Wednesday, May 23, 2012

The Late-Bloomers' Prom

May 28, 1994
"Life's a dance, you learn as you go.  Sometimes you lead, sometimes you follow.  Don't worry 'bout what you don't know.  Life's a dance you learn as you go."  Which Nashville philosopher/poet penned those lines, perhaps over watery coffee at the Waffle House, I don't know.  (I guess I could look it up.)

It's prom season around here.  My friends who are more "normal" than I am on the timeline of life have been posting their kids' prom pictures: the hunt for just the right dress, the shy smiles and fumbling with corsages, the beauty-pageant line-ups of pastels, brights, black, and sparkles, the guys with all their variations on tuxes, from ultra-cool casual to sweetly stiff and formal. My favorite shots are the laughing shots--the ones where somebody kicks up a gown to reveal Toms or sneakers, the bunny-ears, the tongues sticking out.  Those are the kids, who, I suspect, have caught the idea that this is a DANCE, a celebration.

Although I survived the junior-high rite of passage in my hometown, Phil Jones Dancing School, along with the rest of the 7th and 8th graders, to be ready for those formal high school dances, maybe a cotillion or two, and The Prom, I never actually went to anything other than the totally informal, flail-and-jump-around-in-jeans affairs in the school gym or the church youth room.  I was, for some reason, not a girl to be asked to the bigger dances.  Maybe the fact that I was 5'10" by seventh grade had something to do with it.  Or maybe it was my less-than-perfect figure, my acne, my general awkwardness... whatever.

Or maybe it was just one more gift of being a late-bloomer.

Instead, my "prom", my celebration, if you will, began well after those years, in my 20's, when I found myself free to discover how much fun it was to "dance like nobody's watching."  Most of the time, I was right.  Nobody was watching.
Much to my kids' amusement now, I guess somebody, somebody with a camera , was watching from time to time. This was an evidently hilarious two-step with a good-natured friend at the Broken Spoke  in Austin, TX 
Do you remember that moment in "The Sound of Music" when Fraulein Maria  is dancing an Austrian folk-dance with the Captain?  They look at each other through the "window" of their arms and something happens...the camera focus turns all blurry,  cue the violins.   My first serious boyfriend and I (yes, I was 22--a late-bloomer, remember?) had our own Maria/Captain moment in a community folk-dance class, learning that very same dance.  We weren't yet a couple at that class, but shortly after our "looking through the window" moment, he got over his "bachelor-to-the-rapture" shyness and asked me to be his date for "The Great Waltz" -- a quirky tradition at UT Austin: an evening of Strauss waltzes and polkas, played by a live orchestra. Fortunately, someone had a camera that night.  That emerald-green taffeta gown with the huge, full skirt and crinoline was a look that just had to be preserved for posterity, along with the pile of big hair sprigged with baby's breath, and the wrist corsage.  (What?  It was the 80' Texas, for goodness sake.) 
Can't you just feel the sparks between these two ?
No, the romance didn't last, but the memory of that elegant dancing evening did.  Some pretty fun things happen when you're dancing.

 And then there's this sequence, taken by one of my fellow ESL teachers, as students from Iran, Paraguay, and Japan insisted that we line-dance, in our soaking wet clothes, fresh from a water-fight in the river, while waiting for our barbecue at the school picnic.  The woven-straw crown really completes the ripped jeans and soggy tee-shirt look, doesn't it? (Chicken/egg question here:  is it my fashion sense that contributed to my social retardation, or is it the other way 'round?  )
"Start on your right foot..."
Once we got going with the dance that afternoon, even as the rain started pouring down, a bunch of people joined us.  That happens a lot.  You surrender to the music and let yourself be moved along, not caring who's watching, and suddenly, you're not alone. And that seems to be my experience with dancing through life.

I danced my way through my 20's and at the end of that decade I married a brilliant, cute guy I met in a country-western dance bar, a mathematician/physicist/astronomer whose pick-up line was "Can you dance?"  (Notice that it was not "will you dance?"  My now-husband, Andre, was giving me an instant peek into his precision-oriented personality.) Our first dance as husband and wife, not quite a year later, was a fast two-step with all kinds of twirls and fancy footwork: a fitting start to our adventure as husband and wife, an adventure that marks its 18th year next Monday. 

Have you ever noticed that when you put on music and move (running with your iPod, cleaning the kitchen with the radio on, or those hilarious Zumba classes), you just don't get tired until you're completely, utterly spent?  And even then, you can somehow keep moving, right?  As I train for my 13.1 mile run  across the city of San Francisco this July, I'm compiling my playlists for the iPod, and it's a strange mix: U2, Shakira, Christina Aguilera, and The Chieftains, Twang-Twang-Shocka-Boom and Beyonce, Paul Simon, the choir of ChristChurch Nashville, Black-Eyed Peas and a rock version of "Scotland the Brave".  Oh, and there's 2 versions of the Cotton-Eyed Joe, a jig titled "The Wind that Shakes the Barley",  along with Gloria Estefan's "Conga".  Perhaps I should warn anybody who might come to watch me run the race this summer, if you happen to catch me when Asleep at the Wheel starts up "Boogie Back to Texas", you just might find yourself pulled into the 98-step combination that makes up the Sweetheart Schottische.  

"Don't worry about what you don't know.  Life's a dance you learn as you go." 

 Don't stop until you're completely, utterly spent...


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  2. After reading this exuberant post this morning, I read a whole bunch of Martha Graham quotes on-line.

    "Dance is the hidden language of the soul."

    "Dance is just discovery, discovery, discovery."

    "Dancers are the messengers of God."

    And then there's this one from Nietzsche that's all about you, Val: "Dancing in all its forms cannot be excluded from the curriculum of all noble education; dancing with the feet, with ideas, with words, and, need I add that one must also be able to dance with the pen?"

    Thanks for starting our day with motion!


    1. You and I, old friend, have been dancing with words and ideas for a very long time. I love those quotes, but I especially love that you found them for me. I hope you are dancing through your day today. xox