A few days ago, Lincoln Center hosted a large, splashy event called The Big Waltz, a spectacle to promote Austrian tourism, and little ol’ me had the privilege of being a small part of presenting the festivities. Here’s the skinny. Basically, the tourism folks from Austria paid us dancers to teach New Yorkers how to do the Viennese Waltz in the courtyard of Lincoln Center. A fabulous looking blonde Austrian deejay in black leather pants mixed Viennese classics, including the Blue Danube and Emperor's Waltz while twenty of us Broadway gypsies pulled New Yorkers from the crowd and instructed them on the finer points of the waltz. It was fun and exhilarating and not only made me want to go to Austria, but it kind of also made me want to go to Fred Astaire and take more social dance lessons. Even better, I had a surprisingly fun time meeting some of the people of the city.
Here’s the thing about living in New York. Despite the fact that it’s a huge city, it’s pretty insular. I hear friends complaining all the time that they only meet people that are like them/in their profession/same cultural background, etc. It’s true. I can walk down Eighth Avenue on a Wednesday at 5pm and see at least 3 – 5 people that I know. Guaranteed. Same thing with restaurants and gyms. It’s pretty much a small neighborhood. The fun thing about The Big Waltz was that, for the most part, is wasn’t my demographic. It wasn’t really anyone’s. It was kind of everyone all mooshed together and it was really, really interesting. The first guy I waltzed with was a lawyer of about 60 from upstate that was obsessed with all ballroom dance and had recently competed in a salsa competition for seniors. He was poised, focused, and generally gentlemanly. My second waltz was with a middle aged couple of college English professors that had never danced, but were excited to learn so that they could go to her sister’s wedding. They proved to be kind, attentive, and wholly uncoordinated.
My third partner asked me to dance . . . with her boyfriend. “Teach him. He show me”, she said in broken English. The elderly Polish woman proceeded to shove her wide-eyed, gangly elderly boyfriend toward me while she pulled out her video camera. Well, okay. This was what they were paying me for, right? I taught him for about three minutes before I realized that he spoke NO English at all. I turned to the side to ask his girlfriend to translate and saw that she was videotaping my face. Only my face. Hmm . . . I figured they would have a hard time recreating their waltz experience. I quickly taught them how to execute a dip and moved on. They were more than thankful and she gave me a joyous and very tight hug. “We do dancing and chicky-chicky tonight”, she winked. Yeah. Chicky-chicky is way too much information for this dance instructor. Partner number four was a very astute investment banker in a mustard tweed suit that offered me a tour of the balloons the day before the Macy’s parade as compensation for my efforts. “I volunteer every year. It makes me feel like a kid.” And so it went. Partner after partner. Each person and couple with a more interesting story than the last. Perhaps, I thought, I should get out a little more often and take the chance to meet people who know nothing of musical theatre. Waltzing with strangers made me fall in love with New Yorkers all over again. People were not shy at all to come up and ask about a step, ask me to dance, or even ask if I was Austrian. (Not that I know of, but maybe). I truly hope that The Big Waltz made everyone want to visit the (I hear) beautiful country of Austria. It sure did make me want to go. It did, though, also make me want to see more of my own city. And more of the people in it. I collected my paycheck, turned in my red Dance Austria sweater, vowed to visit Vienna one day, and made a resolution to introduce myself to one new stranger per week. We'll see how that goes.