I was watching a program today on Channel 20 WYCC (“Your Community College”) about drumming and rhythmic styles and their development in different cultures and musical traditions. Watching a West African music and dance group working together in perfect synchronization put me in mind of my old issues with dancing and the curious division in my world between dance and rhythm.
Let’s begin with rhythm. It’s something I’ve always had a keen sense for. I probably could be a pretty fair drummer if I dedicated myself to it. I can pound out sophisticated rhythms with my hands and I can sing them with my voice. Ah, but then we get to those feet of mine. Oh dear! Dancing has never been easy or comfortable for me and though I’ve been in many stage musicals, learning and performing choreography has always been a laborious process.
The quick and easy analysis of this for many years consisted of a simple assessment of me just not being very coordinated in the legs and feet. But as the years have passed and I’ve gotten to know myself better, this has become an increasingly unsatisfying analysis – at best incomplete and at worst quite misguided. This is clearly a more complex matter. Let’s look at what else we know about this.
Dancing was not a part of my childhood or adolescence. Our family, generally speaking, was never taken up with learning the latest dances and I cannot immediately recall attending any event at which I might have been expected to dance until I was a senior in high school (with one exception that I’ll mention later). My one appearance on the dance floor at that senior year event came about because one brave and clumsy lass took on the challenge of asking shy and equally clumsy me out onto the dance floor. The result was not a disaster, but neither was it a thing of beauty. It was a good thing it wasn’t the type of dancing that required the holding of hands, for my palms were surely damp and clammy at that moment. So it can certainly be said that I was a long way along in my life before dancing might have been viewed as any sort of medium for social communication. I wonder if, like some language skills, it is one that must be learned at an early age in order for one to ever be truly fluent.
A few years back, I attended a concert at a club in Berwyn, Illinois by a band called Brave Combo. They are a Texas polka band primarily financed by a Japanese conglomerate. Actually, they played a lot more than polkas that night – they also played a screaming rock n’ roll version of Do the Hokey Pokey that was too much fun for words! But I digress. The point is, they played a variety of fun, bouncy, infectious tunes and it was impossible to keep still while they were playing. If I was sitting down, I was tapping my feet but most of the time, I was on my feet moving around in rhythm to their music – along with everybody else – and having a great time. Now it seems to me that you would have to call that dancing, though goodness knows I wasn’t doing any sort of planned step or movement, and I wasn’t dancing with a partner except for one song. And I can tell you that it was no problem at all to move along with the music. So my issue with dancing appears to exist along some specific lines.
Perhaps some of it is a manifestation of my own lifelong shyness, creating a pervasive inhibited mindset. Perhaps this is abetted by a desire to not embarrass myself in public by doing something I know I don’t do well. Oh, I’m well aware of the old aphorism “Dance as if no one’s watching.” That phrase looks pretty good on a sampler hanging in the living room, but it’s quite another matter to put that idea into practice. That is also reinforced by the fact that I’ve heard an awful lot of post-party analyses by coworkers that have greatly revolved around talking about who made a fool of themselves on the dance floor the night before. And once again, I know the ideal is to not care what other people are saying and thinking, because life is short, etc. But if I’m going to be honest – and if you can’t be honest in your own blog, you ought to find another hobby – I have to admit that it can inhibit me.
Let me close with these thoughts – I have had moments of fun and pleasure on dance floors. As I go forward, I hope to have more of them. I am a work in progress and I hope I may ever remain so!
A few added thoughts – Let the record show the following: When I was in the second grade, I attended a birthday party at classmate Mark Wolak’s house. There was a “twist” contest held as part of the festivities and the judges awarded me with the prize for 2nd place! So there. Also, when I was in rehearsals for the touring production of The Wizard of Oz, there was a day when, while we were running the big musical finale, our producer, the late Mickey Miners, turned to my roommate CC, who was the costume designer. “You know,” he said philosophically, “when I’m feeling down or having a bad day, I can always cheer myself up with the thought that Chuck isn’t planning a career as a professional dancer.”