My father is by my side. His cane rests, just outside his reach, in the lap of an aluminum chair.
We are tucked in the corner of the back row, behind a succession of synchronized seniors - a line of ladies dressed in sensible shoes, forgiving waistbands and festive holiday attire. Each turns, twisting to catch a glimpse. “Look at him go," says a lady in red, "He's really something.”
Although my father is known for having two left feet, his stooped, stiff, Parkinson's posture, heightened by his unsteady shuffle and hand tremors, fuse with the strong Latin beat. He is a dancing machine.
“Zumba!” shouts the instructor as she shimmies her shoulders and steps left. Her enthusiasm is contagious and we do our best to keep up.
Everything about this is new to us - the music, the movement, but mostly, the shared experience.
Growing up, I didn't spend a lot of time with my father unless you count riding quietly in the back seat of his car.
I have no memory of us living together. My parents divorced when I was two years old. My mother packed all she had into a 1959 Studebaker and we moved a four hour car ride away.
Dad was always working, even when I came to visit. But most nights we'd eat supper together at Nielson's Diner or at the Chinese restaurant.
"Let me check out back," Dad would say, "see if I spot any cats."
Dad liked to tease me. He'd say they used cats instead of chicken at the Panda Pavilion, so I always ordered pork or beef.
He ate fast and chewed with his mouth open. He never put his napkin on his lap or sat up straight like mother told me to.
At the diner, Dad let me drink vanilla milk shakes. I'd get a 7-Up at the Chinese place and if I followed him to the pub, he'd order me a Shirley Temple.
"Two cherries please," I'd say, always the polite child.
Once he ordered me a pine float. Everyone laughed when the bartender handed me a tall glass of water with a toothpick and a cocktail napkin floating on top.
During winter holidays we'd drive six hours to go skiing. I don't remember skiing with him but sometimes we'd ride the chairlift together - a slow, windy climb to the peak.
"You cold there, Pistol Pete?" he'd ask. I had no idea who Pistol Pete was, but it told me he'd rather have had a boy.
"No, sir," I lied with my braids and nose hairs iced over and my fingers and toes frozen numb.
When I reached the bottom of the mountain and couldn't find him, I knew to look in the bar.
During one of those winter vacations, he took me to a drive-in movie theater. Love Story was playing and I thought Ali MacGraw was the most beautiful woman that ever lived.
I sat behind the steering wheel of Dad's navy blue, model 2002 BMW - sobbing uncontrollably at Ali's untimely death, while my father lounged on a double bed at the Howard Johnson's Motor Inn. A pile of quarters kept the magic fingers moving as he watched TV, ate apple pie, and sucked down cans of Miller beer.
When the movie ended and he didn't come for me, I knew I should drive the car back to the hotel. But my feet didn't quite reach the pedals and Dad hadn't taught me how to drive yet, so I left the car and walked back.
I walked alongside a busy highway, following a path of headlight from oncoming traffic.
But here at the senior center, Dad makes me promise not to leave his side.
“Stretch your hands up high and move your hips, now shake, shake, shake it to the right!” bellows our Zumba instructor.
“You're doing great Dad,” I assure him.
“I farted Shannon,” he tells me.
“I thought you crapped your pants?"
“No, just farted."
“Good for you, way to hold back.”
This is not my favorite topic of conversation but discussing his bodily functions has become the norm.
I don’t expect him to master a soulful salsa, but I am collecting as many memories as I can. My father’s Parkinson’s disease has slowed him down enough for us to finally get to know each other.
Dad died on January 29, 2012 after years of us deliberately collecting memories.