How do you deal with “happy feet?” The kind Steve Martin talks about. You never know when you’ll be afflicted. You might be sitting in a waiting room somewhere when it happens. An infectious beat will catch your ear and pretty soon your toes are tapping.
The dancers among us might be briefly propelled to some fantasy land where they’re happily jitterbugging away. But others are content with the music alone, limiting their rapture to a bit of table tapping or head nodding.
Your family history probably determines on which side of the dance divide you fall. Some of us find ourselves dancing through adulthood with a partner from the other side.
I’m a non-dancer, partially by choice; partially by a marked lack of rhythm. My wife, on the other hand, loves to dance. I come from a non-dancing family; she has fond memories of dancing with her father as a young girl. We occasionally find ourselves at weddings or parties where dancing is part of the entertainment. We both find these occasions awkward, but for different reasons.
It’s not like we haven’t tried. We took lessons prior to her company Christmas party last month. I think she would agree that we were awful. I think I’d rather shake my inner discombobulated mojo on a dance floor crowded with my closest friends and relatives than take another lesson.
There’s a lot of pressure connected with being a non-dancer. A few years back, I was at a party at the California home of Kathleen “Bunny” Gibson, a former regular dancer on the American Bandstand television show in her native Philadelphia. Bunny and I teamed up to start a book about the show’s Philly years. That’s Bunny in the blue poodle skirt in the picture I took at the party that’s with this post.
Bunny had arranged for a big party with some of the Southern California dancers who were regulars on the show after Dick Clark shipped the show west in the mid-1960s. Believe me, these people can dance. And dance, they did, boogalooing all over the makeshift dance floor in Bunny’s dining area while cameras whirred from VH-1 and a local television station. It was a big deal, for sure.
At some point, Bunny asked me if I was dancing. After stammering through my well-practiced two-left-feet mantra, she took a step back, thought a moment, then replied: “But you could, if you wanted to, right?”
To me, this is one of the biggest hazards of being a non-dancer. Dancing is such a natural, joyful experience for dancers that they cannot fathom why everyone doesn’t share their enthusiasm for the activity. At the extreme, they can be unmerciful in their cajoling. Why don’t you get out there, you big oaf? How can you be so selfish, letting your wife sit here while everyone else is having fun?
On one family occasion, a relative was so persistent in her endless taunting, so skeptical of my protestations, that I caved in and led her to the dance floor where we stumbled around a bit. “Wow, you really can’t dance, can you?” was her thoughtful critique.
Where does dancing fit in your family history? I’ll bet lots of dance floor stories are lurking out there just waiting to be uncovered.
Larry Lehmer, founder and president of When Words Matter, is a personal historian who helps people preserve their family histories. To learn more, visit his web site or send him an e-mail.
Photo: Bunny's party 1 courtesy of lwlehmer.