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I kept telling myself not to believe in him. And yet, believe I did.
It started with a Facebook message from a boy I had known peripherally in elementary school lunchrooms, passing through the halls of our high school, and — the main event — seventh grade dance class.
In our school, dance class was a special horror because we weren’t paired up by the teachers, which at least would have reduced the anxiety. Instead, boys were told to choose a girl — a humiliating experience for those chosen last or not at all. In seventh grade, I was already 6 feet tall, the tallest girl in my entire class, and taller than nearly every boy, putting me at risk of being among the unchosen.
Well, he chose me, even though we hardly knew each other. That dance class was our one significant encounter, one that we each walked away from believing the other had been the rescuer.
Now we were no longer schoolchildren; we were 27. And here, out of the blue, came a Facebook message from him reminiscing about the trauma of us being forced to learn ballroom dancing during our most awkward years. The anxiety of being lined up against the wall, waiting to see if someone would choose us or if we would be randomly assigned to join another couple when the numbers didn’t even out. The relief of a friendly face to make the experience a little less harrowing.
Maybe that’s all it was supposed to be — a moment of gratitude for being each other’s friendly face. But it wasn’t.
We started talking more, about where our lives were now, where we were headed, how he ended up moving to Australia, my plans to make the jump out of the United States the following year.
When I said I didn’t know how I would carry over my career abroad, he sent me a dozen different ideas. When I told him that I didn’t want to miss out on some of my family’s eventual milestones — weddings, babies and so on — he argued those milestones never have an end date: “You come back for what’s important.” When I sighed over visa eligibility, he sent me information on all the places I was currently eligible and encouragement about how worthwhile it would be.
He chipped away at all of my excuses. At the time, I didn’t have anyone in my life who understood the unconventional path I wanted to take. I had more people tugging on my shirtsleeve telling me to hang around for at least this last bachelorette party, or through that next promotion, or, from my then roommate, just one more year on our lease. He was the first one to call me out for dragging my heels.
And maybe that’s all it was supposed to be — a spark of inspiration from someone who was doing what I wanted to do and encouraged me to follow through on my own dreams. But it wasn’t.
He was coming back to the United States in a few weeks and would be in Chicago, so we decided to meet for drinks and catch up on old times we never had. He took the train downtown from his parents’ house in the suburbs. His mother had made him change his shirt and take an earlier train so he wouldn’t be late to meet me. We sat at a bar and ordered flights of craft beer, and he reluctantly played along with my beer flight rules of sipping each one and voting on our favorites.
We talked about his life in Australia and his plans to go to New Zealand and then Antarctica and then Ireland and then Norway and then Germany and then the Falkland Islands. He gave me more advice and seemed genuinely excited for me, a rare investment from a guy who, despite our being in the same grade growing up, and the same dance class, was essentially a stranger. I noticed that I decompressed around him, that I could be myself without consequence.
And maybe that’s all it was supposed to be — a mini middle-school reunion. But it wasn’t.
I left him at the train station, telling him to get home safe as he recited back a very friend zoning “yes, ma’am,” wishing he had tried to kiss me. It was almost something.
A week and a few flirty texts later, we decided to meet one last time before he got back to his life in Australia. He again came in by train, we went out for drinks, talked, then more drinks and more talking.
This time I did not get left standing on the platform wanting more. He stayed over and we had a great night. A perfect night. A spontaneous night with no expectations or early-dating confusion or time to overthink things. It was comfortable and natural and just happened.
And maybe that’s all it was supposed to be — a one-night stand. But it wasn’t.
I kept waiting for the moment he would move on. He returned to Australia, and now we were trying to keep in touch across a massive time difference, and nothing more was ever promised. How long would it take him to get bored?
The men I dated always timed out at about two months — usually in concert with a statement of having met someone new. But with this man, two months passed, then six, then nine, and we were still talking almost every day. Never in a way that pointed to a serious relationship, but certainly as more than just friends. I now knew his 15-year plan, his thoughts on marriage and past relationships, how he spent his summers on the farm, his poetic prowess and his irrational hatred of the movie “Frozen.”
