I used to think that the only music Bill liked was classical – largely because it’s all I ever heard him listen to. I love classical music, too, but not to the exclusion of other musical genres. My tastes are more eclectic; Bill’s, not so much. He has a strong distaste for a lot of the “popular” music he hears which he deems largely (if not entirely) responsible for what is wrong with this country and many of the people in it. Elvis Presley and The Beatles, notably credited with the inception of the era of Rock ‘n Roll and everything it spawned, were, according to Bill, the beginnings of what developed into a disrespect for authority, a hippie culture whose mantra was drugs, sex, and free love, and an unearned sense of entitlement. They were responsible for the “ruination” of our youth.
A bit dramatic, but anyone who knows Bill is well-acquainted with his hyperbolic bent.
To be fair, there are lots of others who feel the same way Bill does. People who complain about the music being so loud it’s difficult to make out the words of the songs. And there’s a lack of clarity in many singers’ voices as they mumble their way through the lyrics – if there is a story in there somewhere, one can’t find it. In addition, I take issue with refrains that are repeated over and over because someone was just too lazy to put words together that mean something more; a case in point here (one of many) is “Because I’m Happy” – a catchy tune but, by virtue of its irritating repetition of these same words throughout nearly the entire thing, more annoying than anything I’ve heard in a long time.
When Bill and I take trips in the car, he listens to classical music as he’s driving, and I listen to everything else when I drive – and he wears ear protection at my insistence so I can also enjoy all the other kinds of music I like.
So it may surprise you, as it did me several years ago when I discovered his love of “marching” music: John Phillip Sousa in particular, among others. When listening to his marches (and German beer songs one hears in a beer hall), his fingers drum on the steering wheel, the arm of a chair, the kitchen table – reminiscent of his drum-playing days. I’ve occasionally toyed with the idea of getting him a set of drums for Christmas. When he told me some time back that he’d always been a fan of Johnny Cash and had even gone to The Front Row theater once to see him in concert, I was shocked to discover that he liked country music, too. Some of it, anyway. One notable exclusion is Willie Nelson, discounted, at least in part, because of his politics.
Even so, little surprises like this aside, he steadfastly refuses to deem dancing worthy of consideration. Not even a Texas Two-Step.
Everyone has an opinion about what good music is, and the same holds true for dancing. How do we define good dancing versus that which, well, isn’t, exactly? The best dancers don’t always get all the steps right either, but what sets them apart is not necessarily perfection but the unconscious way some dancers physically interpret the music, allowing it to inhabit them, to fill their limbs and embrace their essence, making their connection to it intensely personal. The best dancing originates from within. It’s an interpretation of music that is felt and defined by the dancer him/herself, even in the context of adherence to manufactured rules and prescribed steps.
In any case, we’re not all going to like the same music, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Wouldn’t this be the dullest of worlds if everyone liked the same things, did the same things, said or thought the same things? Welcome to George Orwell’s 1984 where all cookies are cut from the same mold.
We can’t all sing in tune or develop workable scientific formulas to improve our world. Nor can we all be dancers, at least not dancers who willingly, and sometimes unconsciously, set ourselves free through music and the feeling that dancing itself engenders.
It’s not that Bill has never danced with me – because he has. Someone even got a picture of us in dance mode at a family wedding where it was he who pulled me onto the floor (maybe the affect of too much wine). But it’s rare to get him on his feet for that purpose.
And maybe that’s because to dance, one must surrender. One must give oneself over to the music and its rhythms. Be willing to make mistakes and not let making them adversely color one’s self-image.
For some, dancing is a need, an addiction, a privilege, and even a gift. It can be an act of desperation as well. A need to feel something, be something more than everyday life allows. Dancing is fulfilling and fun. It offers an escape and the freedom to step out of your own shoes and become someone else, if only for those few moments on the dance floor.
But it’s demanding, too – an athletic endeavor that requires strength, balance, stamina, and concentration. It doesn’t require perfection – only the desire to move to the music and paint the floor with feeling that writes its own story as surely as do words on paper. Dancing is a love letter written by a dancer, for the dancer, punctuated by one’s sensitivity to the music and a dancer’s immersion in it.
Dancing is conversation between the body and the music. Whispering and singing with abandon. Great dancing is nuanced and subtle, like a tango that is at once docile and violent, frivolous and purposeful, innocent and sexy – an exposition of the self becoming a love letter that is anything but indifferent to those who understand how to open and read it.