For the past couple of weeks, I have spent my Sunday mornings on the couch with ice packs on my knees. We had back-to-back weddings of the daughters of dear friends and I was a straight up dancing fool at each. I just can’t help myself. When a great song comes on at a party or event (but sometimes, just in my kitchen), be it a golden oldy or a nasty-lyric hip hop song, I’ve gotta comeonshakethatbodybabydothatconga. I can’t contain myself. Back in college in the 80’s, I loved a good disco to just let loose, dance off the stress. I’d walk back to my dorm or apartment with completely soaked clothes and wet, slicked back hair. All signs of a great time had. But nowadays, my only dance outlet is at weddings. And no one seems to have told my inner dancing queen that I have middle aged knees. Hence the ice packs.
I grew up dancing at weddings. Because I am the youngest cousin on both sides of my enormous family, I went to dozens of weddings growing up. Dancing with my dad at those weddings was like being whipped about like a gymnast’s ribbon. He would stand in the middle of the dance floor like the center of a Spirograph drawing toy, twirling me in and out, making imaginary circles on the dance floor. It was nauseating, but oh so fun.
There would be the inevitable polka at all weddings. All the parents would jump up and join in for the Beer Barrel Polka. (It must be a uniquely Cleveland thing to have polkas at an Irish wedding.) After enough cocktails, everyone miraculously knows how to polka. This goes for traditional Irish dancing as well. An Irish reel will start, the dance floor opens up, and someone starts hopping around with her arms at her sides, sometimes with a bottle of beer on her head, kicking and bobbing in a boozy, albeit impressive version of Lord of the Dance.
The montage of any wedding dance floor is so amusing. There are those, like me, who dance with abandon, not giving a hoot what anyone thinks of us, sweating up the dance floor like crazed dervishes. And then there are those who need plenty of lubrication and fuel from alcohol before they step foot out there. By and large, these are men. By the time the poor things get out there, they are at a loss as to how to move their bodies, so they devolve into … I don’t know what, really. Wrestling moves? There is low crouching involved, and shuffling back and forth as if they are bracing for combat. Is that guy going to dance with me or pin me? What is going on?
Then there is the Frat Boy Dancer. He, too, isn’t quite sure what to do with his body. So, he brings out some tried and true moves: the sprinkler, the lawn mower, the grocery shopper, the baseball pitcher, the quarterback throwing a football, the fisherman. It’s kind of pathetic, but as long as he moves to the beat, I’ve got no problem with that. At least he’s trying.
Of course, at some weddings, there is the inappropriate, Overly Sexual Dancer who loses herself in her dance fantasy. Sure, it feels great in the moment to channel Tawny Kitaen from a White Snake music video (https://youtu.be/p4wd9KCY2jc), but does your family or, God forbid, your children really need to see that? I will confess, though, that I occasionally I will find myself spanking my own ass or doing a slow-motion version of twerking … and I am working on that.
My favorite dancer at a wedding is The Baby Dancer. It’s so inspiring and life affirming to see that innate, human instinct to move to a beat. At one recent wedding, a three-year-old was getting on there doing baby plies in the middle of the dance floor, all while holding a hair brush for some reason. It called to mind when my oldest daughter, Flora, was just a toddler and would crawl over to our large floor speakers, hang on tight and do deep knee bends in time to the Beatles White Album. She especially loved Rocky Raccoon. Fauna was very fond of Irish Step Dancing, practicing her “over two three, over two three, kick kick over two three, over to three 4 5 6 7, point cut up and a point hop back” across the front lawn for hours. My youngest, Merriweather, had great rhythm as an infant, rocking some impressive upper body isolation moves to the beat of just about anything: music on commercials, Van Morrison CD’s, a mourning dove’s coos on the back porch. Again, that instinctive, God-given need to move to the groove.
I always wanted to be a real dancer, a ballerina, or a Rockette. Though the good Lord didn’t bless me with the talent or body type, I inwardly envisioned myself Cyd Charisse from An American in Paris, Ginger Rogers from Top Hat , Rita Moreno from West Side Story, Madonna or Paula Abdul from their 80’s music videos. (And of course, Michael Jackson … but nowadays, he’s too problematic to enjoy.) I took ballet, jazz, tap for some 30 years, from teen years and well into adulthood, until my damned knees wouldn’t let me plie quite so deeply anymore and vertigo made pirouettes miserable. Years ago, as a young mother, I signed up for a hip hop dance class with a friend, trying desperately to keep my groove on between midnight feedings and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. My friend backed out, but I continued on, only to discover that all the other participants were teenage girls. No matter. I, at about age thirty-five, carried on, undaunted, feeling like a teenager myself. I could grapevine, box step, high kick and jazz hands my ass off. “I got this.” Until my young classmate turned to me as we were practicing our hip rolls and said, “Wow, you’re really good. I wish my mom would take hip hop.” Reality set in. “Yep, I’m just a big goofy mom out here,” I said to myself. And then out loud to her, “Hey, do you babysit?” Best to make the class worthwhile.
My dancing spirit animal is an 80+ year old woman whom my husband and I encounter on an annual Blues Cruise. I don’t know her name or where she’s from. I only know that every night she is there, on the dance floor with her outrageous outfit, long opera gloves and long, gray hair in a top ponytail braid, whipping it around in helicopter circles above her head. My guess is that she used to be quite a dancer back in her day, but that her knees no longer can stand the workout, so she’s resorted to the hair whipping.
We’ve got another round of weddings coming up this autumn, and I look forward to cutting a rug, making a fool of myself, bumping, grinding, twirling, dancing like no one is watching. There will be sore knees the next day, but it will be worth it. I’ll be sure to have the ice packs in the freezer. But maybe I should just start growing my hair out? I wonder if I can rock that top pony braid?