The Rosie Project Page 39

We finished our entrées and the band played a few loud chords. Stefan walked over to them and took the microphone from the singer.

\Good evening, everyone,\ he said. \I thought you should know that we have a former finalist in the national dancing championships with us this evening. You may have seen her on television. Bianca Rivera. Let\s give Bianca and her partner Don a few minutes to entertain us.\

I had not expected my first performance to be so public, but there was the advantage of an unobstructed dance floor. I have given lectures to larger audiences, and participated in martial-arts bouts in front of crowds. There was no reason to be nervous. Bianca and I stepped onto the dance floor.

I took her in the standard jive hold that I had practised on the skeleton, and immediately felt the awkwardness, approaching revulsion, that I feel when forced into intimate contact with another human. I had mentally prepared for this, but not for a more serious problem. I had not practised with music. I am sure I executed the steps accurately, but not at precisely the correct speed, and not at the same time as the beat. We were immediately tripping over each other and the net effect was a disaster. Bianca tried to lead, but I had no experience with a living partner, let alone one who was trying to be in control.

People began laughing. I am an expert at being laughed at and, as Bianca pulled away from me, I scanned the audience to see who was not laughing, an excellent means of identifying friends. Gene and Rosie and, surprisingly, the Dean and her partner were my friends tonight. Stefan was definitely not.

Something major was required to save the situation. In my dancing research, I had noted some specialised moves that I had not intended to use but remembered because they were so interesting. They had the advantage of not being highly dependent on synchronised timing or body contact. Now was the time to deploy them.

I performed the running man, milking the cow, and the fishing imitation, reeling Bianca in, though she did not actually move as required. In fact she was standing totally still. Finally, I attempted a body-contact manoeuvre, traditionally used for a spectacular finish, in which the male swings the female on either side, over his back and between his legs. Unfortunately this requires cooperation on the part of the partner, particularly if she is heavier than a skeleton. Bianca offered no such cooperation and the effect was as if I had attacked her. Unlike aikido, dancing training apparently does not include practice in falling safely.

I offered to help her up, but she ignored my hand and walked towards the bathroom, apparently uninjured.

I went back to the table and sat down. Stefan was still laughing.

\You bastard,\ Rosie said to him.

Gene said something to Rosie, presumably to prevent inappropriate public anger, and she seemed to calm down.

Bianca returned to her seat, but only to collect her bag.

\The problem was synchronisation,\ I tried to tell her. \The metronome in my head is not set to the same frequency as the band.\

Bianca turned away, but Rosie seemed prepared to listen to my explanation. \I turned off the sound during practice so I could focus on learning the steps.\

Rosie did not reply and I heard Bianca speaking to Stefan. \It happens. This isn\ the first time, just the worst. Men say they can dance ...\ She walked towards the exit without saying goodnight to me, but Gene followed and intercepted her.

This gave me an opportunity. I righted my glass, and filled it with wine. It was a poorly made gordo blanco with excessive residual sugar. I drank it and poured another. Rosie got up from her seat and walked over to the band. She spoke to the singer, then the drummer.

She returned and pointed at me in a stylised manner. I recognised the action - I had seen it twelve times. It was the signal that Olivia Newton-John gave to John Travolta in Grease to commence the dance sequence that I had been practising when Gene interrupted me nine days earlier. Rosie pulled me towards the dance floor.

\Dance,\ she said. \Just f*king dance.\

I started dancing without music. This was what I had practised. Rosie followed according to my tempo. Then she raised her arm and started waving it in time with our movements. I heard the drummer start playing and could tell in my body that he was in time with us. I barely noticed the rest of the band start up.

Rosie was a good dancer and considerably easier to manipulate than the skeleton. I led her through the more difficult moves, totally focused on the mechanics and on not making errors. The Grease song finished and everyone clapped. But before we could return to the table, the band started again and the audience clapped in time: Satisfaction. It may have been due to the effect of the gordo blanco on my cognitive functions, but I was suddenly overwhelmed by an extraordinary feeling - not of satisfaction but of absolute joy. It was the feeling I had in the Museum of Natural History and when I was making cocktails. We started dancing again, and this time I allowed myself to focus on the sensations of my body moving to the beat of the song from my childhood and of Rosie moving to the same rhythm.

The music finished and everyone clapped again.

I looked for Bianca, my date, and located her near the exit with Gene. I had presumed she would be impressed that the problem was solved, but even from a distance and with my limited ability to interpret expressions, I could see that she was furious. She turned and left.

The rest of the evening was incredible, changed totally by one dance. Everyone came up to Rosie and me to offer compliments. The photographer gave us each a photo without charging us. Stefan left early. Gene obtained some high-quality Champagne from the bar, and we drank several glasses with him and a Hungarian postdoc named Klara from Physics. Rosie and I danced again, and then I danced with almost every woman at the ball. I asked Gene if I should invite the Dean or her partner, but he considered this to be a question beyond even his social expertise. In the end I did not, as the Dean was visibly in a bad mood. The crowd had made it clear that they would rather dance than listen to her scheduled speech.

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