Shall We Dance

Shall We Dance: Falling In Love With Dance

By Amy Brunvand

Dancers tell how their affairs began.
danceHeaven, I’m in heaven
And my heart beats so that I can hardly speak
And I seem to find the happiness I seek
When we’re out together dancing cheek to cheek?

—Irving Berlin

Valentine’s Day is an emotionally dangerous holiday. After all, who wants to be forcibly reminded that nobody cared enough to send chocolate, or worse, that only the wrong person cared? Luckily, not all love affairs are with other people. A while ago I asked CATALYST readers to share their personal stories of how they fell in love with dance. As you’ll see, the stories they sent are intensely personal and simply wonderful.  You might expect that artistic inspiration would come from something, well, inspiring, but just as often the inspiration to dance comes from something totally ordinary like a TV show, a bad performance that could be better, an off-hand comment or a catchy tune. To me, these stories catch the essence of falling in love when all of a sudden you glimpse the divine in something that had previously seemed absolutely ordinary.

Cathy (international folkdance, Scandinavian dance, contra dance, Scottish country dance)
I watched Mickey Mouse Club when I was a kid and loved the dancing, so I’d go out in the garage and imitate them doing their tap-dance entrance on the show. I didn’t get to take tap dance lessons because my Mom thought that was part of vaudeville and wasn’t nice dancing, and in fact we were Baptists and nominally not supposed to dance at all. But we all did anyway. My older brother got to take ballroom dancing at a dance studio which required you to learn waltzes, fox-trots, rumbas, etc., before you could get to the cool stuff —swing. He’d come home and teach me because he needed a practice partner, and I’d go teach all my friends on the playground. I had to do the boy’s part so they could dance the girl’s part. After the Beatles came in, all the ballroom stuff went by the wayside for the twist, and the monkey, and the mashed potato, and on into other rock and roll, so I didn’t do other kinds of dancing until I saw international folk dancing listed in the paper. So here I am, 25 years later, still dancing.

Mary (disco)
I have never really considered myself a dancer—I just like to move to music!

Henry (West Coast swing)
I was at a party with my mother and I asked her to dance with me, but I didn’t know how to lead yet and she told me, “You think you know everything, but you don’t know how to dance!” Obviously, I couldn’t let that one go! I went home and immediately signed up for ballroom dance lessons. Now dancing is just what I do.

April (modern dance)
I had always been “dancing” to my Mom’s classical music collection on 78s. Jumping, turning, spinning; the kind of stuff little girls do when they believe that they can really dance like ballerinas. Stravinsky’s “Firebird,” Tchaikovsky’s “Sleeping Beauty,” Ravel’s “Mother Goose Suite,” Aaron Copeland’s “Rodeo” and “Appalachian Spring.” Not the usual stuff most little girls hear, but my Mom was a ballet fanatic. When I was in junior high, we went to see the local production of “The King and I,” and the high school had a modern dance group which performed. The choreography was okay, but the combination of the music and movement had me saying, “I can do better than that!” I figured out how I could get into the modern dance group once I got to high school, and the rest is history.

Mildred (square dance)
At the senior center we were painting and I was the only one flexible enough to kneel down on the floor. One of the other women said “you must have been a dancer,” and I said, no I wasn’t. But then I thought about all those years that Bill and I square danced together and I guess I was a dancer.

Lani (English country dance)
I married someone who did not like to do social dance. Around age 45, I felt life was slipping away from me and all I did was work, take care of home things, and do volunteer work at church. Then I read about the Berea Christmas Country Dance School in Southern Living Magazine. I called the contact number and found an English Country Dance teacher. So, I found a way to dance with a partner (no strings attached) without offending my husband and satisfying my hunger to be part of a dance community. Dance helps me leave all other worries behind.

Terry (Cinderella)
“Oh, I thought you were going to ask me to dance,” he said cheerfully.
What? Ask you to dance? I only came over to borrow a chair, I thought, but then a strange thing happened. Out of my mouth came “I’ll ask you to dance later.”
Where did that come from? I had been at my new job one month and hardly knew anyone at the company Christmas party. An evening with live music and a real dance floor was a rarity, and what I really wanted to do was dance. I walked with him to the dance floor, and as he grasped my hand his self-assured energy shot through me as he deftly led my body in exquisite time with the music. I loved how he firmly held me close to his body then broke away to spin me around. I loved dancing with someone who knew what he was doing. I was electricity! I felt alive! As the evening inevitably neared its end, I blew him a kiss. I felt elegantly beautiful like some kind of princess. The tingling feeling lasted days and I still can recall the giddy thrill. I don’t remember his name and have never seen him since, but I’ll always cherish the evening I became Cinderella and danced the night away with my handsome prince.

Diane (African Dance)
1. Once when I was a kid dancing wildly in the front room, my mother said “You’re about as graceful as an elephant.” I decided to stick with reading books after that. (She swears this never happened.)
2. In my late twenties, I remember watching the opening scenes of “The Harder They Fall” in which the camera basically stares at the backends of voluptuous Jamaican women dancing to reggae music. I realized that having the shape of a starved waif is not necessary to be a good dancer. I realized that I could do more than merely hop 1-2-3-4 to the music.
3. Now I dance to traditional African tribal drums, addicted to the polyphonic rhythms, sometime five different lines blending and flowing into one braided drumsong. The movements that go with the rhythms can be simple or complicated, down to the ground or high in the air. I can’t keep my feet, my hips quiet. I dance, I dance.
4. In real life, elephants are great dancers, you know.  u
Amy Brunvand is a dance enthusiast and a librarian at the University
of Utah

This article was originally published on January 31, 2007.