Ballroom dancers
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This occurred to me as I drove to work crying the other day: I want my waltz to move people to tears, the way Luciano Pavarotti's tenor did me as I barreled down the West Side Highway in Manhattan. I was driving kind of fast because I was late for work, having had, at 8 A.M., a CAT scan of my brain to rule out any serious problems resulting from the mild concussion I'd suffered doing the tango earlier in the week. Passion is a contact sport.

In my 20s, I was a competitive ballroom dancer. After about five years (of mostly firsts), I quit abruptly to pursue a more "suitable" career in magazines. In 2001, I started dancing again, when i was in my mid-40s. I'm 48, and I have two daughters, 8 and 11, with my husband, Peter, and a full-time job. Like many women, I wake up at 5:30 A.M. and power through each day on overdrive laced with adrenaline until I fall asleep in one of my daughters' beds at 9:30 P.M., dishes undone downstairs.

Many people—mostly other working mothers—have asked me, How do you find time to dance? I give them an answer about schedules, my husband's support, and compromise (my house is untidy, I've given up on manicures, I rarely get to see my friends). But what I really want to say is, My God, how could I not? Dancing makes the rest possible for me. Yes, it's a fantastic paradox: I was too busy before to carve out an hour for myself. Who'd believe that the way to be happy as an overextended, slightly downtrodden working mom is to get busier—adding, say, six hours a week of dance to your crammed agenda?

Dancing is the eye of my hurricane, my secret place that I want to tell the world about. It allows my survival as a person, a mother, a writer, a woman. A woman. I'd lost her in the frenzy. Before dance I felt competent and productive. I didn't know how much I missed the wilder territory.

I recently had lunch with two businesswomen who were keenly interested in the physical contact. "Do you dance with your husband?" one asked. No, Peter prefers mountain biking and kayaking, but he's the reason I'm dancing now: After years of encouraging me to do something just for myself (I refused; too busy), he surprised me on Valentine's Day 2001 by taking me for a lesson at the new ballroom studio near our home in the suburbs. The other woman asked, "Is there any danger...?" I silently translated: Is dancing erotic? With its torso-to-torso contact, ballroom dancing is more intimate than tennis, or other forms of dance, because of the partnering. Dancers have an ease with their bodies and with expressing themselves physically that can seem outrageous. Like an infant, I thrive on the touching. As a grown woman, I'm glad to be so comfortable with it, settled in my body even as it ages. But sex is the last thing on my mind when I'm immersed in the demands—and promise—of the craft, and in my teacher's expectations. (I train with one of the top coaches in the country, Bill Davies, a three-time U.S. champion in the 1970s whose specialty is what's known as international standard dancing: waltz, fox-trot, tango, quickstep, and Viennese waltz.)

Next: How dance lifts the spirit

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