Dancing and the Actor

Let me state clearly that I am not a dancer, and I am not a musical theater person. This must be clearly understood if anything wonderful is to come of this story. I generally tell everyone that I do not like dancing. I try to make it out that it is because tough guys don’t dance, but the real reason I don’t dance is that I look like an idiot when I do. When I was in junior high, I went to a school dance and went nuts on the dance floor, completely lost in my own physical celebration of music and life. When I came out of my revery, I realized the girl I had been dancing with was laughing at me. Then I realized that most of the people at the dance were also laughing at me. I did my best to play it off as a joke, like I meant it to be funny, but I have done very little dancing in the presence of others ever since. Two weeks ago, I went to my friend’s house for a party. He is a musician and lover of all things music, so he spins his old school records and tries to get people dancing in his living room. Because there weren’t a lot of people there and he gave me a couple scotches, I soon started cutting a rug, so to speak (he does have wall-to-wall carpeting, but at no point did I actually damage it.) I figured since I am a middle-aged man, all the party guests would forgive my awkwardness. As it turns out, they did not. And once again, because the host’s daughters and friends were there, I found myself being made fun of by teenagers. You know the story about the ugly duckling that grew up to be a beautiful swan? Well, there’s a satirical version of that story that points out the truth that most ugly ducklings grow up to be really ugly ducks. I relate more to the latter for obvious reasons.

But you see, despite this, I am…well, I guess you would call it a “closet dancer.” When I was a kid, my dad (also a lover of music and dancing) taught my sister, my brother, and me how to do the “Hand Jive.” It’s a dance, very simple, mostly about hand movements. Sort of a step up from pat-a-cake. Johnny Otis recorded a song called “Willie and the Hand Jive” which was about a guy named Willie rising to fame just because he likes doing the Hand Jive so much. My dad taught us how to do it using Eric Clapton’s cover of the song, which was a decidedly more mellow take on the tune, slower tempo and maybe just a little stoned. First you shuffle open hand over open hand; then you bump your fists together, top to bottom and then bottom to top; then you waggle your thumbs in the air, one at a time while holding one elbow with the hand that isn’t wagging a thumb; then you do this crazy thing that starts with your hands on your knees and then you switch your hands back and forth on your knees which makes your arms cross and that looked like some crazy kind of magic to me as a kid. And of course, once you’ve gone through the pattern once, you do it all again and again until the song fades out. And we all did it together, as a family. And it was just a good time. A dad and his kids letting loose with a silly little dance that he grew up with. And sometimes mom would join, and sometimes she’d just stand in the door way and watch, whenever we did our Hand Jive sessions. If anyone was ever feeling sad about something, dad would corral us in the living room for a bit of the Hand Jive. And it worked every time. It always made us feel better.

So, if you ask me to come to your dance party, I won’t. I don’t like being laughed at. But know I wish I could. And if you happen by my house at just the right time, and you can see into my living room or into my backyard, you might just catch me. (But don’t let me catch you, you peeping tom pervert.) Because whenever I feel like I can’t push back against the weight of the world, whenever I can’t see my way out of a predicament, whenever I’m just plain glum about the way society works, I put on that Clapton track and have at it.

Because the Hand Jive still makes me feel better. Damn you giggling teenagers all to hell.

Thanks, Dad.


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