Essays > Just Gotta Dance

Dancing and I renewed our vows last June on the upper deck of the Lake Winnepesaukee party boat. And after asking around, it seems I’m not the only one lately getting the funky leg.

Here’s how it started: six days of heavy rain trapped us in our dark-paneled New Hampshire cottage. No phone, no cable, no Internet, a pile of gray-paged books.

Freed by a sudden miraculous break in the weather, we high-tailed it into Wolfeboro, the oldest resort in the country, according to the boring placard at the village limits, and signed on for the evening dinner cruise.

Rain was bad business. “We’re all depressed,” a local woman moaned. Only 11 people showed up for a paltry buffet of chicken wings and pasta salad, and we gnawed our drummies and looked glumly out at the various “necks,” as they call them, in the harbor.
But my party of four, ignited by enough claustrophobia to set fire to a cord of knotty pine, finally rushed up to the top deck, where a long-faced band called Casual Labor picked listlessly through a half dozen Marshall Tucker tunes.

I wanted to dance. It wasn’t just the overpriced Johnny Walker Black I was sipping from a plastic cup, one of the first quaffs of hard liquor I’d had in months. I was tired of words and waiting for sun and I wanted out of my left brain. I wanted Casual Labor to cheer up. So I stood up in my mildewed jeans and Interlochen sweatshirt and boogied. By myself. Live free or die, they say up there. Here’s how I’d put it: dance up or waste away.

Pretty soon my husband, my sister-in-law and my brother-in-law (who takes about a hundred Aleves a day for arthritis) got up and joined me.

The band, startled, kicked up more oldies: Mustang Sally, Santana, All Along the Watchtower. We didn’t care what they played – we danced. Between songs, we clapped and immoderately hollered.

As the party boat chugged along past cottages and vacation houses, people came out to dance with us – old ladies shimmied down their decks with grandkids; somebody picked up her golden retriever’s front paws and did a doggie tango; two fishermen in a rowboat upper body danced to the Rolling Stones; a kayaker coordinated his paddling with “You got to stop your evil ways,” and a bunch of guys on a lit-up balcony shook their bootie and saluted us with cocktails. I guess everybody needed a dance.

It’s not that I’m good at it. I missed that developmental phase. When I was growing up “evangelical” about a thousand years ago in Ohio, dancing was one of The Three Taboos. The other two were premarital sex, of which dancing was seen as the gateway drug; and drinking, its lubricious pusher.

As photographer Darryl Baird, also a survivor of a fundamentalist childhood, reminded me recently, “Southern Baptists never officially dance. Never.” I was Evangelical United Brethren – close enough. Note that sly “officially.” There’s the old joke, why don’t Baptists make love standing up? Because somebody might think they were dancing…

Lucky for me, I got out of there in the Sixties when you could do whatever you liked on the dance floor. I’ve never gotten the knack of partner dancing, but it doesn’t matter -- dancing always reassures me I’ve escaped.

In my first marriage we threw a lot of dinner parties. We judged them by whether we rolled up the rug and cranked up James Brown. When that ended it seemed like dancing and I got a divorce too.

Years passed. Then, Obama got elected, I lost 25 pounds, I got some great therapy, I took up tai chi, Dayne Walling got sworn in, Flint showed up looking pretty good for a change in the New York Times…and damn, I felt like dancing.

I wondered if anybody else around here was getting the urge to groove. So I asked my Flintoid friends on Facebook. Here’s what’s suggested by my extremely scientific poll: maybe we do it mostly in private, but we’re a bunch of dancin’ fools.

A few examples: Timothy Mason and wife Jen danced (skanked, as he put it) in their kitchen while listening to Rancid. Actress and writer Megan Donahue confessed to doing a pirouette in my own dining room where she house-sits, an image which delights me.

Former UM – Flint Chancellor Juan Mestas last danced at his sister’s Christmas party in Miami, where the Latin tunes flowed and he says he danced to everything.

Artist Marcia Watkins danced with husband Eddie in their computer room because, ramping up for their 34th anniversary, she’d just uploaded “Still” by Tamia…that “old school slow dance,” she suggested, “will long be remembered.”

Ace attorney Greg Gibbs cracked, “do mating rituals count?” You go, Lothario. That’s probably where it all started anyway, right?

Earth mother Suzy Sikora last danced at a women’s equinox gathering as they circled and drummed. Holly Gramling “did a little jig in my living room for the kids and (husband) Shane while they were eating lunch…just to lighten the mood…and they laughed.”

Professor Vickie Larsen danced with darling daughter Edith at Crossroads Village. Kelly Gallagher Sowa danced to “Sexy Back” in her kitchen while making pancakes for the kids…her son, she said, “laughed and laughed.”

Sherry Dodge Schlinker danced, “sitting in this chair at the computer listening to Pandora.” Brie Ann Clark danced in her living room during a ‘So You Think You Can Dance’ commercial break..”to demonstrate why I should never ever try out for that show.”

Downtown music impresario Michael Absher confessed, “even with my knees messed up, I can’t stop dancing. It just gets a bit more awkward.”

All-round liberal good guy Jon Wood said, “My life is pretty much a chair dance. In the car, in front of the computer, if there’s groovy music on the TV…” He used to dance in public all the time, “back in the halcyon days of the Copa and the Hot Rock Café, as well as in any other night club where I might find myself…but it seems that with age and self-inflicted sobriety, the urge to get jiggy with it in public has fairly much dissipated. I miss it.”

Poet Ryan Bellows asserts, “If I feel like dancin’, I’m gonna dance – I don’t care where I’m at, or who’s watchin’.”

Fab downtown artist Dan Kienitz “cannot help but move when music compels me to do so, yet I never break out into anything that could be called a dance…not in public.” Come on, Dan, you can do it! As Anissa Emery wrote, “Martha & The Vandellas were right, girl! ‘It doesn't matter what you wear, just as long as you are there...all you need is music, sweet music...’ …I think it doesn't matter HOW you dance, only THAT you dance...Find your music and SING, DANCE, MOVE!”

I’m with Anissa. I keep thinking back to that night on the Lake Winnepesaukee party boat. I think my parents in all their closed-up fear were wrong about dancing. Dancing’s for everybody, but especially for grownups, the ones who see through – even welcome -- our endless absurdities. More than anybody, we oldsters need to fling our softie arms up and whirl and reel and shimmy because we know how fleeting is this lovely life.
That night on the upper deck the air smelled good. So did my husband.
And echoing over the water was that Leonard Cohen song that goes, “Dance me through the panic till I’m gathered safely in/touch me with your naked hand or touch me with your glove/dance me to the end of love/dance me to the end of love.“