He knew about my dream to ditch my job and travel the world, my depressing music obsession, and every phrase that made me blush. It felt like this could actually be something. It felt like maybe, just maybe, it was even becoming something. I hoped that one day we would get a chance to find out.
A year later, in February 2020, we saw each other in person again, meeting at a hotel in Chicago, a pit stop before his next contract sent him somewhere else far away. This time there were expectations, confusion and plenty of time to overthink — at least on my end. But once we were together, I got swept into that comfortable space again. We wasted no time and fell into bed, only leaving the room to meet the takeout delivery guy in the lobby.
When we decided to go to sleep, he kept checking to see if I had dozed off yet; he wanted to avoid drifting off on me while I was awake. In part, I knew he was seeing if he was in the clear to uncuddle, since he has the body heat of a bear.
Early on, I’d told him on a call that I understood how cuddling turns to sweltering really fast, but that I’m a sucker for holding hands. I could almost see his eyes roll through the phone.
That night, I pretended to be asleep for one of his check-ins, so I was aware when he unfolded himself from me, then fumbled around under the covers until he found my hand and held it for the rest of the night.
A few weeks later the world was in Covid-19 lockdown, and he shipped out to New York to work as a travel nurse. Our communication started to get spotty as he worked long hours in a job so intense that I am unable to fathom it. And it stayed that way for months, with me trying to walk the line between pick-me-up texts and not being annoying, and with him politely replying every so often.
And then it happened. The moment I had been anticipating for the first two months, then six, then nine. He met someone new. Someone he was really excited about who he could see himself traveling the world with and trying to turn into a real relationship.
Just like that, I was right back at the train station, watching him walk away, wondering if this is all it was supposed to be. Another almost something.
From the start, I had tried to keep my expectations in check, telling myself there was a 99.999 percent chance it would end exactly this way, with him meeting someone and moving on. After all, for me it had never not happened that way. And this relationship was more logistically challenged than any I’d had before. But that .001 percent chance had never felt more possible. And I gave myself permission to be excited about him.
And maybe that’s all it was supposed to be — me actually opening my heart again. Because in the end, that’s all it was. Another almost something. And I’m so sick of almost somethings.
Jessie McNellis is a writer living in Chicago.
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This week, stream a French film, watch a ballet performance and learn about restoring Earth’s oceans.
Here is a sampling of the week’s events and how to tune in (all times are Eastern). Note that events are subject to change after publication.
Watch Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar,” produced by the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, a theater company in Ashland, Ore. This 2017 performance of the play, directed by Shana Cooper and featuring Armando Durán in the title role, is part of the organization’s virtual spring season. Tickets cost $15, and the show is available to stream through March 27.
Stream the film “35 Shots of Rum,” the final installment of the “Paris on Film” series hosted by the French Institute Alliance Française, which has been spotlighting cinema shot in the French capital. Directed by Claire Denis and starring Alex Descas, Mati Diop and Nicole Dogué, the movie follows a close-knit father-daughter duo who must learn to navigate change and separation. The film will be presented with English subtitles, and is available to stream through March 29. Tickets are $6.99.
Check out a performance by the American Ballet Theater at the New York City Center. The program will feature the company’s dancers, including Aran Bell, Skylar Brandt and Patrick Frenette, in works by Alexei Ratmansky, a choreographer and the company’s artist in residence. The prerecorded performance will include the world premiere of Ratmansky’s new work, “Bernstein in a Bubble,” which was created this year by artists in a quarantine bubble. At intermission, there will be a conversation between Ratmansky and Linda Murray, the curator of the Jerome Robbins Dance Division at the New York Public Library. Tickets to this event, presented by the American Ballet Theater, New York City Center and Nel Shelby Productions, are $25. The performance will be available for streaming through April 18 after the premiere.
When 7 p.m.
