancing kind’. I don’t blame them, had it been me looking at myself all through these years, I would have been shocked at myself too. Considering the socially awkward and introverted person that I was, a dance lesson would have been the last place on earth I would have expected to find myself. But, then this was something I had always kept pretty close to my chest. From the moment I had seen the first episode of ‘So you think you can dance’, I knew I wanted to learn. It was one of those rare things, like playing the drums, I knew I could do and do well. As they said, “you don’t choose the art, the art chooses you.” But, the biggest obstacle that I had to overcome before I could join the lessons was me. My introverted nature combined with a pinch of poor social skills had almost made me a social pariah. I used to avoid conversations with strangers, preferred the peace and quiet of my cubicle to social gatherings. I avoided crowded places if I could. The few friends that I had managed to keep, were always concerned and constantly pushed me to change this one thing. So this year as a part of my new year’s resolution I had decided to try to be more social and do things that I had always wanted to.
So, there I was in the middle of a bunch of people shaking my legs to the tunes of Latin music. I was getting better at it every passing lesson. I could feel it, even though to an onlooker I would have looked like Jitendra ( Famous Indian actor, not a great dancer) trying to pull out a Hrithik Roshan (Famous Indian Actor, Very good dancer). To be honest, I didn’t care. I was actually having fun. As most of you know, Salsa as a dance form requires partner work and most of the guys who had turned up didn’t have one. So, the instructor had devised a rotation policy, which I personally thought was pretty cool. He would make boys and girls stand in alternating rows so that if the guys turn towards their right would find a dancing partner for themselves. Then, every minute or two the girls would shift toward the right. This was necessary so that no one becomes comfortable with just one partner. According to our instructor, Salsa is a social dance and the key was to be able to dance with anyone, and that is why the rotation was important.
When I started with the lessons, most of my female teammates were of the opinion that I was doing it to hit on girls. I don’t blame them, because many of them had been on the receiving ends of the flirting (Not my flirting of course!!). I tried to explain to them that I had no such intentions and that I was doing it purely for the love of dancing, but then, why would they believe me? I mean, I was a guy who was voluntarily going to learn to dance and that too Salsa, which needed partner work. To be really honest, I was terrified at the idea of dancing with girls for two major reasons. One, being my social awkwardness which had always helped me embarrass myself whenever I was around the female population of our civilization (Yes!! I am almost 25 and single for that very reason!). Secondly, I had NEVER danced in my entire life and girls were usually natural at it. So, that took my chances of making a fool out of myself to an entirely new level.
But, to my own surprise I had survived three weeks and almost ten partners without embarrassing myself or hitting on any one of them, to which I would say, I definitely deserved an award. But, everything changed that day when I was paired with ‘the girl’. Almost all of the girls in the class with whom I had danced with, were first timers like most of us and struggled when it came to partner work, but not her. She was a natural, her movements so fluid and elegant. She had those deep and mysterious eyes and long dark hair which danced along with her. She was the best partner I have had the opportunity to dance with yet. Dancing with her was easy. I forgot all my inhibitions about dancing and really enjoyed the moment. We acknowledged each other’s progress through occasional nods and smiles. Throughout the lesson which usually spans over forty-five minutes I got to dance with her around three or four times and each time I thought I would ask her for her name and tell her that she was a real good dancer, but I couldn’t. I choked every time I tried as my nerves took over, and before I knew, the lesson was over and we all went our separate ways.
I was walking towards my building when I spotted her walking ahead of me. I thought to myself, “maybe this was a sign; maybe god was giving me another chance to overcome my fears.” So, I decided I should go ahead and introduce myself. But, the inertia was way too high. Suddenly, I found my limbs so heavy that I had to drag myself in order to move. The inner conflict of whether I should do it or not had begun and with every passing moment it was becoming more vicious. On the one hand the socially awkward person in me kept saying I shouldn’t do it and on the other hand, the part of me that wanted to change, kept pushing me to go for it. I was vacillating as I walked slowly maintaining a safe distance from her. There were times where I had almost overtaken her, but, then realizing where I was going I had intentionally slowed down.
By then I was pretty sure she was aware of my presence and must have gotten the feeling that I was stalking her. I could bet she had even looked over her shoulder a couple of times, but I was too busy trying to fight myself to actually notice. There was a moment when our eyes met. I froze and tried to act aloof, took out my cellphone and pretended to read a text message. I knew I was being stupid and definitely more suspicious with every passing moment. I had to make a decision fast. Finally I told myself, “How long are you going to live in this shell? You have to get out of it someday. Better be this day, when you have got the chance.” And then in that moment of clarity I went for it. I walked up to her and said something, that I knew the moment I had opened my mouth, was the worst introductory line in the History of Bad Introduction lines.
“Hey! I didn’t catch your name.”
The level of embarrassment was beyond imagination. I wanted to turn invisible; dig a hole and bury my head till all of it was over. But, I had done it and I had to face the consequences. I knew I had it coming even before I had said those dreaded words. She turned towards me and said with a look of utmost satisfaction on her face, “Well… that is probably because you never asked for it .” I swear she was enjoying every bit of it. Like that was not enough, another girl with whom I had danced a couple of times had picked up that very moment to appear out of nowhere and witness the whole fiasco. She smiled at the both of us and greeted us with a grin on her face.
So, there I was, all red in the face my head buzzing madly as it tried to recover from the embarrassment. I had to do some damage control here, but nothing struck my head. But, then I thought I couldn’t trust my brain anymore to come up with anything smart that would help me recover, so I went with the truth instead.
“Heh! That was probably a pretty bad line, eh?” I said, sounding a little flushed.
“Let’s start over.”
“Hi, I am Anshuman.”
To which she replied, “I am X.”
I had asked a girl, a stranger, for her name and actually got it in return. That was pretty big by my standards. I was cherishing the moment when she asked the other girl for her name. I wasn’t paying attention anymore. I was too happy. By the moment I came back to my senses, she was taking a turn bidding goodbye and left me with the other girl whose name I had not cared to remember. I realized there was a pretty decent stretch to walk to my building and I had no knowledge where she was headed. For a moment there was the awkward silence which was making me really uncomfortable. So, I was forced to make small talks which were even worse and embarrassing. But luckily, the ordeal ended pretty soon as she took the next turn and left.
So, there I was, ‘The Accidental Stalker’ walking towards my building content with my achievement that day. Maybe tomorrow I could compliment her dancing, I thought, now that the ice was broken. But, that never happened. As if everything was rebooted over the night and I was back to my socially awkward self once again. I got plenty of opportunities to dance with her the next day, every time wishing to open my mouth to talk, but choking all the while.
That was the last I saw of “the girl”. I had to move to Bhubaneshwar (my hometown) for three months for personal reasons the next week, so that was the end of my Salsa lessons as well. I don’t know if I will ever see her again, but If somehow this story reaches her, I would like to take this opportunity to tell her two things; one, I am definitely not a stalker. In fact I am a pretty decent guy, just socially crippled. Two, you are an amazing salsa dancer and you should definitely pursue It further.