Dancing With Myself

Heaven, I'm in heaven

And my heart beats so that I can hardly speak

And I seem to find the happiness I seek

When we're out together dancing cheek to cheek

—Irving Berlin, "Cheek to Cheek"

My parents love to dance—my mom, especially. It is only while dancing that she feels my father's equal. My father is king in our household and she suffers under his rule. She tries to reason with him, though he rarely budges from his machismo. But on weekends when they dance, my mother exacts her revenge. She leads.

They met at a dance in a now-demolished Anaheim dance hall that used to stand on the corner of Anaheim Boulevard and North Street. An Auto Zone is there now.

"From the very first moment I met your dad, he didn't know how to dance," she says with a laugh. "He'd try to dance like this," she pumps her legs as if she's trying to squash grapes, "and it would really be uncomfortable for me, not only because sometimes he'd step on me but because everyone would look at us strange. People thought he was trying to show off. So early on in our relationship, I told him I would lead. If he wanted to lead once in a while, fine. But I would lead."

Amazingly, my father accepted this with little protest.

My mother doesn't think much of this toppling of the gender expectation, dismissing it as "your dad alone doesn't know how to dance well. But we dance good together." They do. These two middle-aged adults have lived and danced together with no one else for the past 25 years and act like giddy kids whenever they move in step. "He's still the one who asks me to dance, but of course I have to agree," my mom says. "And when I don't want to dance anymore—healways wants to dance—we don't dance anymore. I feel that in that moment, we're really a couple."

So, you can see, in my family things go much better when my parents dance together. If the world were only like my parents . . .

THE END OF DANCING TOGETHER

Nobody dances anymore. People get their freak on, wave their hands in the air like they just don't care, occasionally jump around or settle for dancing in line. But nobody actually dances: no more Fred Astaire-fusing-his-cheek-with-Ginger Rogers'-type unions, no one losing themselves in the arms of a beloved as they navigate through a swirl of strangers. That type of dancing is nearly extinct, exiled to ballroom competitions, immigrant celebrations and the hellish eternity that is The Lawrence Welk Show.

Think about it: When was the last time you went to the Goodfoot at Que Sera in Long Beach, Anaheim's Boogie, or, for that matter, any club frequented by the horny young masses, and saw a couple slide across the room in a gentle embrace? What now passes as dancing involves little more than two supple bodies, flesh flashing and an occasional grinding up against an ass. And if you think your average redneck bar is a slow-dance backwater, you haven't been to a country music venue since the 1970s: line dancing is king, evidence that industrialization has now so fully destroyed our imaginations that America's folk dance now emulates the Taylorization of the automobile assembly line.

The common perception is that dancing together is reactionary or, worse, it's passé, a cultural relic of an older, whiter, ultraconservative America too reserved in its patriarchy and Puritanism to liberate itself and enjoy the world.

The past two decades have transformed this country into one that, on every social level, dances alone. As couples drifted apart on the dance floor, a corresponding rise in American unilateralism emerged on the domestic and international fronts. Look at the beautiful people of any club and you see our foreign relations policy manifest. People invade others' personal space with nary an invite, men and women touch only in the most obvious and superficial of ways, everybody dances as if there was no one else in the hall. Dancing with themselves, indeed. And as Americans dance alone and without grace, the United States pushes other countries off the international dance floor, like John Travolta in Saturday Night Fever, blowing everybody else off the parquet, keeping the global boogie for ourselves alone.

THE SUBVERSIVENESS OF DANCING TOGETHER

"Kids, it looks like the Boston police don't want you to have fun," legendary DJ Alan Freed supposedly told an overflowing Boston audience in 1958 when authorities wouldn't let them dance to a dream slate of Chuck Berry, Buddy Holly and Jerry Lee Lewis. The ensuing riot was so nasty that Boston officials attempted to convict Freed under an obscure 19th-century anti-anarchy statute that accused Freed of inspiring kids to overthrow the government. Though acquitted, Freed's career was ruined, the stigma of allowing the races to mingle during concerts too notorious to overcome. But Freed didn't care: he soon lost his ABC television program after allowing Frankie Lyman of the Teenagers to dance with a white woman on-air. Soon after, the FBI started a surveillance of Freed, and he died in 1965. All he wanted was for the races to dance together.

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