Sunday, February 18, 2007
Lift a rock, watch the sky
I don't remember a time when dance didn't seize me with a wild happiness. May Day circling around a tall pole in a Manhattan playground. Doing the Hokey Pokey because that was what it was all about. Hoola Hooping to music. Ballroom dancing in a striped dress and white gloves. Riding my bike was a form of dance and so was leaping off swings with aesthetic intent.
Codified dance is only part of the story.
And thank god for television. At three I was mesmerized by Shirley Temple. She tapped down stairs that gleamed like piano keys, working her little legs hard with her partner, Bill "Bo Jangles" Robinson, performing beside her with a silken, deeply human elegance. Later, American Bandstand made lots of us hunger to be old enough to do the Mashed Potato or perfect the Boogaloo, and when the time came we honed the latest steps until they shined. Once in awhile I switched on WPIX's televised gospel singing Sunday morning to see how the Harlem choir moved as it sang--or were they singing as they moved? I was never sure. And occasionally PBS programmed modern dance, before I even knew what modern dance was. One morning it showed the seismic slitherings of Twyla Tharp's new company. The dancers let their feet wander away from their liquid torsos and then return, the whole thing resembling jazz but not jazz, performed introspectively but together, and I didn't exactly understand it, but it intuitively and irrevocably enlarged my grasp of dance.
I thought that cheerleading was a form of dance, and that marching bands that performed beautifully synchronized strutting to bright, brassy sound could be dance. Little girls teaching each other the latest steps on a North Oakland front porch was thrilling dance and so was my brother's hipswiveling moves in front of a mirror. His insecure vanity was comical but his style was just right--understated and cooly sexy.
The Catholic Church of my childhood frowned on dancing. But like sin and goodness, movement was everywhere, sensually beautiful and more heavenly than a funeral mass. Besides, how do you censure the flight of starlings and the kickstep of leaves in the wind, the telepathic on-a-dime turns by an entire herd of elk and the concerted movements of ants in a kitchen? Dance is part of our dna, with our strands of genetic information entwined in a fundamental promenade. Lift a rock and the insects dance. Watch the sky, and the stars dance too.
Writingdance.com is dedicated to the art in that vein.