Learn about the role of art on public transportation in a talk with Sandra Bloodworth, the director of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority Arts & Design program. Ms. Bloodworth, who has led the program for 24 years, will be in conversation with Peter Drake, the provost of the New York Academy of Art, whose art is featured at the Massapequa station of the Long Island Rail Road in New York. This event, which is hosted by the art academy, is free. Registration is required, and attendance is capped at 500.
When 2 p.m.
Listen to a conversation between the writer Christine Smallwood and Dayna Tortorici and Charles Petersen, editors of the literary magazine n+1. Ms. Smallwood will discuss her debut novel, “The Life of the Mind,” which is adapted from the short story “The Keeper” published in the magazine. This event, presented by n+1, is free, but registration is required. Attendance is capped at 500.
When 7:30 p.m.
Dive in to a discussion on protecting and restoring Earth’s oceans, presented by The New York Times. Moderated by the Times journalist Henry Fountain and featuring speakers like Alexandra Cousteau, an ocean advocate, and Enric Sala, a marine ecologist and a National Geographic explorer in residence, the conversation will tackle topics such as how governments and individuals can take collective responsibility in areas without a national government, and how best to ease the strain of carbon emissions on these parts of the biosphere. This live discussion, which is part of The Times’s “Netting Zero” virtual event series on climate change, is free to attend, but registration is required.
When 2:30 p.m.
Craft confections with the James Beard award–nominated pastry chef Zoe Kanan. In the class, presented by the Temple Emanu-El Streicker Center, Ms. Kanan will teach viewers how to make a vegan, no-churn, spiced peanut-date ice cream, a cardamom and lemon macaroon tart and a twist on her grandmother’s chocolate lace cookies with matzo meal and sunflower seed. This event, which is part of a four-day Passover cooking series, is free to attend, but registration is required.
When 11 a.m.
Tune in to the Mandala Makers Festival, an annual event that celebrates multidisciplinary South Asian artists. The evening will begin with a performance by Anvita Hariharan, who will play Carnatic music, a genre from southern India, on saxophone, accompanied by the mridangam drum. Ms. Hariharan will be followed by the Grammy Award nominee Priya Darshini on vocals and Max ZT on hammered dulcimer. Tickets are free, and donations are encouraged.
When 8 p.m.
Celebrate the first night of Passover with your little ones by listening to “K’ilu Kits: Passover Adventure.” This interactive audio play, which is intended for children 3 to 8, teaches kids about the holiday through games, storytelling materials and a kid-friendly Haggadah, the prayer book that guides celebrants through the Seder dinner. A kit of materials is available to download for $18.
Step inside a historically restored New York City tenement apartment, with a virtual tour from the Tenement Museum, which explores the ways that immigration and migration have shaped the American identity. Through oral histories, video interviews, images and a 360-degree view of the apartment, participants will learn about the Saez Velez family, who lived there after moving to Manhattan from Puerto Rico in the 1960s. Attendance is capped at 100, and the museum hosts virtual tours of various apartments Tuesdays through Sundays. Tickets cost $10.
When 6 p.m.
In the early days of the pandemic, a strutting, hip-shaking dance trend took over social media: the J. Lo TikTok Challenge, a roughly 30-second piece of choreography from Jennifer Lopez’s Super Bowl halftime performance last year. It was hard to watch the routine and not want to learn it; in video after video, the energy was contagious.
But where was a novice to begin? A quick internet search for “Learn J. Lo TikTok challenge” would send you into another vortex: the vast, uneven world of online dance tutorials.
While some people excel at picking up choreography directly from videos, others do better with slower, step-by-step guidance. The internet is full of tutorials breaking down popular dance routines, but some are more helpful than others. Whether you’re trying to master dances from TikTok, music videos, movies or elsewhere, a decent tutorial can be the difference between a frustrating process and a fulfilling one. And as those who teach them can tell you, how you use these virtual lessons — namely, your approach to learning — also matters.
Across TikTok, many creators post short tutorials for their own dances (within the platform’s 60-second time limit), often recorded in slow motion to make them easier to follow. The app’s “duet” feature, which allows users to dance side-by-side with a slowed-down original, is also handy for studying choreography and syncing up your moves.
