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I Try to Dance

17 Oct

Dance offers a fun alternative to contact sports for people who love music and aerobic activity minus the aggression and competition of athletics.  Along with biking and hiking, it occupies a top spot in my list of preferred activities.  Unlike them, it is a social event that gives me an opportunity to talk and laugh with other people.  Plus, it occurs indoors, a bonus during the harsh winter months where I live.

“Well,” I thought, “I’m going to start dancing!”  To that end, I began looking for a venue.  As an older person, I found out that my options are limited by unforeseen complications.

My first choice was to go for the freebie.  People dance all the time in clubs!  I love club dance music.  In fact, it is my favorite genre.  Most people expect me to enjoy listening to oldies and rock classics, even though, in truth, I have been trying to erase these overplayed songs from my memory banks for decades.  I like new music!  I thought, “I’ll just go dancing and rip up the dance floor like I used to when I was in my 20s.  It’ll be great.  Just like old times.”

I was right on one count and wrong on another.  It was just like old times:  the entire crowd was in its 20s, and everyone was single-mindedly trying to meet  someone to couple-up with.  But it was not great.

House, tech, trance, dubstep. Club music. Viva la fiesta, viva la noche, viva los DJs.

Oh, the dancing part was fine.  The music was fabulous, and my moves were better than everyone else’s, but my “cool factor” was torpedoed by my age.  I felt like a pariah on my own without a dancing partner.

The next time I went, I took my husband.  However, he is an oldies fan, and the strangeness of the music along with the antics of the DJs drew his ire.

“What, exactly, are those guys doing?” He indicated by nodding toward the jumping, bobbing-headed duo operating the equipment on stage.

“Re-mixing,” I answered.

“They’re not doing anything,” he concluded.  “They’re pretending they’re doing something.  What a bunch of losers.”

Live re-mixing is hard. The problem is that you can’t tell who’s faking it unless you stare over their shoulders.

The pretentiousness turned my husband’s feet into concrete blocks, and the volume eventually drove him out the door, and me along with him.  Failure #1.  Scratch that from my list.

Subsequently, a friend of mine invited us to a St. Patrick’s Day dinner and Ceilidh.  In case you are unfamiliar with this term, Ceilidh (pronounced kay-lee) is an Irish social dance similar to American square dancing.  After a wonderful meal of shepherd’s pie, we all walked to the rec center and found a huge crowd of people of (mercifully) mixed ages.  My husband and I paired off and launched into the set.  Oh, it was fun.  Yet, he was less comfortable with the “calls” than I was — more unsure of where he needed to go and how to get there by the end of the musical measure.

When “swing your partner” and “trade places” was called, something from the past, from the archaic memory of elementary school P.E., clicked on in his brain.  Suddenly, it became an athletic endeavor, an imperative for us get where we needed to be before the clock ran out.  He grabbed me like a football and raced to the goal line in record time.  Oof!  I felt as though my arm had been jerked out of its socket and — touchdown!  We won.  Other men shared this attitude.  When it came time to change partners (which happens frequently in Irish dance) some guys took advantage of my small size and swung me around so fast that my feet left the ground.  It was exhilarating but somewhat alarming to be manhandled that way, and I feared for my safety should I lose my balance and fall like a tourist during the running of the bulls in Pamplona.

My husband never asked to go to Ceilidh again, and I chalked it off as a favor he did for me, like club dancing, which he would rather forgo in exchange for other activities (in his scant free time) such as taking a spin on the millimeter gauge of his metalworking lathe in the basement workshop.  Failure #2.

After that, my friends talked me into going to Scottish dance.  I thought, “Ah, I can do this.  Scotland is near Ireland!  It’s practically the same culture!  What could go wrong?”  I started to attend regularly.  The group was small and experienced.  The dance sets were long and complex.  As one of my friends pointed out, there is a reason why Scots make such brilliant engineers.  Have you ever seen a Celtic knot?  If shown a picture and given a length of rope, could you recreate its intricate, twining pattern?  I didn’t think so.

A portion of a crib sheet for a Scottish dance. Gold star if you can translate this into action.

My dyslexia kicked in.  I could not determine which side was my right or my left.  At any given time, I had a 50/50 chance of veering the wrong way.  These people were patient with me as I crashed into them and needed to be corrected, in flight, like a runaway satellite.  One man, in particular, with the hands of a farmer, grabbed my hands so firmly that I thought I would never be able to play mandolin again, so strong was his crushing grip, to guide me on the proper trajectory.

My experience ended when I managed to rouse the wrath of my good friend of many years.  One night, she instructed the class to dance a figure-eight pattern, which she had previously drawn on paper, believing it to be adequately clear.  However, it lacked directional arrows, and (to ambidextrous people like me) “top and bottom” is as arbitrary as “right and left.”  Hey, it’s all relative!  If you live in the Southern Hemisphere, do you think everything is upside down?  No!  The South Pole is on top for you.  I induced a tantrum in my friend.  She was jumping up and down on the floor, shouting, “No, no, no!” at me.  Failure #3.  Bless her heart; she’s still my friend, though.

