Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Let's Dance

"Those who danced were thought to be quite insane by those who could not hear the music." ~Angela Monet

It began with my mother. I was in junior high school and was about to go to my first dance. My mom thus took it upon herself to teach me how to dance. By this, I mean slow dance.

She'd bought a Tom Jones 45 rpm single and planned to have me learn the steps thereby. We were in the family room downstairs in our New Jersey home. Naturally I was self-conscious, but simultaneously interested in learning a few things about this all-important life skill. The very first thing is knowing where the hands go. For the guy, the left hand takes the girl's right hand, and the other goes to the side of the waist, or if a bit more friendly, wraps around the lower back.

The next part is the stepping about, which I really never mastered. I just move my weight from side to side a little, taking little steps forward and back. There are some guys who really know how to move them feet. But I never quite got that far in my lesson, because as I was shuffling back and forth next to my mom, my brother Ron and friend Tom walked into the room. I already mentioned being self-conscious and sure enough this was too much. I leaped back away from her in embarrassment (I was but a thirteen year old kid) and rammed the black and white television set so as to knock it off the TV stand to the floor, thus cracking the monitor. Can you believe it? That TV still worked, even with the crack, which became a perpetual reminder of my first dance lesson.

The dance itself consisted of the playing of 45s in the auditorium, which was also used for basketball and gym class activities. The area outlined by the basketball court is where the dancing took place, the entire perimeter lined with little boys in suits and girls in their finest, as well as a number of teachers holding rulers. The rulers were present as a measuring instrument because one of the rules was that we had to maintain a distance of six or twelve inches. (My recollection here lacks exactitude, though the rulers were very definitely present.)

That night, the first girl I asked to dance with me was Nancy Black. She said yes, and was nice about it. So I probably asked her a bunch of times to dance whenever the slow songs played. I still hadn't learned how to move on the fast stuff. That probably began in high school.

I don't recall who taught me the basic steps for dancing to rock 'n roll, but I never missed a dance. If you're guy the odds are in your favor because most of the other guys are too cool to dance, for fear of making a fool of themselves. The girls, on the other hands, though often found dancing with one another would prefer to have a guy step up and share the moment. In most settings where there's music, and people dancing, you will see someone tapping their feet and longing to be out there, but not really wanting to dance with themselves.

The key thing in dance is not being a great dancer, but simply enjoying yourself as you lose yourself in the music, the rhythms, and the social interactions with the one you are dancing with.
My dancing days are pretty limited now, but weddings provide occasions for getting up on one's feet. And for many years I have enjoyed dancing with my daughter at the father-daughter ball each year here in Duluth.

Dancing, of course, isn't limited to this modern era free form style, which some people associate solely with mating and lasciviousness. All kinds of ethnic cultures have their folk dances. In fact, the genres of dance are legion, from tangos, waltzes and salsa to jigs, ballet and disco. Tap dancers and groups like River Dance perform to entertain. Native Americans danced for special occasions with a wide variety of ceremonial dances, and during the special period of the persecution of Native Americans the Ghost Dance was even outlawed.

One of the best parts of dancing for me is losing myself in the music. And using one's whole body as a form of expression. Maybe that's what I enjoy about painting, too. The movement, the music, stepping back, forward, side-to-side. And not really knowing what's going to happen next.

EDNOTE: Most of the paintings and illustrations on my blog are available for sale. If you see something here that makes you say, "I gotta have it," be sure to let me know and we can negotiate a price. Feel free to click on images to enlarge.

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