Dance with Me
Cullinan delves into professional disappointment from two totally divergent viewpoints, one from a semi-professional football player and the other an internationally acclaimed ballet dancer. On the surface a man clad like a gladiator in football pads and gear and a man clad in tights and ballet slippers should be so far apart as to be on different planets. Instead in this book, Cullinan has them beautifully dance together.
Gay athlete Ed Maurer is coming off of a neck injury that could have killed him, but killed his football career instead. As he deals with intermittent pain and getting his new life back together, he teaches weight training to kids at a St. Paul, Minnesota community center. He’s disgusted with his job at a big box store, disgusted with his bouts of pain, and disgusted with the simpering fairy in tights who conducts the aerobics class in the room next to him at the center.
Former ballet dancer and professional ballroom dancer, Laurie Parker is treading water after being ejected from a dance competition in which he and his boyfriend tried to compete. Although he’s set up his own dance studio in Eden Prairie, Minnesota, he teaches aerobics at the center in St. Paul. The only thorn in his side there is ultra-hulk Ed who continually rubs him the wrong way.
When his equipment malfunctions and Ed asks to share Laurie’s, Laurie’s price is Ed partnering with him at Laurie’s old timers’ ballroom dancing lesson, a stipulation Laurie, who doesn’t know Ed is gay, thinks is funny. But when Ed not only shows up for the lesson but tells Laurie he loves to dance, the joke is on Laurie.
As they come closer and after Laurie learns that Ed is gay, they explore their personal disappointments, their hopes and dreams, and ultimately their mutual cravings for music, dance, and sex. No getting around it, this is a sexually explicit book.
What makes the book so special is where the two men meet the most, dancing. Cullinan’s descriptions of both men doing sultry South American dances and Laurie’s explanations of how and why the steps are done sing. Ed’s vision of Laurie’s talent and his support to see Laurie dance professionally again are lyrically written.
Friendship and support thread their way throughout the story, not only in Ed’s hopes for Laurie but also in Ed’s football colleagues’ hopes for Ed. Unlike Laurie, who only needs to get over his phobia about performing, Ed’s health is such that he can’t ever play football – the only activity that really satisfied him – again. Reconciling himself to his new life is a lot more demanding than Laurie’s decision about his new goals.
Ultimately both men need each other to go forward and to be happy. And what is love really except a life steeped in happiness?
As a central figure, Ed boldly and brashly pushes his way from the first few pages to the end. He’s big and occasionally crude, but totally delightful for his sense of humor and sense of self. He refuses to be pitied by anyone but himself.
Laurie is a little more problematic since he’s been catered to all his life. Unlike Ed who has physical challenges he must overcome, Laurie often seems like a pouting child. His love for Ed is a little hard to understand, but then Ed is a rock solid presence he can lean on.
Cullinan’s love of dance and music, the thread that becomes a rope tying Ed and Laurie together, creates a haunting melody that will sing to readers long after they put the book down.