by Bill Braunstein
I’d be a great dancer if it weren’t for two things—my feet.
That’s why I hate getting up on a dance floor. But today, whether I like it or not, I have to cut the rug with Shelby. And I’m dreading it big time.
“Kyle, I hope you’re ready… The band looks like they’re about to take the stage.”
“Great, Shelby,” I said with all the enthusiasm of a condemned man staring at a noose.
“You promised, Kyle… It’s just a dance. And besides, you have to. You can’t embarrass me in front of all these guests.”
Right, these guests. See, we’re at the wedding of our two best friends — Brendan and Bailey. Yeah, I know. Their names sound like a drink you’d order at a West Hollywood bar.
But Brendan works with me at the electronics store. And Bailey has known Shelby since they were little. And now they’re newlyweds. They just finished tying the knot in the chapel next door.
We’re standing in the cavernous reception hall. And my stomach is doing the kind of somersaults that would make gymnast Gabby Douglas proud. “Geez, Shelby, how many people would you say are here?”
“Just a few hundred,” she said. “You’ll be fine.”
Looking at Shelby, I must say, calmed me a little. She was a vision. Bailey had asked her to be maid of honor, and Shelby dazzled when we left my apartment earlier today — pretty pink dress, satin gloves, hair tied back with a matching bow – no Lady Gaga meat dress for my girl.
But now, in a few minutes, after the traditional first dance between the bride and groom, there’s going to be a special dance for the bridesmaids and their partners. And I’m about to become the thing I dread most…the center of attention.
My brooding was temporarily interrupted when I noticed Shelby frantically going through her handbag, a concerned look on her face.
“Kyle,” she said, “one of my gloves must have fallen out of my purse in the chapel. Could you be a dear, and check if it’s there?”
“Sure,” I said, happily grabbing at this escape hatch. “See you in a couple of hours.” The look on Shelby’s face told me she wasn’t amused. “Just kidding; I’ll be right back.”
Walking through the elaborately decorated garden and into the chapel, I could hear the band start playing… It was one of those dance tunes that’s become a wedding standard…
I said you wanna be startin’ somethin’. / You got to be startin’ somethin’. I said you wanna be startin’ somethin’ / You got to be startin’ somethin’…
As the music wafted through the air, I headed to the area where Shelby and I sat during the ceremony. I figured her glove must have fallen to the ground, so I got on my knees and started poking around.
“Looking for something?” came a soft, almost girlish voice from behind me.
“Yes,” I said, without looking up… “I’m looking for a glove.”
“Did it look anything like this?”
I rose to my feet. Standing in front of me was a guy dressed in a black leather jacket decorated with buckles and clasps, and a dark fedora atop his head.
He held out his left hand. On it was a white leather glove covered in rows of glittering rhinestones.
Wow, I thought. This guy could easily pass for Michael Jackson.
Quickly, I put two and two together. The song that was playing—“Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’”… The glove… The strong resemblance to the “King of Pop”… It was obvious. This dude’s part of the wedding entertainment – an MJ impersonator.
“Hey, shouldn’t you be next door? You’re with the band, right?”
The man just laughed. “No, no… My band-playing days stopped a few years ago.”
Then it hit me… This wasn’t a dead ringer for Michael Jackson. It was, well, a dead Michael Jackson. Holy Moses! My PSD had kicked in again.
Michael started taking off his glove. “Here, you can have mine… It matches your suit.”
“No, Michael,” I said, “the glove I’m looking for is pink.”
“Oh, of course, that’s much better color for you.”
“The glove is my girlfriend’s,” I said. “She lost it in here somewhere.”
Michael moved with the grace of a finely tuned athlete. And his observational skills were just as keen. He didn’t just walk to the front of the chapel; he effortlessly bounded there as if defying gravity. And then he pointed under a chair.
Sure enough, there was Shelby’s missing glove. I tried to mimic Jackson’s moves as I went to where he stood, but I tripped and stumbled as I approached the glove.
“Dude,” Michael laughed, “you’re clumsier than an elephant, and I know because I used to own one.”
“Yeah, I’m a klutz; that’s my problem,” I said as I picked up the glove and placed it in my pocket.
There was a part of me that wanted to run next door and tell Shelby the greatest singer/dancer/songwriter in world helped me find her glove. But another part of me wanted to stay right here, because I dreaded heading back.
I sat down, and took a deep breath.
“That’s quite a party going on next door,” Michael said. “Shouldn’t you be with the others?”
