Sunday, March 8, 2009

Sunny the Brave! hahahaha

This is a picture of my mom taken 7 or 8 years ago on one of our visits to Madison.

I did something last night that terrified me. I not only went to my friend Susan's Contra dance group, I waltzed with a man I have never seen before. I'll bet you had no idea dancing was such a white-knuckle event.

Dancing has a place in my family. My mother's mother loved to dance. She and my grandfather (who to my knowledge was not a dancer) divorced, maybe even before I was born, so I have no memories of them together. I still have a hard time even imagining it. My grandfather lived in a dirty, cluttered house with only his dry sense of humor to keep him company most of the time I knew him. My grandmother lived in a big, immaculate brick house with a thick necked, ruddy man named Bart. They danced at every opportunity. I used to love to stand in her huge closet and try on her pretty dresses and teetering dancing shoes. Bart passed on, or somehow passed out of her life, and she kept ballroom dancing until she met her husband (now deceased), Tillman, and I guess they just got too old to move that way, but it will always be part of my memory of her.

When I was a child, my mother loved to dance. Micheal Jackson's album The Wall came out when I was 11, and she tried to teach me disco moves, and we danced and laughed in our living room, next to the propane heater. Donna Summers's Macarthur park was another one of her favorites. I laughed, and I tried, but I always felt awkward and self-conscious, even with only her. My brother, it seems, got all of the physical grace and coordination between us. We went to barn dances at Lincoln Log Cabin State Park, and I bumbled through the moving lines and circles of people in period costume, college students and families, never feeling like a real part of the twirling formations. I remember laughing some, blushing a lot, and avoiding eye contact with people after I messed up, which was a lot.

After my mother went through the death of her father, a divorce from my father, and the other changes that took her to Wisconsin, where she is now, she became a ballroom dancer. I remember her telling me that she had always avoided it because it was her mom's thing. Grandma was a bit hard to take, and their relationship is difficult. It's easy for me to imagine why my mom distanced herself from her, since I remember often having the urge to shock or irritate Grandma because she was so fussy and prudish, and more than a little controlling. Mom took lessons. She went to dances. She sometimes went even when out-of-town visitors were staying in her apartment, much to the consternation of my brother and sister-in-law, who drove up to see her with their small children in tow.

I went to a dance with her once in a dance school where she took lessons, when I visited her in Madison. She danced the male part with me, and tried to teach me the steps. She promised that I would not have to dance with anyone but her but somehow in the middle of a rumba I was flung to a tall, skinny, serious man with a thick German accent. I felt cornered. I stepped on his feet or bumped knees with him every other step. I muttered apologies and each time he said in a monotone "Dat's OK." I held back tears. I sat out the rest of the time. It was fun in her living room with Mom and aunt Pati, but I wasn't ready for strangers.

Last night Susan snagged a couple of women who were not dancing at that moment, and showed me some of the moves in Contra dance. Some of them are the same as square dancing; do-si-do, allemande, circle right, but it lacks the horrific matching gingham outfits. My heart rate was up. I couldn't remember what was what. The idea of getting into the mix, and committing myself to a whole dance (if one person drops out, it messes up the whole thing) was too much for me. She danced a while and showed me how to do a Waltz.

The women, and sometimes even men, at these dances like to wear full skirts that twirl against their bare legs when they move. (Three cheers for men in skirts, I say!) Most of the night I watched. I made note of how completely un-feminine the one skirted man was. Sometimes I singled out a couple, and watched them for a while. I watched the group as a whole, colors and faces flashing and spinning, until I got overwhelmed. I noticed all of the different body types, and the way the flesh on most of the women's hips and rear ends jiggled slightly with their movements. I wondered about the relationships outside of the dance. I noticed the different ways people had of approaching each other- some easy and joyous, with the confidence of acceptance, some silly and theatrical (like the older guy in the bright pink t-shirt who danced himself around grinning and drumming on his taut beer belly until he found a lady to dance with), some awkward and tense with the ever-present fear of rejection even in a place where there is relatively little of it.

The symbolism in some of the moves, and in the principles and the very act of dance is almost too obvious to me. The term "giving weight" to your partner is loaded- the tension created by leaning away from one another while your bodies are held together by small areas of physical touch, by the intimacy of direct eye contact, and by the desire to be moving together is symbolic of the mutually agreed upon conflict tempered by intimacy and commitment that has been missing in my marriage from day one. Letting a man lead, trusting him even to guide me away from other dancing couples, is symbolic of several things that I don't care to go into right now.

it may be a clich├ęd comparison, but all of the things I want out of life are in some way represented in dance. Joy, health, companionship, intimacy, learning, success... I see people doing it and they look relaxed, and like the are having fun. They are enjoying the movement of their bodies, and (usually) laughing at their mistakes. They are looking into each others' eyes. The way people touch even people they have never met in such intimate ways- a man's hand on a woman's waist, their hands palm to palm, with still nothing being as intimate as the eye contact, is so sweet and human and moving, yet brings up issues of discomfort with my body, and physical contact with strangers, after years of barely being touched. It has a slight edge of violation to me. The pacing is faster than I can handle. The movements are, as I told Susan last night, very "mathy."

I will keep going. I will sit with it until I can make a commitment. I will keep telling men I am not ready to be their partner until I am ready to do so without being a nervous wreck, even if I seem rude. I will keep being there, amidst the beauty of the people, and their energy, until I have absorbed enough of it to join them.

1 comment:

PegTales said...

Sunny the beautiful