But sometimes, especially for fast and intricate movements, more detailed instruction is useful. On his YouTube channel, Online Dance Classes, the choreographer Vincent Vianen posts longer tutorials for trending TikTok dances (all his videos are free), with clear, specific directions and chances to practice at various speeds. His teaching style brings even the trickiest dance challenges, like the original “Renegade” (created by the innovative young dancer Jalaiah Harmon), within reach.
“When I make my tutorials, I really try to get inside the head of somebody that isn’t very experienced in dancing,” Vianen said in a video interview from Amsterdam, where he lives. One of his tips for beginners: Be patient, and allow yourself to mess up. “When you start, don’t expect to be perfect on the same day,” he advised. “Improving with dancing just takes time.”
The dancer Marissa Montanez has been making online dance tutorials since 2009, when she started a YouTube channel to teach Lady Gaga’s choreography. As a senior instructor with the New York dance-fitness studio Banana Skirt Productions, which has moved online during the pandemic, she often teaches routines from popular music videos for the class series known as Starpop Dance. (She also offers free mini tutorials on her personal TikTok page; a Banana Skirt subscription is $19.99 a month.)
For longer routines, Montanez recommends “setting realistic goals,” which might mean tackling just a couple of eight-counts at a time. “Being at home allows you the flexibility to break it up if you need to,” she said in a phone interview. She also suggested getting familiar with the original source, observing the dance in full a few times before trying it yourself.
With the suspension of live performances and in-person classes, larger organizations have also turned to tutorials to keep people engaged in their work. Last year, for instance, the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater and Verdon Fosse Legacy (devoted to the work of the choreographer Bob Fosse and the dancer Gwen Verdon) released instructional videos that make classic modern-dance and movie-musical steps accessible to dancers of all levels.
If you’re looking for a place to begin to learn dance routines at home, here are five options of varying styles (in roughly ascending order of difficulty), with corresponding tutorials. Each is a good workout in its own way, so be sure to warm up, drink plenty of water and, as Montanez tells her students, “be kind to yourself.”
1. Musical-Comedy Moment
In the song-and-dance number “Who’s Got the Pain” from the 1958 movie “Damn Yankees,” Gwen Verdon and Bob Fosse ease into their comic stage routine with a punchy, hip-swaying backward walk. As part of the Verdon Fosse Legacy’s #FosseMinute series on YouTube, the dancer Dana Moore teaches that short sequence, known as the mambo step. It also involves some basic hat choreography and periodically exclaiming “Erp!”
2. Classic Modern Dance
The centerpiece of the Alvin Ailey repertory, “Revelations,” choreographed in 1960, might look dauntingly complex when you see it in a theater. But in a 13-minute online workshop, the longtime Ailey dancer Hope Boykin brings passages of the choreography down to an attainable scale. In addition to movement cues, she offers insight into the history, imagery and inspiration behind the work — knowledge that makes the movement richer.
3. Timeless TikTok
TikTok dance trends are mostly fleeting, but some rise to the level of what could be called classics. Only time will tell, but the “WAP” dance might be one such routine, the kind that will forever spring to mind — and to the dance floor — when its song comes on. Created by the digitally savvy dancer Brian Esperon as a companion to Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion’s summer hit “WAP,” the dance honors the raunchy brashness of the lyrics, complete with a giant hitch kick, a split and lots of twerking. (Unlike many TikTok dances, which tend to stay standing in one place, this one really goes to the floor and requires some space to spread out.) As Esperon warns in his tutorial, even he injured himself while doing it, so be careful.
4. Super Bowl Sensations
It wasn’t just J. Lo who dazzled at the Super Bowl halftime show last year, with the irresistible routine (choreographed by Parris Goebel) that wound up all over the internet. She shared the stage with Shakira, whose performance also gave rise to a viral dance, the Champeta challenge, choreographed by Liz Dany Campo Diaz and named for its high-velocity style of Afro-Colombian dance. On his YouTube channel, Vianen offers tutorials for both the J. Lo and Shakira challenges, which could make for a fun (and sweaty) pairing.
