Top 5 Favorite Dance Memories
In THE SWEET SPOT, heroine Helen Anne Reed realizes she hasn’t danced since her wedding more than a decade ago. Since then, she’s been inundated with life’s sobering moments—a bitter divorce, raising her daughter on her own, struggling to make her business a success, and her father’s Alzheimer’s diagnosis. She doesn’t have much to dance about until baseball player and former ballroom dancer Giovanni Caceres shows up. Helen Anne made me think about my life and the times I’ve had the chance to dance. I’m happy to say I have many memories involving the dance floor. Here are my top five:
- In a photo box, there’s a grainy, faded photograph of a line of dancers dressed in red and white striped tutus with their arms raised and their toes pointed. In the middle of the photograph is a tiny little girl—by far the smallest on the stage. She’s looking down at her feet, trying her best to remember the steps to the routine. The little girl is four-year-old me, and she’s dancing in her spring recital to “Peppermint Candy Canes.” That was forty years ago, and to this day, my aunt can still sing the song word for word.
- When I was in eighth grade, I sprained my wrist in the diocesan soccer playoffs, which meant I had to wear a brace for our end-of-year festivities, including my first boy-girl dance. But that didn’t stop me from awkwardly and stiffly dancing with my then boyfriend. (The bandaged arm between our bodies was probably a relief to my parents, who were chaperoning.)
- The first time I danced with my husband was at our senior prom. We were friends who had transitioned to dating shortly before the end of our senior year. I can still remember the scratchy feel of his tuxedo coat beneath my hands and the clammy heat of his cheek against mine. All I knew that night was that we were both leaving for college in a few short months. Twenty-one years later, he’s still my favorite dance partner—even though we do little more than sway.
- Weddings and dancing go hand in hand. I have so many memories from mine! Dancing with my new husband and then with my father were highlights. But dancing with my grandfather stands out the most. “Papa” passed away seventeen years ago, but I can still remember hiking up my wedding gown to “Twist and Shout” with him at my reception. I can still hear him laughing. I have pictures of us dancing and smiling. I pull them out from time to time, and it’s bittersweet because not long after, he got very sick and had to have one of his legs amputated. I am forever grateful I got married when he was still able to dance.
- On an old laptop, there’s a grainy video of a line of dancers dressed in yellow tutus. In the middle of the line is a tiny little girl—by far the smallest on the stage. She’s looking out into the crowd, trying to get someone’s attention. She raises her hand over her head and waves frantically. “Pa!” she yells. “Hi, Pa!” And people in the audience laugh. The little girl is my four-year-old daughter, trying to get my father’s attention. That was eleven years ago, and to this day, the memory brings us immeasurable joy.
Lee Ann Womack sings a song called “I Hope You Dance.” I bet you’re familiar with it. The lyrics are quite profound, and they’re reflective of the lessons Helen Anne learned in THE SWEET SPOT. The next time you have the chance to dance, I hope you’ll take it. There are memories to be made. There is life to be lived. You deserve joy. We all do.
About Elley Arden:
Elley Arden is a born and bred Pennsylvanian who has lived as far west as Utah and as far north as Wisconsin. She drinks wine like it’s water (a slight exaggeration), prefers a night at the ballpark to a night on the town, and believes almond English toffee is the key to happiness.
About THE SWEET SPOT:
In THE SWEET SPOT, Helen Anne Reed feels like her life is spinning out of control. She’s busy managing her struggling bookstore, supporting her parents as they deal with her father’s Alzheimer’s, and raising her 11-year-old daughter Macy, who’s inherited her grandfather’s love of baseball. On top of it all, she needs a dance partner for a middle school fundraiser–fast. Aces outfielder Giovanni Caceres wants nothing more than to make it back to the big leagues. He definitely doesn’t want to be cornered by the team owner into coaching a little girl and teaching her mother to dance. But love has other plans.
THE SWEET SPOT is the second book in the Arlington Aces series, and the idea came from a couple different places. I’d been wanting to write about a single mother for a while now. In my experience, motherhood can be an all-consuming experience that changes a person. Sometimes, we lose ourselves along the way and need to be reminded that there’s an individual underneath all the obligation. I wanted to explore the unique intensity of the motherhood relationship when a woman is trying to be both mother and father to a child. And as far as the dancing storyline goes, it comes from a night out with a friend who w
Helen Anne texted Giovanni—three times—and when he didn’t answer, she stalked to the weight room to peek through the rectangular window, where several guys where working out. She recognized most of them by their faces. But the guy with his back to her, the guy with a complicated maze of muscles rippling and flexing beneath his bare, bronze skin—she recognized him by something else, something that fluttered in her stomach and stuttered in her breath. Sweet Jesus.
Her heart skipped a beat as she turned to face the statuesque African-American woman standing behind her.
Pauly Byrne, the Aces’ pitcher and only female playing in the Independence League, wore a workout bra, basketball shorts, and a genuine smile. “How are you? It’s good to see you again.”
They’d been in shared company a few times over the last two years, and every time Helen Anne struggled to reconcile this model-caliber beauty with the take-no-prisoners beast who took the mound. “It’s good to see you too. Are you excited for the season?”
“Pumped,” Pauly said, and then she glanced behind Helen Anne to the weight room. “Were you waiting for someone? Is Sam in there?” But then she noticed Helen Anne’s yoga pants, Aces’ T-shirt, and running shoes, and her smile broadened. “Or are you here to work out?”
“No. I, uh, well, I’m actually … I need to talk to Giovanni Caceres,” she said. “He’s supposed to be dancing with me in a school fundraiser.”
“That’s awesome!” Pauly reached behind Helen Anne and pulled open the door, before Helen Anne had the good sense to stop her. “Gio, you have a visitor.”
Pulsing music filtered into the hallway, and way too many pairs of eyes flashed in Helen Anne’s direction, including Giovanni’s. His blank face clouded the minute he saw her.
“Thank you.” Helen stepped aside so Pauly could enter the gym, and when she did, Giovanni exited. Without his shirt.
The flutters in her stomach rose to the base of her throat, but they were balanced out by an annoyance building in her head. She had exactly one hour to devote to dancing before she needed to head home, shower, and be at the bookstore for a shift change. “You forgot, didn’t you?”
He was clean-shaven like he’d been the other day, tan without effort, and his lips were perfectly shaped and pleasantly pink. His coppery brown eyes crinkled as he smiled, and she gave in to impulse, stealing a peek at his chest. Chiseled, defined, and glistening with sweat. Yowza.
“What can I say?” His smile turned arrogant with the knowledge she’d been checking him out. “I was really into my workout.”
Wait a minute. Did he just pulse his pecs? Ick.
Helen Anne steeled her gaze. “I know between my sister and the windshield, you’ve been cornered into dancing with me, but this fundraiser is important to a lot of people, especially the kids, a lot of whom look up to you. If you can’t be serious about helping someone other than yourself, then forget about it. I’ll find somebody better.” She turned to leave.
“Wait.” His brusque voice stopped her mid-step. “There’s no way in hell you’re going to find somebody better than me.”
What’s Next for Elley?
The final book in the Arlington Aces series, THE PERFECT GAME, will feature Aces star pitcher Pauly Byrne as she guns for that elusive championship alongside the team’s resident “frat boy,” catcher Ian Pratt. THE PERFECT GAME releases in 2017.