Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Get Up And Dance

I’ve always been a wallflower by choice. At Catholic weddings and parties, I’d hope and pray that no one would ask me to dance. Uncles and cousins would try to pull me into the fun, but I would politely and, when required, even tearfully decline. If someone tried to pull me to the dance floor forcefully, I would stiffen up as though I were made of lead, refusing to part from the chair.

Once a childhood friend of mine, who had perhaps let Bollywood do the thinking for her, asked me, “How can you not enjoy dancing? All Catholics dance; Helen dances.”

Often I was asked, “You don’t dance? But you’re a Catholic, no?” As if Thou shalt dance was one of the Ten Commandments handed by God to Moses.


How could I explain to them? That I was a great dancer – in my head. That when I heard a great piece of music, I always stood up and swayed to its rhythm, performing the most intricate and elaborate steps, leaving watchers spellbound – all in my imagination.


In real life, I would stiffen and freeze, my movements would get jerky and wobbly. I would stress about how stupid I would look dancing. I would worry that I was not as good as the others on the floor, that I would make mistakes and that my two left feet would become the laughing stock of the gathering.



I was like Johnny Depp that way. At the premiere of Dark Shadows, a gothic horror film in which he starred, a reporter asked Depp to reveal what scared him the most. Was it witches, vampires or werewolves? Dancing, he replied, I’d rather fight a buzzsaw than dance.


And then the children came along and changed me. Now I jiggle and swivel, under their guidance. And what great guides they’ve turned out to be!

  No matter what music is playing on TV, whether it is a music video or the jingle of an ad, or even if I make up an impromptu song or their grandfather claps to the beat of some rhythm of his own, they both get into action. To them, everything is music worth dancing to. They get to their feet, shaking their bodies with abandon. It is the best way to dance, I’ve realised, not caring who’s watching. They take over the living room, and I hasten to pick up any stray toys, or other odds and ends, strewn around, lest they trip over them.


Sometimes we waltz, La Niña and I. She, standing on the bed or the sofa, in order to account for the difference in height, me on the floor. And we twirl. As we dance, we lose the grasp of our hands, and we crumble in helpless laughter.


I wonder where my children’s dancing talent comes from. It isn’t the TV, the usual suspect in such cases, since they don’t watch so much TV anyway. It can’t be inherited, because the Husband is as shy about shaking a leg, unless he is with friends with whom he might let down his guard.


These days, I find myself giving in to their pleas that I join them. Just two days ago, when La Niña and El Niño reached out their arms to me, mid-step, I jumped in as though I’d only been waiting to be asked. My mother-in-law was sitting on the sofa watching TV. I don’t know if she was surprised to see me dance with the kids. I know I was. Surprised. And deliriously happy.

  There is nothing adult about the way La Niña dances. I see little children shimmying and strutting about for the benefit of the camera on dance-based reality shows on TV. The children are clearly playing to the gallery, egged on by parents who want their 15 seconds of fame at the cost of their children’s childhoods. The kids themselves gyrate and do pelvic thrusts and other obscene gestures, while looking smoulderingly into the camera the way they’ve seen Chikni Chameli or the Zandu Balm and Fevicol item ladies do. They thrive on the hoots and catcalls that the audience bestows on their every move.


La Niña is in a world of her own. Sometimes she takes your breath away with a particularly beautiful flourish, but for the most part, it is a child’s dance. Childlike in its imperfections.


There’s more than a hint of silliness in her dance, as though all she’s doing is goofing off, having a great time, but doing it with a seriousness of purpose that suggests that dancing this way is the most significant thing that she can do under the circumstances.

  As for El Niño, he didn’t have far to traverse from the tottering steps he took as he learned to walk to the shaky steps he took as he sought to dance. He seemed to realise that either way, he was going to fall once in a while, so why not have fun anyway. Sometimes he would stumble, but he would pick himself up and laugh uproariously as though it wasn’t a mistake, but part of his delicate choreography. Today, his feet are sure of themselves, and he apes his big sister as far as he can, and improvises where he can’t.


Together, their dancing is nothing short of poetry in motion. The free verse of dance it is. It follows no set rhythms. There is no coordination between the two. But what matters is that just looking at them fills me with an overwhelming joy.


At the beginning of this year, we attended the First Holy Communion of my nephew. At the party later in the afternoon, La Niña and El Niño, and another child, continued to dance, long after everyone else sat down to eat.


La Niña and El Niño were at their dancing best, oblivious to those of us who were watching them. If La Niña happened to notice us watching, she would suddenly get bashful. Those of us in the audience quickly learned that the best way to keep her going was to pretend to ignore her. We watched her in delight and quickly looked away nonchalantly if she happened to glance in our direction.


In the midst of the dance, a child came running into the dance area, chased by another. They were playing a game of their own, and as they ran, they knocked El Niño down. He plonked on the floor, in a sitting position. He bawled for a minute or two, protesting at the unexpectedness of the disturbance. His Baba (paternal grandfather) picked him up and tried to soothe him, walking away from the dance floor as he did so.

The DJ who had stopped the music for a while, out of sympathy for the mishap that had befallen one of the three little people who were responding so enthusiastically to his brand of music, got going again once Baba walked away with El Niño. Hearing the music, El Niño immediately wriggled out of Baba’s arms in his haste to hit the dance floor again.


Watching them that day and every time they dance, I have learned some valuable lessons. Do what you enjoy doing. Who cares what the spectators think? And so what if you make a fool of yourself or they think you are an embarrassment? Why should their views matter to you?

  My children remind me, by their actions, that dancing is all about trusting your instincts, about letting go, about not needing to look at the ground below before taking your next step, about giving in to the joy of the moment.


American country music singer Lee Ann Womack once sang, When you get the choice to sit out or dance, I hope you dance.


Thank you, my darling children, for teaching your too-structured mother to get up and dance.







This article was written for Parentous, an online community for parenting-related issues. You can read the original HERE.








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