It started with a promise to a veteran of the Normandy D-Day invasion. I met Steven Melnikoff when I was returning from the journey I made following in the footsteps of my favorite book, Our Hearts Were Young and Gay. Steven was one of seven World War II veterans traveling as featured speakers aboard the Queen Mary 2, and I had the honor and good fortune of getting to know them all.
In the evenings, I would occasionally get to dance Steven, a.k.a. The Foxtrot King, in the ballroom. Sadly, I had no clue what I was doing, but Steven was patient and kind, and by the end, we managed a few dances without me continually clomping around like a newborn colt. Still, I made a promise to him that the next time our paths crossed, I would be able to do a proper foxtrot.
The following spring, I took ballroom dance lessons – foxtrot, waltz, rumba – along with lessons in Latin dances like the Cha Cha and Salsa. With my newfound, fledgling dance skills, I soon found myself trying out other dances – in particular, Forro, a Brazilian street dance. In doing so, despite my marked lack of natural talent and my absolute beginner status, I made new friends and found myself part of a community.
Which got me thinking, after Anthony Bourdain’s untimely death, about how the master traveler and food writer got to know people and their cultures through their cuisine. He didn’t travel as a tourist, but as one who immersed himself in a place, seeing it through the eyes of the locals simply by breaking bread with them.
I realized I could do the same thing with dancing.
So I’ve brought my college years backpack out of retirement, and will be shortly strapping it on my back as I set off to travel the world. In it, along with the standard essentials, I have placed a little black dress, dance shoes and my laptop.
From the spirited highland reels of Scotland to the flirty tarantella of Italy to the smoldering Argentine tango, I’m going to dance my way around the planet, and share with you every wondrous and every woefully embarrassing detail of it all.
And it all starts with a voyage on the Queen Mary 2 with Steven Melnikoff and the World War II vets, as they travel to Normandy for the 75th anniversary of the D-Day invasion. I’m foxtrot-ready, and the first dance of my journey will be with Steven. I could not have asked for a more perfect beginning.