Thursday, July 16, 2009

The E Street Shuffle

I’m a white girl, yes. But that fact alone gives you no sense of how uncomfortable I look when I’m dancing. Let’s just take dancing out of the equation for a second. At ease, my posture resembles an overturned folding chair. During parties I have to avoid the front door so people won’t hang their coats over my head. Basically, I wander this world looking like a dying plant.
So you can imagine how a body that wants to collapse into itself doesn’t really “do” dance. But it hasn’t always been that way! When I was fifteen in Argentina, where babies can shake their butts before they wipe them, my girlfriends used to drill me to whatever was on the radio. I can remember stumbling around Jesica Fernandez’ bedroom to “Laura, se te ve la tanga” (“Laura, I can see your thong”), her Hanson and Spice Girls posters flashing their condescending smirks as I struggled.
But I practiced enough to master a kind of exaggerated hip swirl, like I was hula hooping without the hoop. And with that one move in my armory, I could relax enough to show my face at the disco. I stopped responding, “I don’t speak Spanish” when anyone asked me to dance.
Comfort atrophies. It’s been seven years since I left Argentina and I can only really lose it on the dance floor when I’m more than a couple drinks in. Yesterday at the gym, I watched the same episode of “Dance Your Ass Off” twice, (why did Oxygen run the same episode twice in a row?) and somewhere during the second screening I got to envying those fatties. (Awful awful awful. I don’t know why I called them that.) But really! How unburdened these contestants were by the distance between a typical dancer’s bodies and theirs! I watched them, and then I watched them again, flaunting how there was just more of them to shake, more of them to groove. Their dance came from a hot little bulb deep in the heart. Do we all have that bulb? Can I turn it on if I find the switch?
Chubby arms and legs still lurched about my brain as I left work last night. And perhaps that’s why he meant so much to me. Passing the glass-for-walls of the Alvin Ailey Dance Studio on 55th and 9th, I stopped to watch students of an Afro-Brazilian class in full sweat. Young, toned, beautiful black women ducked and stomped powerfully across glossy wood. And among them, there he was. This small Jewish-looking man somewhere over sixty. He work black tights and a black t-shirt with the sleeves cut off. He stomped on the wrong beat, thrust his arms left as the rest of the group went right. He furrowed his brow in deep concentration. And when he reached one end of the dance floor, he turned around to do it again.
There’s nothing more stunning than effortless courage.

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