It's in my blood. Everyone's blood. To dance in our own way is to live and celebrate life.
One time, and only one time, my father tried to dance with me in our living room. The floor was covered with rattan, which made it difficult. Worse, Dad was a 1920's swing and jitterbug guy, apparently a damned good one, and swing was decades away from its big return which swept the dance world- and lots of other folks along- not very long ago.
We couldn't match rhythms. I was just old enough to love the Stones, and I danced the way I saw folks dancing on TV. Dad got irritated. Rather than choose to coach or teach, he quit, disgusted. That was the first and last time I ever danced with my father.
My parents had the vinyl from the movie The King and I, and I was transfixed by the grace of the gorgeous Shall We Dance musical piece:
This was years before video and YouTube, but we saw the movie, and that was enough. I could see them in my mind's eye when I heard the music. Around the living room I would twirl, an adolescent with dreams of flying, a pretty girl in a gorgeous dress. The epitome of grace, everything I wasn't.
I'd taken ballet. From about sixteen on, I would sneak out to go dancing at local nightclubs. No booze, no nothing, I just had to dance. I would later take jazz lessons in New York City basements.
During the 1970s I was a fan of the hustle, which back then was a very popular dance, not a side gig that sucked the life out of you. Like this:
I HAD to dance. Did dance, usually at nightclubs, until the wee hours. Back then, Danskin came up with all kinds of slinky, interchangeable pieces you could wear which allowed you to move beautifully (as I was told, for a fat girl) in this dance, natch, with Latin moves. We can thank John Travolta and the seminal Saturday Night Live for the inspiration that swept the nation while I was in my first years in the Army.
There were, of course, the Latin Hustle, the New York Hustle, the West Coast Hustle.....it was a very Big Thing. Those of us doing the dancing at the time were teetering on huge platform shoes, including the guys, which was great for short men with excellent balance.
Dancing was part of life, part of weekends, any time I got a chance. I loved to move. Not good enough to compete, and too heavy to look like the kind of dancer for whom partners line up just to show off their moves against yours.
Big girls didn't make their partners shine, as I was told time and again.
Despite this, I danced for years and years, through my thirties and forties. I got slim, finally, and dance dresses looked very different. I moved differently.
Until I didn't any more. Corporate life and demands took that away, took a lot of things away with my compulsive work habits. Then I moved to Spokane, and there I got swept up in salsa and many other Latin dances.
After a solid year of lessons, even this genuinely clumsy putz could dance. My spins still sucked but by god I could dance lots of Latin styles, with a measure of grace, enough so that some of the better natural-born dancers would take me out for a spin on the floor. I danced in groups at fairs, and felt fair. Finally.
I was in heaven for a while, then moved to Durango, Colorado, where dancing stopped dead in its tracks. The tourist town didn't have that kind of offering at the time.
A few years later, I met and fell hard for a young man for whom ballroom dancing was his great passion. I moved back to Denver, then learned swing, and a few other new steps. While he moved towards competitions and ultimately left me behind, those few years allowed me to again reignite my love of moving with grace to uplifting tunes.
You might recall that period not long ago when swing was king again, the jitterbug and all those Roaring Twenties dances made a huge comeback. And Zoot Suits. It was mad fun. I played for part of that.
You might also recall that there was a slew of great dance films, many of which involved the ugly duckling story, and someone's finding their grace through movement. Yah, I get that. Dirty Dancing, Saturday Night Fever, Footloose, lots and lots of them. Made you want to shake a tail feather. I did, for years.
Then, for me, nothing since about 2005.
For seventeen years I haven't danced. You get busy, distracted. Work takes over. Mine did. I was working ten and eleven hours days, trying to work out regularly. Dancing was forgotten. I got involved with a man who never saw a dance floor. The only dance he cared about was horizontal, and that was that. I went to bed earlier and earlier, in part because my body woke up earlier and earlier, and there went any kind of night life after 7:30 pm.
The other day I was going through my DVD collection (YES I still have my own movies) and stumbled on what is likely my absolute favorite dance movie of all time: Strictly Ballroom. This 1993 movie took me right back to what I'd been missing for way too long.
It isn't just that I lived in Australia for four years and this silly-wonderful movie speaks deeply to its culture and wonderful sense of humor. The dancing is ridiculously gorgeous. In this final set of scenes, the ugly duckling (Fran, whose father is a Flamenco dancer) dances with Scott Hastings, who was supposed to be dancing regulation steps, but instead, studied with Fran's father to do his own thing.
As Fran grows slowly but surely into grace, Scott finds his way to express himself on his terms in this strict environment. The dancing begins at the one minute mark on this clip:
I am about 15% Spanish-Portuguese. While I would be hard-pressed to say this is why, I can tell you that this particular kind of dancing likely appeals to me more than just about any other. The intensity, the passion, the gorgeous movements.
Latin folks know how the hell to dance (as do we all, kindly, but boy does this speak to my internal furnace).
My father was a dancer. I am a dancer. No matter how old I get I will always be a dancer.
The other day I wrote about pulling out a bag full of my old dancing shoes. That's a statement of not just interest but serious intent. Salseros, a dance studio not far from my house, has Friday night dances that start two and a half hours after I am usually in bed. That is the Spanish way; the White folks toddle home at ten, and the dancers for whom this is in their blood show up between ten and eleven and then own the floor.
I'm not sure how I'm going to make it through a Friday night - lots of Nodoz I guess - but I intend to wear those dancing shoes again. Wear the damned things out.
We all dance. All of us, each in his own way. To dance is to live, to celebrate life, to be at one with our bodies. Truth, all of us can dance, no matter how big, small, young old, even crippled. Some part of us needs to dance, for to move to the music is to speak to the spheres themselves.
I'm returning to dancing this year. Sore shoulder, bad hands and all. The older I get the more I need it. I plan to go out dancing, in one way or another, learn new steps and make my brain expand and my body sing with the challenge.
If you need inspiration, here's a walk down memory lane to get you started: