Friday, July 6, 2018

My dance legacy

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Rhythm in contrast: my parents

At relatives' simchas in the '70s, my Big and Tall father (z"l) would stand on the dance floor with me. He'd spend the whole song doing nothing more than rotating our clasped hands to whatever the beat. No other part of his body moved.

My mother (z"l) relished time on the dance floor till 2013. By then, her Rollator walker was her partner.

During our cousin Spencer's bar mitzvah in '13, I should have recognized that relatively soon my mom would die of old age. It was the first time she didn't dance at a family function. Instead, my mom watched her three daughters' moves. I was conscious of trying to dance well for her.

"How was that?" I asked after we exited the dance floor.

"Nice," my mom said with a wan smile.

One of my parents didn't like -- and maybe didn't even know how -- to dance and the other was a dancing devotee. I wish I had only my mom's dancing skills, but unfortunately, I have my dad's, too. I'm a mashup of the two when it comes to getting down.

This blog entry is Henry Alford's fault.

Henry Alford's And Then We Danced: A Voyage into the Groove is the first book I recall making me cry since Stone Butch Blues more than 20 years ago. Both books inspired me to empathize especially deeply with the protagonist, the narrator -- never mind one's a memoir and the other a novel.

Henry Alford's book, which I finished this morning, mostly made me laugh and hope. I didn't cry till the last few lines when a tear streaked my right temple as I read in bed. It's also the first book in awhile that has moved me to do some writing myself. I'm a writer because I write.

Good dancers' siren songs

After my dad died of common bile-duct cancer at 56 in 1982, my mom frequented older singles dances. She met some super-suave dancers, but never the kind she'd marry.

My mother had a theory about her favorite singles dancer, that he belonged to Norway's version of Hitler Youth back in the day. Still, he treated her well and tried to court her. My mom wouldn't allow it: "What sort of example would I be setting for my grandchildren?"

Fortunately, Pat and I met at the LGBT synagogue in Chicago when Pat already was on the path to conversion. My mom embraced Pat, who is an appealing dancer, though she never had the treat of seeing Pat dance.

Pat lets loose only among our lesbian people, and only when the mood strikes her. She has the effortless rhythm that I've not yet achieved, no matter my considerable effort.

In our early days, there was a popular lesbian dance club in Chicago called Paris. Pat would hold me close and emote with her gorgeous face along to one hit or another.

Her face entranced me. If I'd seen the two of us, and I'd been alone at Paris, I'd have believed in miracles. Also, I'd have wanted to slit my wrists at the contrast between the couple's happiness and my own aloneness.

In Pat's case, her dancing prowess was a bonus. I guess we always marry one of our parents.

I'm a dancer because I dance.

Henry Alford's book gave me permission to respect myself as a dancer. Talent didn't matter. Enthusiasm and action did. Alford's stories about dancing gave me mostly happy flashbacks, including:
  1. Spinning around the living room as a little kid to my eldest sister Deb's "Tapestry" album, especially "I Feel the Earth Move." I would spin until I became dizzy and would fall onto the rugs, watching and feeling the earth move.
  2. Winning a middle school dance contest with my childhood friend Amy, who choreographed a line dance to The Jackson 5's Shake Your Body.
  3. Trying to keep up with my middle sister Kayla when she danced to "Fly Robin Fly."
  4. Learning fox trot, waltz, cha cha, the hustle and more. My Phil Jones School of Dance partner David and I moved to classics and hits of the day, including YMCA. It prepared our classmates and us for the upcoming slew of bar and bat mitzvah parties.
  5. Being paired with Adam in 8th grade for our school's fundraiser because I was already 5'8", nearly my full height of 5'9", and he was already 6'2". We glided to Erev Shel Shoshanim, the world's sexiest love song (see the English lyrics). Already, there was a No Exit thing going, since one of my (shorter) classmates had a crush on Adam, I had a crush on her and Adam didn't seem attracted to anyone.
  6. Square dancing at Stamford High School during gym with 6'6" Steve. I felt camouflaged by Steve and ultra-free in parallel from the pure fun of it.
  7. Dancing in big groups at high school dances every weekend when I was a senior. My dad had died that November. Although Judaism requires mourners to avoid music for a year, the dances saved me. They were more soothing than the grief group my mom sent me to for Jewish high school kids with dead parents.
  8. Gaping at the Rubaiyat in Ann Arbor at 19 when I was a sophomore at Michigan. I stared at an unusually graceful woman as she danced with another woman. She came up behind me after Teena Marie stopped singing. She tapped my shoulder and practically commanded, "Dance."
    "No, I'm here with her," I answered, pointing to my heterosexual friend who had taken me to the club to help me come out. My friend scolded me for not dancing with the other woman.
  9. Finding relief at the Bar Aton at the Mt. Scopus campus of Hebrew University in Jerusalem weekly with another American student abroad. She wouldn't be intimate with me because she said she "couldn't relate," but joyfully, she and I'd dance to British and American pop songs in a group there most Friday nights.
  10. Grooving with Pat at Paris in Chicago (see above).
  11. Dancing with our friend Sheila during Adirondyke Weekends from 1996 - 2008. Since Sheila and I were the same age, and close to the same height, it felt like sweet reparations for being unable to dance with other girls in high school. Finally, we got to dance to songs from our high school years with the sort of partners we'd have wanted to dance with back then. It was redemptive.
  12. Using my playlist to dance with Pat, my sisters, my childhood friend Amy and newer metro-Montclair friends at my 50th birthday party a few summers ago. I opted not to care how adept I looked and spent my birthday ideally, turning our backyard into a leafy disco.
Where will I dance next? And how will I get Pat to join me?

I googled Henry Alford videos to see one of him dancing and didn't find one. It was a relief. It's best in my imagination, I think, that he's a lot better than his self-characterization. He's perhaps a superb writer while being a decent dancer.

All of us are writers and dancers when we write and dance. I'm reminded by Henry Alford's book that if I can, I want to do both for as long as I live.

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