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15 May 2005

Dance in your car

“We're fools whether we dance or not, so we might as well dance.” - Japanese Proverb

DanceWhile driving downtown last Wednesday, I was pondering the epistemological problems of social cognition and constructivism, the origins of values in transcendent functions, and Kantian categorical imperatives.

Okay. Well. Maybe it was Johnny Depp looking transcendent in “Pirates of the Caribbean” that was actually on my mind as I stopped for a traffic light at the intersection of Montford and Haywood. Suddenly, a flash of movement in the next car brought me back from the Black Pearl, my happy pirate ship.

Caught in the sunlight, a woman’s outline swayed back and forth so energetically that her tiny faded blue Chevette was tipping left and right along with her. I caught a glimpse of a broad face in her rear view mirror, mouth open in some wild song, belting it out like she was on stage at the Apollo Theatre, plumb full of unbridled joy and a force to be reckoned with.

Hers was real movement—not those tiny, almost imperceptible toe taps or head shrugs that often harness our responses into mild appropriateness, but wild expressions of feeling and connection.

Thick arms pumping, her fingers were splayed out like a shock of wheat and then thrust down, then up again, fingers shaking like rain up and down, toward the rear view mirror and back again, like human wipers, in time with a music that only she heard, shoulders heaving up to the right and holding there for a moment before falling back leftwards, like a roller coaster does, that extended pause as you reach the zenith, before falling, falling, then her hands swept up, up, up, and it was at that very moment that I saw it.

As the woman raised her hands to the heavens, as far as the car top would allow, I saw her shadow’s hands, the faintest of tiny fingertips rising above the child’s car seat behind her, in perfect time with the two hands up front. It was Gladys Knight and one Pip incarnate, the way those two swayed and pumped, gesticulated and waved together, one shadowing the other, many days of singing between them, even in the short life of the small one imitating her mom with such abandonment and glee.

And as the light turned green, off they swayed, left hand on the wheel, the other outstretched to the right, a small one echoing it from the rear. I followed them; the singing and dancing continued for miles.

Seeing that vehicular tango sadly reminded me that when Greg Alexander and his tan leisure suit took me to the junior prom, I never once danced. Why? And why don’t we dance more in our cars?

Because we’re unsure? Because people might laugh? Because we’re too fat? Because we don’t have rhythm? Because we won’t look cool enough? Because we’ll fall off our heels? Because we’ve become so damned intellectual and brain heavy that we can’t even tell where our bodies begin and end anymore, like the time I couldn’t figure out where my legs were in yoga class, a clear sign that I had either suffered a massive aortal aneurysm or was merely disconnected from my own body.

My older daughter is 12 now, that hypersensitive station in life where every movement, however small (and particularly those of her parents), is an opportunity for mortification. “Don’t scratch your nose!” she hissed at me recently in Malaprop’s Bookshop. “Stop moving!,” she admonished her dad who threatened to imitate John Travolta in “Saturday Night Fever” at one of her softball games. Our breathing in Emma’s presence has even become somewhat of a liability these days.

Her 2-year-old sister is at another stage of life, one where that kind of guardedness is unthinkable: “HI!,” she screams to strangers as she races toward them in bright red sneakers, giving her little tiny peace sign with two stubby fingers, “HI! HI! HI! PEACE!” Dancing and twirling, exhaling deep belly laughs, howling like she cannot help herself, eating cake by diving head first into it with no hands, singing E-I-E-I-O at full tilt in grocery stores – this is her modus operandi. She doesn’t know enough to care what other people think; we should all be so ignorant. As American songwriter legend Woody Guthrie once said, "I don't want to see the kids be grown up, I want to see the grown-ups be more like kids."

But when grown-ups are like kids, what happens? We talk about them, ridicule them, divorce them, shun them, send memos to their personnel file, look for needle marks, and tell our kids to be wary of them.

Once on a plane en route to Dallas, a young boy in front of me stood up, turned, and stared at me for much of the trip, that unblinking stare of a toddler, uninhibited to look deeply for long periods of time. “How cute!,” I thought, realizing at the same time that if his middle aged father had done that, I’d be rooting around to find the flight attendant call button, hoping Sky Marshals would take him out with a tiny stun gun.

When does this start to happen, this outward turning, this paranoia, this tugging at our clothes to make sure they cover our hips, this loss of dance? Is self consciousness the manifestation of trying to control our self image–and losing our “self” in the process?

I have come to believe that this loss of spontaneity is more about judgment than control: to the extent that I am willing to sit in judgment of other people, then I myself am being judged. If I stop judging other people, I free myself from being judged, and I can dance. It only took me 25 years after the prom to figure that out.

In a moment of sheer poetic justice, it is a quote from none other than Mr. Depp that summarizes the learning: "If there's any message to my work, it is ultimately that it's OK to be different, that it's good to be different, that we should question ourselves before we pass judgment on someone who looks different, behaves different, talks different, is a different color."  Or someone who “dances different”, perhaps?