Providence intervened, both of my friends from Scottish dance moved away, which I took as a sign that I should give up.   Imagine my surprise when another friend invited me to Irish dance.  I do so love the music of the British Isles.  I play it on my mandolin all the time.  I adore its relentless cheerfulness.  “Oh, the crops are failing, and we are starving, and my wife just died in childbirth…” all sung to a lilting, lighthearted melody.  (God bless the Irish; they’ve been through so much.)  So, I joined, thinking, “Okay, the patterns are less complicated,” so the Ceilidh dance was easier.  However, the Irish step dancing was harder.  As my friend pointed out, Irish step dancing is where tap dancing originated.  I quickly realized that, in order to succeed, I would have to resort to video recording the steps to support my infamously poor memory.  In fact, this technique worked well.  I even slowed the videos down to half-speed and absorbed the information easily.  Soon, my surreptitious video recording (using anyone’s phone that happened to be available) attracted the unwanted attention of the instructor who commented, “You should charge her for that.”  (Uh, oh.  Busted.)  I decided that, in all fairness, I should attend one of the studio classes to see if I should sign up and pay for more instruction.)  We met at her Sunday class at the studio.

When Irish feet are flying…

Dance, done well, is gravity-defying, intensely emotional, and seemingly effortless despite its difficulty.  The instructor was a marvel to behold.   He was so good that he could dance in bare feet, running shoes, boots, or flip-flops.  Nothing tripped him up.  He kicked his leg over his head.  He balanced on his toes like a ballet dancer.  His feet moved so quickly that neither one touched the ground for more than a nanosecond.  He was perfect — and a perfectionist.  The students danced the routine over and over.  He drove them hard.  They became red-faced, out-of-breath, and sweaty.  “Get it together!” he commanded.  “I’m not going to tell you how to dance.  You can dance any way you want.  You either love it or you don’t!  If you don’t, you’ll leave.  And that’s fine because you won’t torture me anymore!”

One of my friends had an asthma attack.  With a grimace of pain on her face, doubled over and clutching her throat, she grabbed her inhaler and ran out of the room.  I went to check on her and  found her crying, saying, “I don’t want him to think I’m slacking.”  Of course she wasn’t!  But that was the level of dedication required for that class.  I couldn’t have matched it.  After 15 minutes, they would have had to call the meat wagon for me.  They would have had to shoot me, put me out of my misery, and use me for pet food.  I quit going to Irish dance.  Failure #4.

I’m not giving up on dancing.  I must find a joyous way to dance.  It can’t eat up all my free time going to instruction.   It can’t cause me pain and require soaking my shin splints in ice water.  

Recently, I went to a drug-free rave, and it was a blast.  People were smiling and dancing with abandon.  They gave me glow sticks, high-fives, and heart signs with their hands.   That was cool.  I’ve also been looking into Bhangra dance, which is a type of folk dancing popularized in Bollywood movies.  Everyone looks happy in there, too.  I should learn how to do that.  If I get good enough, I could earn money by conducting my own an aerobics class.  That’s okay if you can’t remember the steps!  Just make something up!  As long as you keep moving and end up laughing, you’re fine!”

Confessions of a Ballophobe

10 Dec

People can be terrified of many things, and balls top my list. That rules out participation in most sports, needless to say. Not that I care. I don’t enjoy team sports, although it is regrettable. People have so much fun playing them! They laugh. They yell. They pat each other on the back. They gather for refreshments afterwards. This makes me jealous. Even if I played, I wouldn’t have fun, though, because I would be sitting on the sideline with injuries.

And therein lies the explanation: Only people who are good at sports like sports. The rest of us bumble around like the Three Stooges, contributing nothing except insurance claims. Pain hurts. We learn to avoid it. I was the proverbial “last kid to be chosen” on the team.

In softball, I sneaked to the back of the line-up continually to avoid coming up to bat, where I swung like a rusty gate while everybody yawned. In the outfield, I tried to catch a pop fly once. My team held its collective breath as the ball dropped out of the sky. Closer and closer it came, toward my outstretched hands. At the last minute, I decided to duck and cover, and the ball hammered me on the head. None of these experiences rivaled the day I was forced to pitch. Ninety-nine percent of my balls failed to cross the plate. My teammates drifted into coma waiting for anything to happen. Suddenly, Robert hit a high-speed line drive to the pitcher’s mound, where I happened to be standing in the way. It struck me squarely on the nose. Rivers of blood gushed from my cupped hands. Oh, yes. My nose was broken.

Balls were not my friend. Books were. It seems that I.Q. and athletic ability are inversely related. For the most part, people excel either intellectually or physically, although some fortunate individuals enjoy both abilities. Genetics and environment are both responsible, yet the connection is unclear. Both of my parents were sedentary, yet my sister turned out to be an All-Around-Sports-Girl. I was Brain Girl. It wasn’t until fifth grade that I learned the reason for my Ballophobia. I couldn’t see. I needed glasses, big time.

Was my poor eyesight hereditary or the result of too many hours spent with a book too close to my face in poor light, cultivating my neasightedness? No matter. The solution was to buy a pair of ugly glasses that I refused to wear, anyway. In summer camp, after our first volleyball game, I earned my obligatory nickname: Klutz. It came as no surprise. I couldn’t get the ball over the net if my biceps had been replaced by bazookas. I only wore my glasses after I turned 16, and only while driving. The rest of the time I was blind as a bat because it was more important to look good than to see well. Contact lenses changed all that, but it was too late to salvage my athletic career. By that time, I was interested in other amusements, mainly those with Y chromosomes.

I don’t fear balls anymore because they don’t factor in my life much. Later they were replaced by other high-speed projectiles, such as small children hopping up and down under my jaw or unpredictably flapping their arms or legs near sensitive parts of my body. Then my survival instincts kicked in, and I jumped clear, thankful about all the practice I got from being ballophobic. — Chris

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