5. ’80s Throwback
Where would choreographed dance in popular culture even be without Janet Jackson? Her catalog of dance-driven music videos is vast, but “Rhythm Nation,” with its militaristic moves by the choreographer Anthony Thomas, is among the most indelible. Banana Skirt hosts a couple of “Rhythm Nation” classes, including one taught by Montanez. And it takes some digging, but on the YouTube channel of the dance group Bay Area Flash Mob, you can find videos of Thomas teaching the choreography. Sometimes the best tutorial is one you piece together yourself.
Three More Tips for Learning Dance Routines at Home:
Record yourself: Vianen, who began his own dance training by watching videos, suggests filming yourself and watching the recording to see how you can improve. “Sometimes you’re going to be like, ‘Oof, what is this?’” he said. “You’re not going to like what you see, but that’s part of the progress.” In this way, he added, “you become your own teacher.”
Take breaks: Vianen likens learning a dance to solving a puzzle; sometimes it helps to leave and come back. “If you let it go, your subconscious can work on solving it without you actually thinking about it,” he said. When you return, you might find yourself closer to a solution.
Keep it low-pressure: Montanez reminds anyone dancing at home to not lose sight of having fun; it doesn’t have to be about reaching fitness goals or attaining perfection. “We can forget that dance can just be relaxing and joyful and a release from our everyday life,” she said. “It can be whatever you want it to be.”
Though public health officials have cautioned that the coronavirus pandemic is far from over, the rollout of vaccines around the world signals the start of a hopeful chapter after nearly a year of lockdowns, restrictions and social distancing. Now that imagining an “after time,” seems possible, At Home readers were asked to share their “firsts” — the first things they plan to do when the world returns to normal. A total of 803 readers responded, with plans for hugs, family visits and dream trips that have been delayed.
Here, a few of their ideas, edited and condensed for clarity.
Hugs, kisses and handshakes
“Hug my grandmother real tight. I visited her once, but I just waved at her outside her room and then she responded by asking who I was. I lowered my mask to show her my face, and she asked me to come closer. I said I couldn’t.”
Mika Amador, Manila, Philippines
“I am a pediatric nurse, and what I miss most is my patients and their parents being able to see me smile.”
Mary McNulty, New York
“Oh, to be able to shake hands again. We have lost the simple way we show respect for one another, to say thank you, to signal agreement. Our elbows will never be up to the job.”
Audrey Jessen, Gulfport, Fla.
“Despite being 33 years old and my brother being 45, I cannot wait to give him a hug. He is a surgeon, and not only does he see Covid-19 patients, he operates on them. Because of that, he has been self-isolating in a room above his garage since March.”
Fay Olga Pappas, Winter Park, Fla.
“As a 50-year-old single mother, I am looking forward to an in-person first date, and maybe even a good-night kiss.”
Keryn Marie, Alameda, Calif.
“I’m excited to watch my first cohort of freshman students walk across the stage at their high school graduation and tell them in person, four years later, how incredibly proud I am to have been their teacher and now their friend.”
Taylor Lifka, Roma, Texas
“I miss sitting in a classroom full of students. I miss the background noise, the jokes, the laughter. I miss taking notes from the teacher’s whiteboard. I miss hearing the staff’s heels click down the hall. I miss walking past the janitor and saying ‘Hello.’”
Sabrina Johnson, Michigan
“Sharing physical space with my colleagues, who I rely on deeply in my work as a public defender for fortitude, camaraderie and guidance. I miss the small and large moments of our office and courtroom culture that energize me to be the best advocate I can be.”
Mary Gibbons, Brooklyn
“The live bingo games I host in our clubhouse where our residents come to enjoy, maybe to win a few dollars, but most of all, I suspect, to have the doughnuts we serve at the break.”
Donny Shusterman, Boynton Beach, Fla.