“Well, I should be, but to be perfectly honest, I’m a little nervous about what’s going to happen once I get there.”
Michael looked at me, his dark eyes filled with sympathy. “Yes, you seem a little frightened. The color has drained from your face.”
My first thought was a witty rejoinder, like “you should talk?” But it’s not nice to speak ill of the dead…especially directly to the dead. Jackson asked me what was wrong.
“I have to dance in front of hundreds of people,” I said, “and I’m very self-conscious about it. I’m not like you. I hate having the spotlight on me.”
Michael nodded as if he understood perfectly. “You might be surprised to know I’m the same way in my private life. As a child, I was quiet and shy.” He grew wistful. “When you’ve got eight brothers and sisters, you’re never the center of attention.”
I laughed, “Well, that changed as you got older.”
“Not by choice… Yes, I grew up in the public eye — from being a child star with the Jackson Five to my solo career — but no matter how successful I got, I was always painfully timid when off-stage. The only time I’m at ease, is when I’m performing.”
Jackson chuckled softly. “Dancing is beautiful. It’s like putting your soul out there for the world to see. Watch this.”
He then did a perfectly executed moonwalk; his feet appeared to step forward as he moved backward. Then, Jackson dropped down into a split, arose with a pirouette, turned towards me, and tipped his fedora.
“It’s easy, see?”
“Well, that’s the point,” I said. “You’re not scared of performing. I am.”
“What are you scared of?”
“My friends are here,” I said. “My girlfriend is here. If I make a fool of myself on the dance floor, I’ll never hear the end of it. I don’t want to be ridiculed.”
“Look,” Jackson said, “you can’t be concerned with what others say about you. I’m not. I’ve seen the stories people have written about me over the years. You know, all that Wacko Jacko stuff.”
“Michael, I never believed any of those stories,” I lied.
“If I paid attention to that,” he continued, “I’d have been absolutely paralyzed. But I learned how to tune out hateful noise. I may have marched to a different drummer in my life, but I always followed my heart. And you should, too.
“You’ve got to dance like no one is watching.”
Okay, so maybe he was beginning to sound like a Hallmark card, but I got his point… It was time to head to the fate that awaited me.
I returned to the reception hall, and handed Shelby her missing glove. The time I spent with Michael Jackson was a blur. I didn’t know if I had been gone five minutes or five hours… But at least Shelby was glad to see me.
“Oh, Kyle,” she gushed, “you missed it! Look what I’ve got!”
In her hands, was a bouquet. “Nice flowers,” I said. “Where’d you get those?”
“Bailey. While you were gone, she threw her bouquet into the crowd of single women, and I caught it. Do you know what that means?”
I certainly did. And I didn’t want to talk about it. But Shelby did.
“It means I’m next.”
The band started playing another wedding standard, Billy Joel’s “Just the Way You Are.”
This was not a time to talk about the tying of any knots… unless it was the knots in my stomach. It was dance time.
Out of the corner of my eye, I could see Michael Jackson standing in the doorway. He motioned with his hands that I should move closer to my lady in pink.
“You’re right, Shelby,” I said, gathering all the confidence I could muster. “You are next. May I have this dance?”
As I led Shelby to the center of the room, every pair of eyes in the hall was on us—or so it seemed. But I didn’t care.
Inspired by Michael Jackson’s actions and advice, I summoned all the powers of recall and muscle memory I could muster, and attempted to recreate the dance moves he’d shown me in the chapel.
First, I did a spectacular moonwalk… Then, like Michael, I leaped high into the air, landed in a split, and bounded up from the ground with a deftly turned pirouette. Bowing to the crowd’s wild applause, I extended my hand to an awed Shelby.
Well… That’s the scene I fantasized.
What actually happened was this: I stepped on Shelby’s dress train, and fell flat on my ass.
Trying to stand up, I grabbed at a nearby table, but accidentally pulled hard on the table cloth. I then watched in horror as plates, silverware and a very pretty floral centerpiece cascaded to the floor.
Shelby just shook her head. “That’s what I love about you, Kyle. You really know how to commit.”
Was she talking about my moves on the floor? Or was that a veiled reference to her catching that bouquet? All I could do was smile meekly.
The band played on, and I was determined to finish what I started.
I put my hands around Shelby’s waist, and she seemed to melt in my arms as we moved as one. Was I hearing the crowd’s cheers, or jeers of laughter? I didn’t know, and didn’t care.
Time stood still as the faces in the room slowly faded away.
And then, I danced like no one was watching.