Monday, September 30, 2013

Dance Your Pants Off

A Love Letter to Dancing 

"Pop it!" Screamed the Zumba instructor "Now get low! Faster!" Our troop of would-be dancers popped it, we locked it, we got low, twerked, skipped, merengued and salsa-ed across the dance floor. It was all ladies, and one awesome older bearded man with a camo hat and a shirt that said "I'm doing work" who stood at the front of the room and shook his hips with the rest of us. But in that group of (mostly) women was every demographic - high school to grandmotherly, soccer moms and college kids, all races, all body types and all looking as sexy as all get out.

Because that's what happens when you let go and dance. We weren't dancing to look hot for men, for the "ubiquitous male gaze", we were dancing for ourselves, for our very own bodies - to get fit, get happy and shake our tooshies just because we can! Every time I step into a zumba class I feel that same magic; sure it seems like just another work out fad, but the power of women, and a few brave men, being comfortable with themselves, loving their bodies and shaking them hips, freely and expressively, is beautiful. One of the last songs we did tonight was a jungle-sounding beat, we had to stomp and swing our arms wildly and probably looked completely ridiculous, and it was that song that got the most applause and shouts at the end. 

Dancing is power. In Peru, arriving with little Spanish, I made friends by dancing - showing up to the party, trying my best at salsa, teaching them some American style pop. In the country of Georgia, with no Georgian language skills at all, I wooed my entire neighborhood by attempting traditional Georgian steps. I was a supra super star! Georgians don't care too much about your skill - everyone dances, young and old, drunk and sober, no worries, just stomp those feet. This is wonderful. How I wish the good ol' USA had this relationship with dancing. 

Dancing is so often vilified here - and I get it, it can be over sexualized. So are tv shows and children's Halloween costumes. And then there are all those people who "only dance with a few drinks in me". Ok, fine, but you are missing the point.  No one "can't dance". As a man much wiser than me once said "everybody has a body don't they?" Little kids dance all the time, to any sort of music. It's only when we start getting older and all embarrassed that the dancing stops, and I think Anglo-Saxon cultures have "I'm too embarrassed to dance"-itis worse than anybody.  (Especially a lot of white straight men, I've noticed. Guys, you're missing out!) 

I grew up with a dancing family - a mom and aunt who were dance teachers, and a whole passel of relatives who love to break it down on the dance floor. Anytime we had an excuse, especially weddings, we were grooving. We're even known to start at an impromptu dance party after Thanksgiving dinner. One of my favorite photos ever is a picture of my 88-year old Gran having a dance off with my little brother, surrounded by her grandchildren. 

Here in New Orleans I'm learning how to zydeco dance! Washboards and Louisiana French and songs about swamps and alligators and octogenarians swinging past us. I went to check it out with a friend of mine and had numerous older couples telling us exactly how it was done. It was hard and I wasn't very good at it and I'm so glad I went. Next we're checking out some swing dancing at D.B.A.'s on Frenchman, and eventually I hope to try salsa at Mojitos. 

Because dance (or lack there-of) is another puzzle piece of the culture. Music, food, language, kinship, dancing. It's all part of it. And dancing is a very powerful part.  So shake it. Don't break it. Took your mama nine months to make it. 


  1. Dancing is for people who are afraid to talk to the people around them. So, instead, they seek out an environment where conversation isn't possible.

    1. I disagree, and that is a hugely broad statement to make. With that logic, would we also say that marathon runners, swimmers, all concert-goers, all movie theater goers, regular theater goers, poetry reading attendees, library readers, basketball and all sports players in general hate conversation and are afraid to talk to people? All of those activities don't allow for real conversation either. (it would be weird or rude if you tried to chat during them.) Also, much dancing, like zydeco, is with a partner and conversations do happen with dancing! And even if they don't, it's healthy and fine to do activities without conversation, whether it's group activities like dancing or solitude spent in nature or in reading.

    2. Also I both love to dance AND love to talk to people! You can do both!

    3. It reads broadly, I'll agree. I should tighten it down, then. Dancing is for people who are afraid to talk to the people around them at a social function. Dancing, as it's usually done, is an environment where conversation isn't possible.

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.