I have been on two Fulbright Teachers Exchanges, both to England. My first exchange was to Bath Technical College in 1974-5. My second, in 1992-3, was to Tauntons College in Southampton.
I am a mad dancer and during my second exchange I was taken around to many dances by John & Hilary Turner who became good friends. So in 1998, when I decided to give myself a 60th birthday present-- a dance week in England--I contacted John & Hilary and asked them to help me structure my trip.
Because John had not yet acquired a computer, our e-mail go-between was a friend of Johns, Jacqui Clark. I told Jacqui to save me a dance.
One night, at the Chippenham Dance weekend, I picked out the prettiest woman on the floor and asked her for a dance. She accepted and then looked at my name tag. Oh, so youre Henry Morgenstein! Im Jacqui. So I said, Hello, Jacqui. She realized I made no connection. She said Im Jacqui, your e-mail correspondent. I said, Oh, completely shocked & pleased.
We danced a few times that weekend, found each other pleasant company but nothing went on between us. Chippenham has thousands of dancers and after Chippenham I was scheduled to tour other parts of England. On the last night of Chippenham Jacqui gave me a warm hug goodbye. I decided to e-mail her as soon as I got back to the States.
We began an intense e-mail correspondence--140 e-mails in 20 days. I know it sounds like an exaggeration, almost 7 e-mails a day, but this is summer time, I had little else to do but play tennis & write, and as she admitted, she didnt get much work done during those 20 days.
I had been divorced for 25 years and had no intention of ever marrying again; she had been divorced for eight years and desperately didnt want to get involved with someone who lived so far away. So we had fun with the correspondence: complete honesty was the rule because nothing would come of this. We did not plan to see each other until the following summer at the dance camp I was planning
I enjoyed the correspondence immensely. I could say outrageous things; I could continue my sloppy, singular existance. Even if she chose to come visit me, I would have at least 24 hours to prepare myself, prepare my house (or run away!) We lived 6,000 miles away from each other. Nothing immediate was about to happen. Most likely, nothing of any kind would ever happen. Before this spontaneous trip, I hadnt been abroad for six years. I thought my travelling days were over. Why not have fun with this correspondence.
As the correspondence grew more intense, as I was more & more drawn to this charming correspondent who was pretty & a good dancer, I actively looked for reasons not to get involved. I didnt want to complicate my life. After five or so days of corresponding I noticed she often referred to astrological signs. I thought, thats it, shes nice but a little too strange for me. The very next e-mail she began with, Lest you think Im a little round the bend about astrology, I like it but dont wholly believe.... At that point I knew I was in trouble. She is charming, and she can read my mind across a vast ocean.
We found we had more & more in common. She seemed my twin born on another continent, whod lived a different life. Our very first conversation centered on a t-shirt I was wearing which elicited the fact that we were both born in the Chinese year of the Tiger. Our birthdays were four days and twelve years apart. We seemed to be twins.
Much later I realized our courtship was very much like the courtships of old: chaperoned dates. Talk to each other. Find out if you like each other, have common interests. But dont touch. Nothing, absolutely nothing, physical.
But this is (was) the 20th century. After 140 e-mails I had to go back to England to find out more about this lady. I flew back to Southampton and stayed with her for two weeks. We almost made the decision to marry right then, but we didnt. I flew back to the States and we continued our torrid correspondence. A month later I flew back to England and spent two more weeks with her. We couldnt stay apart & we knew this was forever.
During the following Academic year she flew to see me three or four times, I flew to see her three times. We decided to get married July 17th in England and we decided to get married in costume.
Periodically the people we dance with have a Costume Ball where we try to wear costumes of a certain period and dance the dances of that period. One of Jacquis friends creates costumes for historical reenactment societies, and we commissioned her to create costumes for our wedding, costumes we have since worn to several costume balls. The evening of our wedding we had a dance for our close friends.
Jacqui has two daughters who were then 18 & 21; I have two sons who were then 27 & 30. When they met (and they have met several times since) they felt as if they had been handed a friend for life without all the hassle of trying to make a friend. They all get along famously and they all joked they would have to earn a lot of money so they could visit each other often.
Our marriage has had tremendous repercussions for the dance communities we inhabit. This May we are leading a group of American dancers on a dance tour-trip of England. In the Fall of 2002 we are planning to lead a group of English dancers on a dance tour-trip of America. Jacqui has taught dance classes in Michigan (Irish set dances), and I have called several dances (Contras) in England.
Before I met Jacqui I was planning a week long dance camp in my home town, Traverse City, Michigan. As a result of my involvement with Jacqui, over a dozen of her friends traveled to the U.S. to come to my dance camp and many made firm friends with Americans, several of whom have since traveled to England to be with their new found friends. The second dance camp I ran, in the summer of 2000, spawned another Transatlantic romance and the Brit is hoping to move to America and marry his American girl.
There are many Across the Pond relationships in our dance community and Jacqui and I have become consultants for the many couples we seem to run into who are considering a transatlantic marriage. Among other things, we can counsel them on the tricky (& maddening) process of crossing borders and acquiring a Green Card - a process that is still driving us crazy.
Life as a transatlantic couple is not easy, but it is immensely rewarding, and the Fulbright Teacher Exchange program is partly responsible for our very interesting lives.
Copyright © 2001 Henry Morgenstein