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  • She did not follow.

    When he asked, she should have declined. She didn't want to dance. It wasn't the right time or place, but she agreed. She awkwardly tried to follow his steps with so many others watching and laughing in the small space around her. When the song ended, she broke the embrace with an embarrassed smile and slipped back to her role as hostess. She didn't quite hear what he said when she thanked him, but she clearly heard the words "back leading" said with scorn.

    She blushed and ducked her head. She shouldn’t have danced. She had done it wrong and he criticized her, this stranger, this man she had never wanted to follow. She was happy to slip out of the spotlight with her cheeks burning bright in mix of shame and embarrassment.

    Writers and dancers claim that women back lead for a number of reasons: Weak partners, bad habits, and occasionally, upon request. The same writers and dancers suggest that a man cross the back-leading woman off their dance cards. If he is determined, a man can hire a teacher to break his partner’s habit but something must be done. Soon. Back leading is something that needs to be fixed.

    A few days later, she agreed to join the man for brunch. It was her favorite meal of the week. She wasn't hungry and certainly not interested in a date, but he'd asked. She went.

    He sent a text a half hour before the set time suggesting it was an "ish" sort of morning.

    "Later?" she asked. "I am just leaving now."

    "No," he replied. "The time should be fine."

    She hobbled to the restaurant on a sprained ankle and arrived at the hour or a few minutes early, with time to spare. As she waited, he wrote again with a new time and lecture on ish.

    "I know what ish means," she thought as she waited.

    Another half hour passed on the winter morn. It started to rain.

    "That's why I asked."

    He greeted her with a compliment on her red boots.

    “Thank you,” she smiled openly, honestly, and leaned in for a hug.

    "Are those Docs or something fake?"

    "Docs," she kept smiling.

    He stared for a while.

    "You need to dirty up the yellow laces."

    Her smile wilted.

    They found seats at the bar. She decided what she wanted and waited. The bartender returned three times before the man was ready.

    “Do you know?” he asked.

    “I do,” she said.

    They placed their orders and he started to lecture on everything and nothing.

    “Do you hike?” he asked.

    “I do,” she said, thinking of Nepal, the Andes, the Alps, Colorado, and the Appalachian Trail, thinking of places she’d been, but he didn’t ask.

    He talked of a hike he’d once taken, a story in parts, a story stopped and started without narrative arc. He switched subjects when she tried to talk and returned to them later, when he felt the subjects fit. When the bartender asked about splitting the tab, he failed to react.

    "Split it," the woman mouthed.

    He looked up from his wallet as the bartender turned her back.

    "What did you tell her?" he asked.

    "I said to split it."

    "I would have paid," he said.

    "OK," she agreed and place her card firmly on top of the book on the left.

    Apparently, she was still back leading. She and her clean yellow laces could dance their own way home.
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