Friday, November 2, 2007
reprinted from SF Gate
by Jon Carroll, 2000
ABOUT A DECADE ago I was in the town of Launceton in the state of Tasmania, which is an island off the south coast of Australia. Tasmania is famous for its devils (nocturnal marsupials, relatively gentle unless you are a nocturnal rodent), wombats (herbivorous marsupials with square excrement), landscape (wild rivers, lush mountains, stormy seas) and conservative residents (think Kansas, 1956).
It was night. I was by myself in a car, driving back to the B&B after a meeting. Uncertain of my direction, I pulled to the curb to get out my map. Looking up, I saw on the corner, bathed in the streetlight, a man alone. He was dancing.
There was no music. The street was entirely deserted except for me and him. He was not performing. He was just dancing.
I am the last person to be sentimental about drunkenness -- I am guessing that booze played a profound initiative role in this impromptu display of the terpsichorean arts -- but I was still charmed by the moment. I smiled then, and somehow the shutter of my memory clicked when I smiled, and that image is with me now.
He was wearing a dark pea coat and bulky shoes. He might have been a sailor. Sailors have a grand tradition of male dancing, hornpipes and the like, and he may have been answering an ancient call. It was a stately dance, whatever it was, suffused with regret and dignity.
Perhaps he was making a graceful gesture unto the Lord. Perhaps he was just blotto. Doesn't matter. His dance is mine now, to do with as I will. Viz: MEN -- AT LEAST pale guys like me -- don't dance enough. Somehow between the age of the windjammers and now, dancing became unmanly. Lots of men I know ``don't dance,'' they often announce. There are also women who ``don't dance,'' but they are rarer.
An enduring image from high school: two girls dancing together, for want of partners, for love of dancing anyway. A lot of guys are situational dancers -- they will dance during the courtship phase, then stop as soon as the mate is securely bound by mutual vows.
The idea of dancing as an interior event has been lost. It's either a social thing or a performance thing; it somehow involves awareness of a partner or an audience or both.
At my gym, many people exercise with earphones on. Maybe some of them are listening to NPR or Rush Limbaugh, but some of them are listening to music. I assume that the people attached to CD players are listening to music. I'm listening to music.
And yet they do not dance. They work on their little machines with fierce dedication, not a move wasted, not a gesture inserted merely for the sake of gesture. Is the music being used merely as white noise, to shut out other sounds? Are they all listening to Beethoven string quartets and following the complexity of thematic development? Or . . . what?
Sometimes, on my little reclining bicycle, I dance. I keep my eyes closed because I fear the opprobrium of others. Nevertheless, I am addicted to the rhythm; it's what keeps me coming back.
I recently played the soundtrack album to ``The Sopranos.'' The theme by A3 was on. ``Got myself a gun,'' I sang softly, and did a small interpretive movement involving pointing my fingers and cocking my thumbs. All of a sudden, I wanted to be on a lonely street corner in Tasmania.