Perched on a large flip-down cushioned seat in a darkened school auditorium the strains of the prelude rolled over me. When the huge burgundy curtain parted and the Alps appeared I fell heart-first into of The Sound of Music. That night my six-year-old self knew with certainty: I must grow up to be Maria. Not Maria the convent nun, but Maria the plucky governess who teaches sad children to sing and dance.
I played the vinyl LP recording of the sound track over and over and over. From the top of my lungs I sang of the hills and the songs they have sung for a thousand years. I dashed across the mountain meadow, aka our living room, to snatch up a forgotten hat or something. Then, as the chimes for evening prayers sounded, I raced to the abbey. With faithful practice I knew I’d be perfect as the next Maria.
Except for one tiny detail. Until Julie Andrews, no one I knew personally danced. The closest I came to dancing was spinning round until I fell over. But I knew that getting dizzy wasn’t dancing. I also knew from earliest memory that in my family, and the group my family identified with, dancing wasn’t done.
Why no dancing? Think Footloose, except without a dance-related tragedy starting it all. In my version no one remembered dancing. Ever. No one pined for moving with the music. I understood that based on the Bible good-guys, except for the dicey fellow David, dancing was bad.
It was a truth universally accepted: dancing was for people who didn’t know better and I could pray for them.
Eye’s wide I took it all in with tipsy delight. The seven lively von Trapp’s sang, cycled, stepped and struck poses to music (choreography!). And a happy grown-up with a guitar led them.
Imagine how all that messed with my head.
My dance-less community had schools that I attended from first grade through college. Naturally my peers and I honored the No Dancing tradition. Yeah, right. In eighth grade I seized the opportunity for rebellion when a classmate hosted a party featuring low-lights and music. Sweaty-giddy with my own stunning cool rebel-ness, I danced. I wondered why the heat was on. I kept swaying. People gawked at me in the dim light. I felt singled out. Two songs later I needed air. The awkward, conscious-smitten memory still makes me uncomfortably warm.
I’m not absolutely sure, but I think my efforts at defiance were over when, for the first time, I heard The Hokey Pokey.
“That’s what it’s all about!”
It’s tough having such wisdom foisted on you while trying to stay upright on roller skates.
In the end I conformed for my hyper-sensitive conscience. Saying, “I don’t dance,” just felt righteous.
More truthfully, however, saying, “I don’t dance,” felt safe. Dancing means letting external forces guide you. Dancing means stepping out of self-consciousness and letting music flow through and free your body.
That kind of putting yourself out there did not resonate with my teen-aged-need-to-stay-in-control-body-conscious-self.
Later I heard and often retold one of the community’s inside joke:
Why don’t ________________s make love standing up?
Because someone might think they were dancing.
After college I lived in Sudan. Ken and I attended a wedding celebration. Outside, mostly men danced to the blaring music. But in their own private party, the women swayed and moved through poses passed down through generations. I watched.
We moved to Kenya. I traveled with Ken to a remote high school. The students chanted, clapped, and stamped their feet until the dust rose around us. They expressed their gratitude and joy for the school’s new well. I stamped my feet. A bit.
Our daughter was born in Nairobi. As she grew she moved effortlessly to music. While Little Richard ripped up The Itsy Bitsy Spider, I held my girlie close and we gyrated through the house together.
When we returned to life in the U.S., Ken and I discovered a small group of recovering non-dancers. In an ordinary carpeted room at the public library I learned the steps and intricate movements for the timeless classic “The Chicken”. The instructor taught us folk dances from Hungary, a line-dance or two, contra dances, and the Virginia Reel. Sometime my flailing efforts made me laugh so hard I cried; not that right — the other right! I grinned at Ken and our small son who peered over Ken’s shoulder from his perch in the backpack.
Remembering y tipsy delight in that small group takes me back to my six-year-old self. A lot has changed. I no longer want to be Maria. In claiming my creativity and expression
I know the only person I want to be is me.
But like Maria I’m out to woo, win and cheer for anyone who longs to sing and dance, to own and honor their voice, vision and individual creativity.
You may not relate to my dancing taboo tale. But you have a story. A funny, tearful, silly, shocking, wise, mundane, painful, happy story. Reflect on your story for a bit. I’ll wait.
Good. For better or worse, many messages influence your expressive, flailing creative expression. Did something block a creative pathway in your life? If so, what’s your equivalent for saying,”I don’t dance”?
“Oh, I’m not creative.” “I’m not a real artist.”
Pick up those two words: creative and artist. Roll them around in your heart for a while.
I’d be honored if you share what bubbles up in the comments below.