Harvey and Carol Lieberman of Rockville Centre.

Harvey and Carol Lieberman of Rockville Centre. Credit: Lieberman Family Photo

I've been told I have no rhythm. On the dance floor, my wife says, it leaves us looking uncoordinated and out of step.

"You don't even do a good football shuffle," she once said.

"This is how I danced when we met," I replied. "It didn't stop you then."

Her dissatisfaction grew after a series of weddings some years ago where the dancing of other guests was almost professional.

At one wedding at the Carltun at Eisenhower Park, a group of young physicists, the bride and groom's friends from out of town, tangoed with great finesse, as if from the same mold. Since they were members of a profession not renowned for talent in this area, I was impressed. It turns out they'd all taken instruction together. They heaped honors on their dance instructor as if he had earned a Nobel Prize in string theory. To me, it seemed as if the instructor had a malignant, even cultish influence on their lives.

After that, my wife became reluctant to dance with me. Her embarrassment hardened into what seemed to be an ideological position about self-improvement. Our discussions were informed by my work as a clinical psychologist and hers as a psychiatric nurse practitioner.

I was offended by her attitude. I'd finally reached the point in my life where I could say, "I'm OK just the way I am" -- even if I couldn't dance (in her opinion).

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In my mind, she seemed to be implying a deeper character flaw -- but denied she was making too much of the issue. In my view, she wouldn't acknowledge a fear of public criticism that we didn't meet some standard on the dance floor.

"We can all better ourselves in one way or another," she said. She suggested that dancing lessons might lead us to some higher state of being.

I offered in contradiction, loud and clear: "I'm OK! And you're OK!" -- alluding to a popular 1970s self-improvement book. I emphasized my point by rubbing her back.

She laughed and said, "I'm not saying anything different."

"I'm OK and you're OK!" I repeated.

"Yes, yes," she said. "Don't you want to have more fun?"

So I agreed to take a continuing education dance class with her at South Side High School in Rockville Centre. In exchange, she promised to dance with me upfront the next time there's a Rod Stewart concert in town.

Soon we were doing our homework, practicing the foxtrot in the kitchen without music. Although the basic rhythm of the music echoed in my mind as we rehearsed, I became confused by the sequence of the steps.

"Something wrong?" my wife asked. "You're not lifting your arm high enough for me to turn under. Let's try it again. We're getting in each other's way."

"You're a bit hard to lead," I said.

"Well, if you'd be more definite, I'd follow," she replied in earnest.

We attempted the steps again, this time with somewhat more success.

"I can't imagine doing this with music," I said. "We're the worst in the class."

"You must be more positive," she cajoled. "It takes time. Just practice and be patient."

I told her she was right, but that our difficulties didn't bother me. "And you know why?" I said.

"Yeah!" she said. "Because I'm OK and you're OK."

"Exactly!"

Reader Harvey J. Lieberman lives in Rockville Centre.

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