“Dancing almost always turns out to be a good idea.” –Anne Lamott
Coming from a good Baptist family, dancing was a rarity in my house. Formal dancing, anyway – I have humorous images of my minister father busting loose in the kitchen of our house to Elvis, twisting like a good Christian boy never should. My younger sister and I were never put into ballet classes as children, though this could be due less to our church denomination and more to the lack of potential; I speak for myself, mainly. Around middle school, my sister tried out for cheerleading and was mildly encouraged in this by my ever-supporting parents, as long as all tempting body parts were covered at all time.
I surely can’t place all blame on my parents. I was a shy, chubby girl, with little understanding of her body: how it moves, what it does, the power in its cords. Not much has changed, as I often find myself with bruises from misjudging the distance between my desk corner and my knee. Because of this lack of awareness of spacial relations (something on which I score low in any standardized test), I do my best to stay away from any sort of dancing whatsoever.
Yet, in high school, I found myself breaking this norm for – what else – the attention of a boy. A good friend of mine, one of those dangerous theater types who often breaks into song and/or dance for no apparent reason, was taking a swing class as part of a local community theater. One summer night, after a bowl of ice cream and some laughter on the wooden deck, he offered to teach me a few steps. Because this boy was cute and unbelievably confident, he wore down my flimsy defenses – for what girl would actually object to a boy’s hands in hers, arm around her waist, with little chance for any funny business while doing a legitimate dance style?
He pulled me to him, and all words I had were spirited away by the nearness of his body. The teacher was patient as he imparted his wisdom to me, demonstrating the most basic rock-step. Nervously, I tried to wrap my mind around the new motions, wanting to pick them up quickly and impress him with my gracefulness. Unfortunately, neither want was realized, as it took me try after try to master even the simplest step and even once it was “mastered,” there was little grace – instead, there was uncertainty, which threw off the rhythm with each slight hesitation. I was thinking, analyzing, trying to understand the physics of each motion. Until he looked at me, our faces too close together, brown eyes glimmering with faith in my elephant-esque feet, and said, “Stop thinking so much.”
The key. Once I turned off the temples, let the beat and the horns and the bass rush through me like a wind, and trusted in my confident partner to lead me, I was dancing. The motion became something other, something more than feet moving in sync – instead, it was a like an energy that pulsed with the rhythm of the music, coming in even as physical energy was being exerted. No wonder there are so many photos of people laughing while dancing. That rush takes you by surprise, picks you up and lifts you to a place where you feel the physical connection with your partner and also a physical connection with yourself, with every molecule of your being vibrating in time with the beat.
When that boy moved on from my life, so did my brief stint as a swing dancer. More often than not, on the ever-present dance floor at weddings and reunions, I am awkward, using my mind to evaluate how I look and who is looking at me. I’m not good at letting another lead, and I am not good at dancing alone, even within a crowd. But every once in a while, the stars align and I trust my partner to carry me away. Then I feel that unique energy flow in and out, creating a homeostasis within and without, and I laugh with delight along with every molecule I possess.