Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Dance, Dance, Dance

“Dance till the stars come down from the rafters.
Dance, Dance, Dance, till you drop.” W. H. Auden

I have an old, but very dear memory of a September Sunday in Paris, crossing the Pont Neuf, shadows long with the day’s end near. As I approached the end of the bridge nearest to the Left Bank, I heard music and saw a crowd gathering. A young, sexy couple in black, approached the crowd smiling. Suddenly, it was all tango, legs long and hair loose. I could not believe my eyes. Breathless with excitement, I pushed closer and watched this daring dance on the Pont Neuf at sunset in Paris. When they finished the crowd cheered. Encore, we begged. The couple bowed, smiled, waved goodbye and, strolled off. Many of us stayed together for a while buzzing about the spontaneity of it all, the passion, the beauty. Some rubbed their eyes, wondering if the whole scene had actually happened. It has stayed with me for years and years.

There is evidence of dance on the walls of prehistoric caves. Figures in movement, repetitions, rituals. And they say kids dance before they walk and until they learn that everything is not music. We are meant to move, we are meant to dance, I think. My brother met his wife while teaching dance at Arthur Murray Studios in the late 50s. Our family watched, mesmerized, as they took to the floor at every gathering, liquid, silky, saying things with the samba and cha-cha that no one would ever say out loud. And how my mother could dance! Even into her 80s she would join a line dance or accept the invitation of a stranger to move onto the dance floor. It’s a theme that runs through my family and my life. I came of age, though, just as dancing became an individual kind of thing, when young people would flock onto a floor with or without a partner and wiggle, bump, grind into the wee hours of the morning. If there was any slow dancing, it was simply two bodies hugging each other, moving in circles. But it was fine. It did whatever it was supposed to do at the time – create closeness, establish rituals, define a kind of community.

I heard an interview the other day with the lead dancers of Dancing with the Stars. Did you know that this “reality” show is among the most watched on television these days? The premise is that stars and celebrities of all kinds compete with each other by dancing. Once chosen for the show the individual has three days to practice with the professional lead dancer in choreographed programs. They appear in front of an audience and the judging begins. The television audience participates in the judging, too. There are elimination rounds over a period of a week or two. (I have never seen the show, so I’m piecing what I’ve read and heard about it together). These two dancers spoke about how challenging it is to teach someone to dance traditional and formal moves in so short a time. They love it, they say, because they witness how many of these stars, so comfortable in their usual forms of celebrity, struggle at first with their discomfort dancing, then melt into the fun of moving with discipline and flair. The interviewer asked if there were a story of failure, of someone who simply could not do it in the end. “Never, not ever!” they chimed at the same time.

Miss Wheelchair Colorado 2000 is a dancer and actress. I remember being moved watching her and an ambulatory partner dance in a parking lot, celebrating her victorious reign. And at Pam’s birthday party two years ago, a friend with MS, confined to a power chair, took the hand of another and rocked the night away. She said moving to a beat feels so wonderful, so liberating!

We all know that dancing is good for us besides. Did you know you can burn hundreds of calories dancing even just for 60 minutes? And learning the patterns of ballroom and formal dances does wonders for your brain fitness. The camaraderie and enjoyment of dancing contribute to forming and strengthening social networks and community, which recent studies show help ward off depression and the ill effects of aging.

And yet, in spite of all these positive outcomes, it’s another one of those things that people tend to leave behind, feeling self-conscious, foolish or not so nimble anymore. How about declaring a day of dance, especially if you haven’t danced in a while? Or, a day to watch someone else dancing, at least? Tune in to that crazy TV show, or sign up for dance lessons at the local Fred Astaire Studio. Let your children or grandchildren talk you into a few go rounds of Ring Around the Rosey. Invent some new steps. “Dance till the stars come down from the rafters. Dance, dance, dance till you drop.”

Do you dance? Tell us your dancing story.


robert.e.barber@crocker.com said...

Carol and I took a swing dance class at Greenfield Community College last winter, with Emily Fox instructing. Perhaps you remember Ms. Fox, a Model Mugging Alumnae in Carol's class, and a Thursday writer during Franklin Street days. So we met weekly in a florescent lit classroom, asphalt tile, greenboards, windows reflecting a roomful of random people of diverse age, and through the magic you describe so eloquently in your essay, overcame our shyness to dance dance dance ! Thanks, Robin

Lynn Grasberg said...

Kathryn - This is beautifully written! I love to dance but have been "too busy" lately. This must change! I think I'll go dancing tonight. Lynn