“Every year I host a small Christmas party for my friends. Regardless what time of year it is when we’re done with social distancing, I’m going to throw one. We order Chinese food, drink, play games and then sometimes people crash at my place so we can get brunch to nurse our hangovers.”
Melissa Croce, Brooklyn
Seeing family …
“Seeing my daughter Nina who is in a residential care center and hasn’t been able to have visitors for much of the pandemic. That has been really hard on both of us.”
Carole Kerper, Palmyra, Pa.
“I want to go to my home country, Peru, to see my mom, and my dad’s ashes. He died in November, and I couldn’t give him a hug goodbye for fear of traveling there during the pandemic.”
Karina Bekemeier, San Francisco, Calif.
… and getting away from them
“I’m hiring a babysitter and going out dancing.”
Amanda Vaught, Brooklyn
“Going out with friends and being able to have a dinner date with my wife, inside a restaurant, away from our child.”
Jason March, Shoreline, Wash.
Getting out of the house
“I have an autoimmune disease that has drastically curtailed my daily travels. I am looking forward to a normal trip to the grocery store!”
Kelley L., Texas
“Paying too much for someone else to make my cocktail.”
Megan Lechner, St. Louis
“I had a baby this past summer, and I can’t wait to take him to the grocery store, out to lunch or to visit out-of-state relatives. There is a whole world out there that he’s barely seen, and I can’t wait to show it to him.”
Amelia Alexander, Durham, N.C.
“I want to go back to my local library in New York City, browse the new books without feeling rushed and check out a big pile of books without worrying about germs.”
Alice Alderman, New York
“Salsa dancing again! I miss the closeness and sweatiness of dancing with smiling strangers at my favorite club. It’s going to feel fantastic to be spun and dipped post-pandemic!”
Poonam Dubal, Dallas
Being a face in the crowd
“Being part of a big, anonymous crowd. I miss that feeling of collectivity, of being an ant in the colony. I’m excited for when I can join a packed spinning class, dance among strangers at a party or even just sit silently shoulder-to-shoulder on an airplane.”
Meg D., Seattle
“I’m ready to wander out of a late-night concert after dancing on strangers’ toes in search of the nearest greasy food truck that offers fries and sauces so I can double dip with friends.”
Megan Peters, Helena, Mont.
“I love to swim at my local Y.M.C.A. Getting into the pool always felt like utter bliss, and I would wonder, “Why don’t I do this everyday?” I dream about gliding, swirling, splashing and plunging in the water again.”
Sharene Voelkel, San Jose, Calif.
“I cannot wait to go to the movie theater. The movie itself? Irrelevant. I want to arrive early and buy an ungodly amount of popcorn. I can just see it now, getting excited while watching the trailers. Hearing strangers in the audience chuckle, gasp or cry. The camaraderie of strangers in the dark.”
Emma Bausch, Chicago
“Taking my kids to an indoor play area! McDonald’s, Chick-fil-A, Chuck E. Cheese. Keeping three kids happy inside a house for the whole summer was so hard.”
Lily Rotering, Fort Worth
“Taking public transit. I miss the convenience of not having to worry about parking. I can’t wait to hear the Red Line El train conductor who always tells people ‘May the Force be with you’ after they exit the train. I miss waiting at bus stops with friends or people-watching in a subway car. There’s something about taking public transit that makes me feel like I am a part of the city.”
Rebecca Silverman, Chicago
Traveling the world
“I am 85 years old. When the pandemic began, I was 84, and when it ends I will probably be 86. Two years at the end of one’s life are rather valuable. What I’d like to do is fly to Boston and walk the Freedom Trail; drive to Maine and find a lobster shack; and visit Egypt to sail down the Nile.”
Jo Procter, Chevy Chase, Md.
“I’m most looking forward to taking my son to Disneyland. I’ve been saving up for almost 10 years, since he was a baby, and we were supposed to go this summer.”
Courtney Keeler, Denver
And never again
“No more Zoom dates.”
Alexander Hartson, Washington, D.C.