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This post is part of my 2022 Word Project. You can read what that’s about here.

Saturday, April 29, 2023

It’s International Dance Day, a thing I know because a badge popped up on my Apple Watch and said, “Earn me!” How? By doing a dance activity for 20 minutes.

Now, there is no way for my watch to know if I’m actually dancing. I could turn on a workout and sit on the couch and it wouldn’t know the difference. But I’m a purist and if I’m going to get a dance badge, I’m going to dance.

Which got me thinking about dancing. My first thought was, I’ve never danced in my life. My second thought was… well, except for weddings.

My third, fourth and fifth thoughts were… and at clubs. And whenever I put on Mama Mia. And wow, I’m stupid.

Of course I’ve danced, but somehow when I think of “dance” I think of fancy professional elaborate things. Ballet. Tap. Jazz hands.

It’s funny how narrow thinking can really mess with your head. Fortunately this wasn’t a whole “just turn the beanbag upside down” kind of thing (come on, you’re following along, right?) It only took me a minute to think of about a hundred dancing stories.

Here’s one: I almost took a ballet lesson.

I don’t know how old I was but it had to be 8 or less since we were living in the Bronx. My mother took me and I remember being absolutely terrified.

My friend Jennifer, who lived downstairs from us, and who was perhaps three or four years older than me, heard that I’d be going to a ballet lesson. So she told me a story about her ballet class, about how they had scooters and the kids would zoom each other around so fast that they would fall off the scooters and everything was wild and crazy.

I think she was actually trying to scare me. It worked. I went to that class in terror. There were no scooters but I imagined them in every corner, lurking, waiting to zoom me around and throw me off and run me over and then I’d get yelled at by the teacher and that would probably be worse. I did not want to zoom. I wanted no possibility of zooming.

I have only the vaguest recollection of that class, and it is primarily of standing there while a bunch of kids did some steps led by the teacher, and being terrified of the nonexistent scooters.

I never went back. Fortunately I have one of those mothers who doesn’t make their kids do the thing that is supposed to be good for them even though they really hate it.

Not that I hated it. I don’t even know if I could have articulated why I was terrified. I would not have ratted out my friend for terrifying me. Being a tattletale was not cool, almost as not cool as zooming around on scooters while the teacher preferred you to plié.

I took piano lessons instead. There was no chance of zooming around on the piano bench, you just sat there and pounded out Johnny’s So Long At The Fair.

I was always into the solitary things. Not a group kid.

Anyway that is my sole “dance” memory.

Much later in life Ralph and I took a dance class, just for fun. I think it was maybe 8 weeks, and you’d go once a week and do different steps each time. Salsa. Tango. Not sure what the purpose was, if you were supposed to be able to hold your own next to your cousin at the next wedding, or just be able to do more than the chicken dance.

It was fun, that’s all I really remember. Not the steps, certainly, just that we enjoyed it. No scooters.

I used to go dancing all the time in college and even after I graduated for a while, where dancing meant going to some club and jumping around under strobe lights. I liked dancing in those circumstances, mostly because it was dark and the lights kept anyone from being able to tell you apart form a potted plant, so you could do just about anything and it was perfectly fine.

It usually involved a lot of bouncing.

I say “club” but what I mean is something suburban that was much more tame than actual “clubbing” which has more of a get-high-be-stupid-grind-to-techno kind of vibe. The clubs I went to played Brown Eyed Girl and everyone got all excited about it. The clubs I went to did the Electric Slide.

There was a club in New Rochelle called Marty and Lenny’s that one particular friend and I frequented almost every Thursday night. You could set your clock by their playlist. After Brown Eyed Girl came Build Me Up Buttercup and Paradise by The Dashboard Lights. In between may have been more modern songs, but who knows. We danced like maniacs.

I had a specific wardrobe for going dancing, which consisted of mostly black. And something white because you always wanted to glow a little bit under the black lights.

These things were important.

There was also a club in Brewster that I frequented on weekends, I think it was called Polo’s. It’s what passed for a club in Brewster but I liked going there. There were a couple of small stages at the front of the room where you could go perform your own little show. Once, in a moment of pure madness, I got up on the stage and danced up there alone. Saved from embarrassment by the lights and the potted plants.

I also remember when they turned the roller rink into a dance club on Saturday nights and called it Studio 91. That was way back in high school. I have no idea what the 91 was for but I went dancing there all the time. On Friday nights, my girlfriends and I would go skate around in circles to Lisa Lisa, and on Saturday nights we’d go bop around in circles to Lisa Lisa.

So much dancing happening in my life! Who knew.

I spent many years of my childhood and young adulthood dancing with my grandfather at weddings. There was always a wedding somewhere and he would always dance with me, real dancing, not just the shuffle step sway thing that you do when you’re “slow dancing”. He would lead me one-two-three one-two-three and I would occasionally step on him but he never complained or teased me, just kept going and I followed along feeling like a grown up.

The last time I danced – in public, anyway – was at a wedding Ralph and I attended this past October. We bopped, we shuffle step swayed, we tore up that dance floor like nobody’s business. There is probably incriminating video of us somewhere.

The best kind of dancing is when you have to take your shoes off, because who has time to deal with all that nonsense when you’re bouncing and jumping and swinging? Heels get in the way. Soles slip on the floor. You just have to throw those things off and get serious about your fun.

Dancing is actually quite underrated, and I’m glad there is a day that made me appreciate it. I love watching it, whether it’s ballet or Irish step dancing or modern or some kids tapping on a stage and falling down and getting back up. And I love doing it, usually in my living room, just me and Bobby McGee.

So yes, I got my Dance Day badge, and I didn’t even cheat. I highly recommend that, badge or not, you put on your dancing shoes, then subsequently kick them off, and fling your arms about and jump up and down a bit and have yourself a good time. It’s quite restorative. And there’s a good chance no scooters will show up to terrorize you.

Photo: Ralph and I dancing at the wedding, having a delightful time.