342. Dancing

Sometimes it’s hard for me to imagine how someone could not want to sing. To me, singing is so much a part of being alive that not being able to sing or at least hear other people sing would be truly sad. So when I hear that someone doesn’t like singing, I feel as if it’s my mission to make that person see the light. I’ve learned not to be too obnoxious about it, but even if I don’t say, “Yes, you CAN sing,” I still think it. And I hope they’ll eventually come around.
I have to remind myself to think that way about dancing. I like dancing, but my lack of confidence in my talent for dancing has always been similar to other people’s lack of confidence in their singing. I’ve heard the proverb: If you can walk, you can dance; if you can talk, you can sing. I’ve even added my own truism to the proverb: If you can think, you can write.
But if those words don’t reach down into people’s pools of potential, they don’t mean much. Okay, so there was a dancer inside me, I thought. But from my point of view, inside me was a good place for that dancer to stay; people’s toes were safer if that dancer stayed inside me. And I allowed myself to rename my lack of confidence and self-perceived (self-inflicted?) lack of talent. I called it lack of interest. I told myself and others that I didn’t like dancing.
But in 1981, I let the dancer in me out. I went contra dancing, square dancing, English country dancing, and sometimes free form dancing, where you moved however the music told you to move. And I liked it. None of the above required skill far beyond walking; I didn’t try tap dance or ballet. Partly, I tried dancing so I could be among people, but I stayed with it even when there were plenty of people in my life, some of whom didn’t feel like dancing.
Once, at the New England Folk Festival, I attended a discussion about dancing. People were trying to figure out why there’s relatively little dance in modern USA. I looked around the room and thought like a sociologist/anthropologist for a minute. Then I volunteered a perspective: “We are obviously not much of a dancing culture,” I said. “We’re more of a verbal culture. Look at us! Here we are, having a DISCUSSION about DANCE! Would people in another culture have a dance about talking?” I didn’t punctuate my observation by getting up and dancing, but don’t think I wasn’t tempted.
I got some gratifying nods after my comment, but as I look back at it, I don’t think it was quite accurate. There is plenty of dance in our culture. We are many cultures and subcultures mixed together, so there isn’t one style called “United States-style dancing” as there are certain styles we think of as Israeli or Greek dancing. And a friend points out to me that
Israelis and Greeks may dance in ways that don’t fit our stereotypes. Children sing, draw, make up stories, and dance until they learn not to.
And they learn not to by experiencing other people’s reactions to their songs, drawings, stories, or dances. And it’s too bad. But it’s not too late.

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