Thursday, October 4, 2007

Things I Don't Get

There are a lot of things that other people claim to enjoy that I just don’t get. Church is one of them. I think most people go to church because they fear what may happen if they don’t. But there are some people who seem to genuinely enjoy the experience, taking comfort in familiar ritual, conducted by someone they trust. These are people who are intimidated by the gray areas of real life, who are terrified by the need to make decisions. Go to church and someone will tell you EXACTLY what to do. Turn to this page. Read these lines. Sing this hymn. Dress like this. Smile and keep your opinions to yourself. Some people who sing better than other people sing louder than others, turning their faith into a kind of offensive exhibitionism.

Another thing I don’t get is dancing. Why do people dance? Maybe they fear what may happen if they don’t. Or perhaps it’s more that they fear what WON’T happen if they don’t.

As a kid, I remember watching old people dance their peculiar old-fashioned dance steps: The Foxtrot. The Waltz. The Cha-Cha. The thing that struck me was that they never looked like they were enjoying themselves. They danced in rigid postures, grim or blank expressions on their faces, running mechanically through the moves and then applauding the band politely.

When I was in high school, there were a dozen different dances that everyone was expected to know, and new ones were being generated by the vast Pop Music Industry as fast as they could develop them. The Twist. The Fly. The Frug. The Mashed Potato. The Watusi. The Locomotion. Learning those dances was like owning designer clothes, which was a form of conspicuous consumption I despised. So I refused to learn them, and spent high school in self-imposed social isolation.

In college, the hippie movement washed over the youth of America like a vast, cleansing wave, destroying the consumer-oriented dance market in one fell swoop. Dancing became a free-form type of exercise. Do your own thing and nobody will judge you. During this period, I danced like crazy. I was young and full of energy and it was a great time to blow off steam in a big party atmosphere full of people jumping around in a kind of random Brownian motion, all doing it for the love of the music.

But then the 70’s came in like a frigid ice age glacier and disco ground freestyle dancing beneath its monstrous platform heels. Dancing became rigid again, until the punk movement developed the concept of the mosh pit, and then it became downright dangerous.

I don’t know where dancing is today, because I just don’t do it. I don’t see the point. Originally, it was a way that guys could hold girls in their arms in front of their parents, and nobody would say anything about it. Then it became ritualistic, something people did on Saturday night because they couldn’t think of anything else to do. At some point, some people realized they were better dancers than others, and started doing it to show off, turning it from recreation or ritual into offensive exhibitionism.

Not long ago, I attended a wedding where the bride and groom danced their first dance at the reception. In the middle of the dance, the band broke into swing music, and the bride ripped off the voluminous satin bottom portion of her dress, which had been specially made to tear away with Velcro, revealing a short pleated skirt underneath. She and her new husband began to jitterbug with those “aren’t we cool” expressions on their faces. It was such a hideous display of narcissism, I wanted to puke.

So tonight, despite my misgivings about the entire concept, I took my daughter to a salsa dance lesson. She’s actually enthusiastic about it, and the instructors are very nice. They kept urging me to join, but I stubbornly sat in the corner, watching my daughter fumble and stumble, determined to learn the moves. The moves have interesting names, like “The Double Cross” and the “Hammerlock.” It sounds like fighting, not dancing. But my daughter pluckily stuck with it, and wants to go twice a week until she’s good at it. I just hope she’s not TOO good.

No comments: