The Lost Art of Dancing Cheek to Cheek

Before I taught art I taught art and music. I hesitate to say I really miss teaching music because they might make me do it again. One can only take on so much. We’ve talked about THAT before.

I will say, however, that the one thing I miss is that good old fashioned group effort. Visual art t ends to be a more solitary “sport”. On the other hand, singing and dancing takes on it’s ultimate power when done together. Yes, I know you closet stars like to sing and dance most when you’re alone in the house with the stereo jacked up but, c’mon, be brave. Take the next step with me.

One of my goals as a music teacher was to teach young people they can have a blast without drugs or alcohol. Sometimes it’s okay just to be silly AND straight. So I taught them how to dance a la Glenn Miller and all those “big band guys”. We sure rocked and rolled. But the big difference was we actually touched each other and felt the life inside us. Once we adopted the credo “your dance partner is only your dance partner” the fun began. My, they started out so shy.

At the time I was only teaching elementary school and I wasn’t sure just how capable these little tikes were. As usual, they out did themselves. In fact, the whole elementary school hall was swinging. Of all the music units I taught, the swing era was the most memorable. The K4 kids were sticking their heads in the door and asking “What is that music, Ms. Cali?” Even the teachers were in the groove. That was eight years ago.

Now, I don’t want to blurt out my age here but I’m having a hard time finding a full grown man that knows how to really dance or isn’t too shy to try. This, folks, is a lost art. And I don’t mean holding on to each other and rocking back and forth. I mean, you lead and where I end up is anybody’s guess.

I remember when I was nine years old my mother brought up the subject of dance lessons at the dinner table. And the lion roared. Dad was not going to embarrass himself in front of anyone, stepping on his own feet or anyone else. “No” was the answer. Being of Sicilian fortitude Mom never gave up and of course Dad succumbed eventually, as he always did, when confronted with that monstrous thing called Mom’s Bad Mood. Of course, to this day he swears he was all for it because as it turned out it revolutionized their social life, and maybe other things for that matter. Every night after dinner we pulled back the living room furniture and put on that scratchy record and clumsily practiced our one- two-three step-step, one-two-three back step. Counting out loud and looking at our feet, front-side-together, back-side, together. It was months before we could have a conversation while we danced. Over the years we spent many a night huffing and puffing and laughing. Dad will always be my most preferred dance partner. He actually went on, with Mom, to win some trophies.

I recently took a “teenager friend” of mine to a contra dance. It’s kind of like square dancing but there’s only two long lines. The less you know, sometimes, the more fun it is. He was quite reticent to go. I told him “You don’t have to go but I’m leaving in five minutes”. In the end he succumbed to excitement mixed with apprehension and let himself be carried off. After sitting on the sidelines for thirty minutes he allowed a pretty girl to woo him into taking a chance. (I made sure I sent a REAL pretty one. . . whoops.) We were at the big annual Bug Stomp and a 2 AM he was still protesting our leaving. Success? I should say.

More and more of the teenagers are finding the contra dances, where you don’t need to come with someone, every dance you are required to find a new partner, it’s okay to dance with strangers and it’s even fun to make mistakes. The only refreshment is water and there are children of all ages, from tikes to teens to mid lifers. It’s almost like dancing around the fire again. People coming out together. And what a fun way to exercise. You forget that you’re huffing and puffing and sweating. Exercise with a higher goal. Wow! I can’t think of a better way to stay healthy.

Whenever I think back on those days at school and that wonderful show we finally did, it warms my heart.. For the finale the whole elementary school was “In the Mood” and they came down into the audience and grabbed their parents and as the house lights went up the whole auditorium was dancing. It’s a memory that will always make me high. And to this day I can never forget that image of Mrs. Limehouse on a rainy Wednesday after school dancing down the elementary school hall with her push vacuum cleaner in hand twirling to the beat of Artie Shaw.