“To dance is to be out of yourself.  Larger, more beautiful, more powerful.” -Agnes De Mille

~*~ 37 Days: Do it Now Challenge ~*~

Several years ago on Connecticut Avenue in Washington, D.C., I saw a man wearing an outfit unfit for human consumption—there was way too much skin, he was too lumpy, and the colors were all wrong (according to My View of the World). As I started to make a snide remark about his get-up, I stopped myself, coming to the Big Realization:  if I want to be freer and move through the world without caring what other people think, I have to stop participating in the “looking-at” that makes the whole cycle possible in the first place. Stop yourself from judging others in order not to be judged yourself. Then you’ll be free to dance wildly in your car.


A colorblind society is the wrong goal

I’m tired of people trying to be politically correct around issues of race and diversity. Here’s my take on the issue.



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Wonderfully observed and written. As someone for whom dancing has been a life-long torture, it's time to get up...and get down!

Indeed! Thanks for the note - I assume you'll be reading this response late at night after dancing all day....;-)

At the office I dance at my desk and I don't care who sees me. I share an office made of cubicles and we all listen to different music. We have two rules to follow, 1)headphones are a must, 2) make sure you enjoy what you're listening to!

Patti, another joyful read, thank you!

I've been at both ends of the spectrum - the 12 year old end for too many years -- It took me too long to not care - and there are still occasions I do, but they are rare and far between now. .

Dance, Dance, wherever you may be,
I am the Lord of the Dance, said he ...

Even when my body doesn't want to dance, my spirit can still manage.

Your bust of a junior prom reminds me of a junior-high dance where, through intermediaries (of course! 7th-graders don't speak to each other directly if of opposite genders), I was negotiating a dance with a young lady I had admired from afar since school had begun that year.

It soon became apparent that an impass had been reached. She only wanted to dance to a fast song, and I only wanted a slow dance. I was a very poor boogier, but I knew how to sway and sort of shuffle my feet slowly, and that seemed to pass for slow dancing in those days, at least at that age.

She, though, was at least five inches taller than I, so a slow dance would have been far too embarrassing for her.

Sadly, we never danced that night...or ever, for that matter. My family moved several states away before I grew tall enough. Never did learn how to shake it very well, but I did lose my inhibition about it.

thank you. I read this at a time when I needed to stop living so quickly and remember who I am.

Ha! I laughed b/c I am one of those ladies that dances in my car, too.

I once saw a lady singing out loud in a store along to a song that was playing. She didn't seem at all embarassed - in fact, she seemed to be enjoying hersel!. That's what inspired me to let go and start dancing in my car. I wish I could thank that lady!

I just loved this story! It is so me and it was me last week! I just returned from a 12 day road trip - I drove form MA to NC by myself visiting friends along the way ...what made my trip so enjoyable was that I had the music blaring and I danced the whole trip - I must have looked like a crazy woman but who cares? Not me! I would never see any of those people who might have seen me dancing like a nut - I bet a few started bouncing around in their seats too! What fun and so liberating to feel so free.

Love, love, love this post! So glad I discovered you!

Jenny :)

Patti, I think you might have been behind me that day! LOL. I am that person who dances in my car, sings all the time, and thoroughly gets a KICK out of anything set to music; and when I get caught I just smile and wave. (giggling thinking about it) I am grateful that God gave me a life partner who finds as much joy in music as I do.

I love dancing while driving! My car is my little refuge on 4 wheels and I tend to enjoy it to the fullest- and YES! Mr. Depp is mesmerizing :)

Granddaughter(maybe 2&1/2 yrs old)in the back seat of my car started to dance when a song she loved came on the radio.Two grown daughters kinda just sat there so she said "Everybody DANCE!!!".I happily joined in&loved every minute but the other 2 just enjoyed watching us.When the song ended,she threw her arms up in the air&yelled,"Thank you,Gramma!"
Now I dance even with the inflatable 'people'(advertising blow-up,eyecatchers on the side of busy roads)as I drive by.
Love is a wonderful impetus&Joy is catching~

"Put your finger in the air, in the air..." Woodie Gutherie

Super-duper fantabulous! I'm really big on acting like a kid (recent blog post): wild, free and unfettered. (And totally sober, too.) I dance and sing in the car with wild abandon. I only have an unknown number of days to live in this body, so I'm gonna use it with joy!

This was the first post I ever read of yours. My original comment was posted on May 16, 2005. I still come back to this post when I need a reminder that it's ok to be less inhibited and it's necessary to be less judgemental. I share your blog with those I care about most and today it was with a dear friend who has malignant melanoma. I hope she finds as much comfort in your writings and messages as I do. I'm still a fan - six years and counting!

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