When I was in middle school I was lanky. Well, I still kind of am but I've come to think of it as tall and thin, and on most days I am very happy with my physical self. But when I was in middle school it was a bit more awkward and I was especially aware of that fact at school dances. Do you remember what middle school dances are like? I don't know if most people had similar experiences or not, but let me tell you about mine.
I went to small private school and there were probably about 60 people total in grades 5-8. The school hosted dances 2 or 3 times a year in the very large hallway basement, with red and white square tiles, connecting all our classrooms. They turned out the lights, brought in pizza and soda, and a DJ played pop music. When a slow song came on girls and boys would pair up, girls with their hands on the boys' shoulders, keeping a safe arm's-length distance. The boys tried to find the appropriate place for their hands, somewhere between poorly distinguished hips and barely budding breasts. I was okay with this part, but most of the time the songs were fast. Which meant we girls would form small circles with our best 5 or 6 friends and dance with one another. Every now and then one girl brought her boyfriend into the mix. I joined in and tried to move my hips to the rhythm but somehow that rhythm always alluded me, and I felt uncomfortable bending my knees so deeply, and I had no idea what to do with my skinny arms, and I didn't know what to look at... My friends giggled. They were certainly just having a good time and maybe even feeling some of the same things as I. But after some unknown number of laughs I stopped dancing.
Those feelings stuck through high school. When my friends went to clubs I just didn't join them. Of course, from time to time I have since then been in situations where dancing was necessary and I would participate in a slow song, or a group song like "the boot-skooting boogie" or one of those hip-hop songs where the singer tells you exactly what to do. And of course I danced at my wedding.
But this weekend I danced. I was still a bit self-conscious, but I enjoyed it and I felt free. I was at a party/concert and the band was composed of friends of mine. It was in somebody's house, but it was like this house was made just for this occasion. At first I watched a few other people dancing, impressed by the fluidity of their movements and the fact that they were so brave to stand up in front of so many people and move like that. Relaxing, absorbing the whole spectacle, I thought to myself that we humans have not changed so much in some ways. I pictured medieval Irish jigs and tribal dances around bonfires. And then a friend said to me, "Let's go up there and dance." I gave her a sheepish grin and thought about staying in comfortable spectator position, but instead I turned to my husband and said, "Hold my purse, I think I need to do this." And I did. I danced. The music was a cool sort of indie-rock, somehow very chill even in its most intense moments, with complex dynamic rhythms. And, surrounded by modern hippies, I was finally able to just let my body move on its own. I still wasn't sure what to do with my arms but I just let them float around every once in a while. I still wasn't sure of where I should direct my gaze, so I looked at the band, I looked at the people around me, and tried to take it all in.
It was a wonderful evening. I felt a bit more connected to my friends, and even the strangers around me. It was a growth experience, and I found a part of me that I have tucked away for over a decade. The part that dances.
My husband has told me some about Friedrich Nietzche and his idea of "play." I found this quote of his from "The Gay Science."
How much a spirit needs for its nourishment, for this there is no formula; but if its taste is for independence, for quick coming and going, for roaming, perhaps for adventures for which only the swiftest are a match, it is better for such a spirit to live in freedom with little to eat than unfree and stuffed. It is not fat but the greatest possible suppleness and strength that a good dancer desires from his nourishment - and I would not know what the spirit of a philosopher might wish more to be than a good dancer. For the dance is his ideal, also his art, and finally also his only piety, his "service of God."