Here’s to People Who Dance Without Knowing the Steps

a concrete block that says "DANCE HERE" flanked by 4 footprints
Image by Orin Zebest / CC BY

People Who Will Dance vs. People Who Won’t

Binaries are funny. As we work towards a more diverse, inclusive culture, they’ve fallen out of favor. And it’s easy to see why. Trying to stuff everybody into one of two categories? Well, it’s rarely a perfect fit.

But cognitively? Binaries are a very tidy way to sort information.

Me, I’ve been addicted to opposites for a very long time. Ever since the Near/Far Grover days.

So what’s the best way to differentiate between two groups of people, and have the distinction really mean something?

This way: People Who Will Dance Vs. People Who Won’t.

Dancers Are Either Confident or Don’t Care If They Look Foolish

I’ve always counted myself among the dancers.

People who dance? Well, they’re either confident that they know what they’re doing. That they look good dancing.

Or they don’t care if they look foolish.

I’ve been a person who doesn’t care if I look foolish.

The Only Ones Brave Enough to Dance

It’s how Michael and I ended up together, one summer at a camp for high school musicians. He was dancing on the campus mall to music pouring out of an open window. Michael was tall and lanky. Built like a scarecrow. And he kind of danced like one, too.

No one joined him. People were staring. Shaking their heads.

But I admired him. The way he threw himself into it. It made me smile. So I figured, what the hell, I’ll go dance, too.

And as we came together, we swirled into a nerdy orbit. What we lacked in technique, we made up for in enthusiasm.

Three songs later, we collapsed under a tree, glowing with adrenaline, lightly coated in sweat.

“I loved your solo on Speak Low,” he said.

“Really? Which go?” I asked.

“The third one,” he said. “Before Bouffy cut you off. You were quoting Cannonball Adderley, weren’t you?”

“Oh probably. Do enough transcriptions and it gets under your fingers,” I said, before adding, “Your tone reminds me of Sonny Rollins.”

He beamed. We’d spent hours together that morning rehearsing in the same combo. Michael on tenor sax, me on alto. We never made eye contact, let alone talked. “I have to admit I felt a little intimidated by you,” he said.

“Intimidated?” I laugh. “Little old me?”

“You’re the real deal. I’ve heard of you. You play everywhere. You’re in a bunch of jazz groups.”

“Well, one of them’s a funk band,” I said.

“See, even that has more… credibility than what I do,” he said. “I’m from the rock world. I play sax in a ska band.”

“Look, it doesn’t matter what you play. A person who can get up and dance like that all by themselves? They have my respect.”

I’d never heard of ska, so he spent the afternoon explaining. Playing CDs for me. And that night at the staff concert, we inched our arms infinitesimally closer until finally we held hands.

Michael was a breath of fresh air. He did his own thing. Wore a beret like other guys wore baseball caps. Michael didn’t carry his books in a backpack like other high school kids. But in a briefcase.

And whenever I made the 3-hour car trip south to catch his ska band in a show, I’d see him do that same dance up on stage. Kicking his long legs. Shredding the air. All by himself. His bandmates didn’t dance.

But the band? They were pretty freaking good. Went on to win a big contest. Got a recording contract and promotion out of the deal.

And I’ll never forget what one reviewer wrote in Michael’s favorite music zine: “Even if they were shit, I’d go see them just to watch their sax player dance.”

“I Don’t Like People Looking at Me”

Later I dated Seth. His parents ran a dance studio – and I learned not only how to dance but how to teach. Salsa was always my favorite. It gave you an excuse to do pretty obscene things with your hips. And it didn’t hurt that I’d always loved Latin music.

But it was difficult to get Seth to dance with me. He had danced a lot with his ex-girlfriend. Especially jitterbug and Lindy hop. They’d done performances as part of his parents’ dance troupe. Traveled.

“It just isn’t fun for me anymore,” Seth would say. His ex pressured him to dance more than he wanted to. And he eventually injured his knee when she fell on it during an aerial move.

Seth and I took some lessons together. And we’d go to the occasional dance his parents’ studio hosted. I loved every minute. Especially being spun, spun, spun. We were good, too. Good enough that people would often tell us how much fun it was to watch us.

But Seth regarded dancing as a chore. “Besides,” Seth said. “I don’t like people looking at me.”

So when Seth and I got married, we didn’t dance at the wedding. Even though we had both worked as dance instructors.

Humming the Music

“And this is the basic step,” I say to Skyspook.

He watches carefully. “Like this?” he says.

“Exactly like that.” I smile.

He wraps his arms around me, and we dance on the kitchen floor as we take turns humming the music.

Lurking is Safer — But Lonely

It’s scary to put yourself out there. Whether you’re talking about dancing. Or trying to connect with someone else. Or doing anything new, really.

We run the risk of making fools of ourselves.

I don’t know if I’ll ever feel like one of those dancers who know the steps. The ones who are confident of what they’re doing and know they look good.

But I do know I’m a person who wants to get out there and do something anyway. Even if I end up looking silly to others.

True, it’s easier to make fun of people when you’re not out there trying something new, struggling through the steps.

But trying to dance sure beats standing on the sidelines, lurking, and watching others have fun.

 

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