Most little girls want to be ballerinas, or at least wear a tutu and a tiara to school for a week. Not me. Every Saturday afternoon I was a whirling, polyester-panted dervish in the church of Helen and the Neils (Reddy, Sedaka and Diamond, respectively.),
OK, OK, I can't take credit for the musical selection. I was too young to have my own stereo and/or record collection, so I''d climb the pea soup green-carpeted stairs up to my sister's room and use hers, careful not to plunk the needle down too hard or drag it across the vinyl.
I'd then dance full out until I couldn't dance anymore. With my spinning and zooming and shouting (when I knew the words), a good 45 minutes was like a 5-mile tempo run. I was free and in the flow, yet within a clear structure: Each song was a number in my own variety show, a hindsightedly whacked-out mishmash inspired by things I'd seen on "The Partridge Family," "Donny and Marie" and, I'd be lying if I left this one out, the repellant-but-mandated "Lawrence Welk Show." And who can forget one of the greatest dance performances of all time (and the worst exits of all time, sigh), Snoopy in "A Charlie Brown Christmas?"
I had a few show stoppers of my own--"Love Child," featuring a tragic heroine whose provenance I didn't quite grok but imagined hanging tattered rags on a clothesline ("Tenement slum!"); "Bad Blood," about a terrible, malevolent being represented, for me, by a Bic pen and its inky see-thru vein of black sludge, and the finale, "Billy, Don't Be a Hero," equal parts desolate and doofus, musically mirroring my confusion about life because, yeah, I was one of those nervous nail biters even then. I'm joking now because…Bo Donaldson and the Heywoods?!--but this was serious play for me. I had to dance.
The perfect ending to this story is that every week I get to be the assistant in 2 children's jazz classes. Until I hit grade school and heard about other girls taking dance classes, I didn't even know that there were such things. I thought dancing was something everyone knew how to do and did as regularly as I (and, well, the Lawrence Welk dancers) did. I am so happy that girls have so many options these days--ballet, tap, flamenco, swing, hula, African dance and, of course, jazz.
During the second-third of our class, they line up and, one by one, do various exercises across the floor. It's pretty standard, but for 9-year-olds taking dance for the first time, doing something all alone while everyone else watches is a big deal. And it's always amazing what happens when we ask them to do the most simple exercise of all--walking while rolling their shoulders to the beat. Some scramble to keep up with it, some get it right away but hold back, some hear its echo like a faraway pulse. And every once in awhile (3 times in the past 8 or so years I've been assisting), there'll be that girl who…I don't know…makes the music sound better. It's not just sinking into the beat, it's almost like thinking in to the beat. That is, if the heart and head had feet…It's not about being the best dancer, either--not even all professionals can do it--but something beyond technique and grace and memorization and working hard. It's not that they're on the beat, it's that they're in it.
But you know what? Ultimately it doesn't matter if they, or you, have it or you don't. Maybe we can all find it sometime or another but, like movement, it flows and goes, leaves and comes back, fits and starts. All I know is there's something super fun and super special about leading a tiny but fierce tribe of 9-year-olds in a combination to "Men In Black." It reminds me of me. And yes, it's almost as ironic as an 11-year-old Most Holy Trinity school girl rocking out to "I Wanna Be Sedated" (I finally saved my allowance and started my own little record library)... but the difference is, I've got some company now.
I wrote this thinking of my mom. I hope she's gotten to dance again. : )