I love to dance – as long as there are no witnesses. Growing up in the 80s, I was fed a steady diet of dance movies from Footloose to Flashdance to Dirty Dancing. I also have a mad fondness for Gene Kelly movies. The grace, the rhythm, the magic of movement to music – all of which I don’t possess. When I used to drink, I thought I was an awesome dancer. When I dance now, sober, I look like a drunk.
Many a night was spent in Army base NCO clubs dancing to Morris Day’s “The Oak Tree”, hands in the air, wriggling about in a ridiculous mini-skirt and tennis shoes, having spent the day running around in a camouflage uniform and combat boots. Now, I cringe in embarrassment at the pictures of myself and all my mini-skirted friends, arms thrown around each other, laughing hysterically at something stupid. I would call them good times, if I didn’t remember the morning after as well. Jack Daniels and Coke never taste good on the way up.
When I was stationed in Germany, we went to local dance clubs and with fluent German (Noch ein bier, bitte.), our status as citizens of the world would be solidified, until Bon Jovi’s “Livin’ on a Prayer” would start to play. Every American soldier in the place would be on the dance floor. Dancing and singing. Loudly. It was strangely patriotic, if not completely boorish.
Years later, I took dance lessons with my husband when we first started dating. It culminated in one of the bigger arguments in our dating life and in my mind, at the time, was a death knell. We listened as the instructor explained how to do the steps, got the hand positions correct and then started to move.
We stepped on each others’ toes, awkwardly jerking one another around the dance floor. At one point, he smiled his most pleasant smile and whispered “Michelle, you need to let me lead”. He tugged harder and I became a mule, refusing to budge an inch. I am not, as you can imagine, a good follower. At that point, I stomped my way out of the dance hall and went outside for a smoke (I do miss an angry smoke). Years later, when someone gave us a gift certificate for dance lessons, it was allowed to expire in a junk drawer. Oops.
My husband and I danced at our wedding reception to John Hiatt’s “Have a Little Faith in Me”. He had a lot of faith that his graceless wife would let him lead and I did. One dance. Since then, we’ve gotten good at apologizing when we step on each others’ toes, but our dance is more enjoyable and less awkward. Metaphorically speaking. We recognize our limitations.
When my daughter was born, I learned a new dance, cradling her and gently swaying my hips back and forth to make her feel safe and comforted and if I were very lucky, sleepy. When we played, I would swing her around while belting out a whole playlist of Elvis songs. She laughed and clapped her hands when I would add barks to “Hound Dog”. When she learned to walk, there was always a name on my dance card, although our repertoire involved a lot of The Wiggles.
These days, my dancing time is usually solo, although occasionally accompanied by superior air guitar and crazy hair flipping drum playing. I’m still completely graceless and sometimes I smack into furniture and knock things off counters. It’s a happy, ridiculous dance, but it’s mine.