For over 40 years, I resisted taking dance lessons. Growing up in a very Jewish community, I was invited to many Bar Mitzvahs and my mother wanted me to take dance lessons so I could dance at parties. I refused due to a lack of coordination and fear of embarrassing myself. As an adult, on and off for our 31 years of marriage, my wife has asked if we could take lessons. Once again, that klutziness and childhood fear stood in the way.
But just last weekend, our friends Grace Cooper and Leslie Bernstein invited us to their wedding reception. This was a unique celebration. Since Wisconsin still considers a marriage between 2 loving women illegal, a few weeks ago, they went to Iowa, which has legalized marriage equality, and our Rabbi, Laurie Zimmerman, married them.
Grace and Leslie have lived together for many years and had a commitment ceremony in 1989. Their wonderful son, Eli, is in college and was thrilled to be at his mothers’ wedding and celebration.
Since Grace and Leslie have lived in Madison for so many years, they held their wedding reception a few weeks after their wedding so their Madison friends could attend and celebrate with them. In recent years, Leslie has become quite the ballroom dancer and Grace and Eli enjoy dancing with her. So, they decided that a fun way to celebrate their marriage would be to hold their reception at a dance studio and start the party by providing everyone with dance lessons!
From the moment we received the invitation, until the moment I stepped on the dance floor, I was very nervous about exposing my two left feet in front of others and embarrassing myself. My wife, of course, was excited that we were finally going to learn to dance. So, with a deep breath, I got on the dance floor as requested by the instructor. I was so nervous that when the instructor asked us to get in two lines facing each other: leaders facing followers, I stood next to my wife in the followers line. Leslie, ever so graciously, suggested that I join the leader line opposite my wife, and I did so.
What occurred over the next few hours was yet another example of community building. Yes, I learned to dance the hustle, rumba and two-step, much to the thrill of my wife. But more important, as the dance instructor periodically had us change partners, I met Leslie’s sister, Grace’s dog training friends, and many others in their wonderful community. A constant smile was on virtually every guest’s face the entire evening. Indeed, by encouraging us to dance with each other, Grace & Leslie helped me realize how marriage equality builds community.
As New Jersey recently became the 14th state to legalize marriage equality, I look forward to the day when all my gay and lesbian friends who are in committed relationships can marry wherever they please and continue to build community across the nation.