Thursday, September 4, 2014
There’s a Facebook post going around that features a 91-year-old woman who is A) Lovely, slender and blonde and B) Dancing up a storm. She’s gliding across a slick dance floor, shagging like there’s no tomorrow. She’s dancing with guys in their 20s and wearing them out. It’s a beautiful thing.
I wish I could dance. I do. It looks like a lot of fun. But noooooo. When the music starts my knees lock, my arms get stiff and my jaw clamps shut—think of a skirt-wearing zombie.
Here’s the story: Daddy was a foot-washing Baptist deacon, and my mother was a double-jointed, prize-winning dancer. She could swing, boogaloo and do the lindy hop like her hair was on fire. Why she married my father when he didn’t dance a lick, I do not know. (Maybe because he was kind, smart and loving. Let’s go with that.)
Anyway, one day when I was seven years old, my sister Moonbeam and I were in our bedroom when a song came on the radio—Chubby Checker? James Brown? Who knows—and I started doing the twist. Dad walked by the open bedroom door and stopped. His eyes pierced me to the bone.
“When you dance, the devil laughs,” he said sadly. The air left my lungs, because to me his word was gospel. I haven’t danced since.
You’d be surprised how many people don’t believe this.
My best friend, Floozy’s, father was a champion shagger in North Carolina. His name was Francis but everyone called him Tanky. He danced effortlessly, with smooth and syncopated grace. And poor Tanky thought he could teach me to do the same.
After 20 minutes of patient shuffling in the parlor, he said, “I have an idea.” He tied a towel to a doorknob, handed me the other end and said, “I’ll call out the steps and you do them holding the towel.”
I tripped over my own feet and yanked the towel off the doorknob. “Don’t move your shoulders!” he yelled, which made me freeze like a statue. Finally Tanky sank into a club chair, mopped his forehead and said, “Julia [in 40 years he never got my name right], you do not appear to have natural rhythm. It’s incredible.”
He made a few more attempts over the years and finally gave up, literally throwing his hands in the air. “You are my only failure,” he sighed, which made me feel REALLY special.
And so the non-dancing years went by. When your father tells you dancing is from the devil and your best friend’s dad says you’re his only failure, dancing is not at the top of your to-do list. Still, people tried to teach me.
There was my college friend Marc, who insisted only my inhibitions were holding me back. Well, duh. What did he think was holding me back, a straitjacket?
Marc was gregarious, engaging and half-crazy. One night at a campus concert, he downed a couple of Pimm’s Cups (he was also a passionate Anglophile), grabbed my hand and literally snatched me onto the dance floor.
“Follow my lead!” he bawled, and proceeded to fling me to and fro. I thought he’d give me whiplash. Finally his buzz subsided and he guided me towards the sidelines. Panting slightly he said, “Perhaps not everyone is born to dance.”
“Perhaps,” I muttered, and went off in search of another Bartles & Jaymes.
So I still don’t dance, unless you count swaying with my husband in the kitchen to a Johnny Rivers song. That I do… as often as possible.
Julie R. Smith, who chair dances pretty well, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.