My mother danced with me often, a shared love. She told me stories of her ballet class, which makes me wonder how in her impoverished childhood that was available. But then she sent me to ballet when I was 8, to turn out my turned in, squished up feet at Patton Park- at little cost. We had a cold mirrored room, with a real live piano player- elderly black gentleman. Ballet class was not the tutu costumes and toe shoes I wanted, but I learned to love the discipline, enduring through pain, practice, and posture. How to sense where I was in space and a lot about how I learned. Feeling the girls around me, part of a group, I did not feel shy. I could not learn involved choreography well, a continuing deficit. I move well but do not memorize set steps. Counting while dancing is like counting letters while writing poetry.
High School was, I assumed- to be when I could dance, at Dances. Seemed a reasonable assumption. Sadly, I only danced the group dances-circles of girls for the fast songs. Boys had no interest in me, a source of deep frustration. It wasn't until college, that I found the Folk Dance group at Wayne State University. A huge bunch of ordinary people and not a few oddballs, would meet in a large old gym, lovely wooden floors, and do circles and lines and Cotton Eye Joe, Swedish spins, African stomps, Square Dances and the Hora, Promenades and waltzes. No issue of a partner most of the time, and no trouble when one was needed.
It was a time when I was taking a lot of dance classes for Theater requirements, and I did well with repeated patterns but not complicated choreography. Nira, the movement teacher, didn't think much of me. I was not the right shape, the right look, for her. I do have presence that draws the eye. A moment of triumph: a famous theater movement instructor taught a guest class, I was singled out for praise, irritating Nira to no end.
Here it is, the inevitable Army story. Drill and Ceremony, D&C. Left right left right left right..... it seems like a simple thing everyone learns in childhood, but really knowing left from right is not so easily learned. And some never do. Being dropped for push-ups every time I got off step, or turned the wrong way, or anticipated the order, I got it into my bones. And doing it for an hour before every meal every day, grinds it in deep. All the commands, so we would respond without thought, or before thought. The sound of 33 women marching in boots, sounded, after eight weeks, like one woman walking softly. I was simultaneously one and 33. A fast, powerful and confident step remains.
So in my last, painful year in nursing school (those damn desks) I found the Bellydance Festival in the park, and that classes were cheap, to my poor student delight. Eventually mastered belly rolls and snake arms and hip lifts. This did wonders for my desk-induced sore back. It was low impact aerobics, full range of motion for all my joints, very smooth and sinuous skilled folk dance. And often, the point was to improvise to the music, a joy, exhilaration, patterns without damn alien choreography. I performed once for the festival, to the They Might Be Giants version of Istanbul, a short song, a vibrant bit of improv dance, funny, and I moved. Laughs, applause, a satisfying fulfillment of childhood dreams. Although the certificate said Most Likely to Succeed in Ballet, not Belly. Close enough.
D does not dance. He does not tap his foot when he plays guitar. He cannot skip. I learned not to try to teach him. Not that he would not try. When D and I had our reception, graced with a bellydancer, I danced at my wedding in a very different way than most imagine. The rest is a confidence known only to those friends who were witnesses. D will dance with me at home, he does sway nicely as long as he keeps his feet still. I dance around him, and we share the delight.
Others go through their lives in other ways, but I dance. I dance through work, I dance down the street, I dance my life. Unable to follow the set choreography, often off balance, tripping and falling, but I laugh, get up and make up new steps. The music of the world is irresistible. I flow along.