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Thursday, March 13, 2008

Dancing Queen

The Boy is always asking me Why do you love to dance? What is it about dancing? What is it about girls and dancing? Why do girls love to dance?

The Boy has a curious nature and those are perfectly legitimate questions, considering how much time and money I put into my dancing endeavors.

When I try to explain myself, though, it just comes out sounding silly. I say things like When you hear music, doesn't it just make you want to get up and move? That's how I feel when I hear certain kinds of music. I can't keep still.

His answer is No. But he loves to listen to music. It's just that the music doesn't make him want to jump out of his chair and move about.

I usually counter with Why do you love baseball so much? I ask this question in return not because I'm trying to be argumentative, but because sometimes it's hard to explain why you love something (or someone, for that matter) and I'm trying to illustrate a point. Because one person's love of something is another person's total mystification or non-love. The only thing I like about going to a baseball game are a certain kind of bratwurst that they sell at the Giants stadium.

Some things can't be explained rationally. They are either experienced or they aren't. They either resonate or they don't.


The picture above is me at the ripe old age of two. It must be my second birthday because the floor in the photo is littered with gift wrap and ribbons, and the baby stroller with the doll in it that I am feverishly pushing must be a present. (That is probably one of the few photos of me in actual contact with a doll. Not too much later, I dumped the dolls in favor of my Tasco microscope and fossil collection. I always thought dolls were pretty boring.)

The reason for the photo is not to prove that I once played with a doll, but because it shows me in my leg braces that I wore until I was three. I was born with developmental hip dysplasia, a condition that's not too uncommon, especially in baby girls, and has a genetic component. (My mom and sister both had it too, so obviously more than blue eyes run in my family.)

If detected early, the child's recovery can be total. In my case, the hip dysplasia wasn't diagnosed for a while which, had it been any later, I would have had to had surgery, which is the least desirable treatment. So I ended up in leg braces that I wore day and night until my third birthday.

I don't remember being in the leg braces, and from what my mom tells me, they didn't hurt. They just looked like they were painful and I guess people used to ask my mom if I was a cripple (that was the term used in the pre-PC days of my babyhood), which I'm sure made her feel terrible.

I was thinking about The Boy's question, and my braces, and wondering if the two are connected in some deep, mysterious way, in my way back memories, my inner life. Like I said, I don't remember wearing the braces, but that doesn't mean that they didn't make an impression on my psyche in some way. Maybe I couldn't wait to bust out of those things and get moving like everyone else. Get dancing. Get down!

Whatever the reason is for my dancing, the fact that I can walk and dance and move--that's entirely due to my mom's persistence and insistance that her baby girl get the right treatment that she herself never got. My mom had some half-assed surgery when she was seven, and now has a fused hip and arthritis for which she can't be treated. She bears it well, with the good humor and patience that makes her so special and she doesn't spend a lot of time thinking about the things she can't do.

So I'd like to think that maybe I dance for me because I love it, and also for my mom. Because she made it so that I can.

Thanks, Mommy, for everything, including my dancing legs. I love you.


And just because there's nothing wrong with a little gratuitous ABBA whenever possible, please enjoy Dancing Queen, embellished with Japanese subtitles, no less!


b March 13, 2008 at 2:23 PM  

Dear tb

There is a dominant anthro-evoluationary theory about "Why do women dance and men don't." You can read tomes on it but I'm gonna nutshell it here: "Women dance so that men will dance (they want to be where there are women gathering, because this is reproductive opportunity), and women want men to dance so they can judge the caliber of the man in a post-mammoth-hunting world. Men, whose base purpose is to propagate their genes, do not like to engage in activities in which they can be judged inferior and thus 'lose.' They believe they can opt out of this competition by saying 'I don't dance,' not realizing that women understand this to mean 'I can't dance.' Men who will not engage in what they unconsciously perceive as a contest for mating rights are not strongly looking to upgrade their current gene propagation status; women who want to dance are still looking."

This is the theory, and explains a lot of behavior, e.g. why some men are not cool about their chicks dancing with other dudes, and why many men don't want to do something that is obviously really great. Or, for example, why many young men expect a screw after a dance.

Psyche March 13, 2008 at 5:35 PM  

Men not dancing is purely cultural, and a fairly recent phenomenon. Not so long ago, everyone danced, and everyone loved to dance. The English loved to dance so much that we were known as 'the dancing English'. (Everyone also loved to sing, btw, and that followed a similar decline for similar reasons.)

So, the question is not 'why do women dance?', but 'why don't men dance any more?'.

It's not *just* men, of course. Fewer women dance now too. At some point in the last century in the West dancing went from being something that you did to being something that you watched.

But why fewer men than women these days? Well, for some reason, also at some point in the not too distant past, dancing somehow became considered 'cissy'. Maybe it's something to do with the extreme stylisation of professional ballet. Maybe it's something entirely different. Who knows. The point is, in our culture, dancing is a very high-risk activity for men. Not only do they have to contend with the risk of looking foolish (which we all have now that dancing has become professionalised and we all think we ought to look like Nureyev or Fontein), but they have the added fear of looking unmanly. That's a pretty hefty disincentive.

For proof that this is not a natural state of affairs, look at other cultures around the world, where men and women still all dance, regularly, for fun. Or look at our own culture, not so far back, where dancing was the universal social currency, where Henry VIII's prowess as a dancer was a sign of his virility, where you were advised never to give a sword to a man who couldn't dance.

And that's today's historical dance waffle from Psyche.

I was also born dancing, and have a very similar picture of me boogying on down when I could barely walk. I also spent quite a lot of time prancing around pretending to be Nadia Comaneci. It's natural, in all of us, to be moved to move when we hear music. It's also natural to take joy in what our bodies can do, and we're all born that way, just as we're all born loving to learn (play is learning, you know). The problem is just that some of us are discouraged in these things early on.

Anonymous March 13, 2008 at 8:15 PM  

I made the mistake of playing the ABBA video first and had to get up and dance...

I actually posted a link to the article "b" summarized. And I too, have a similar dancing toddlerhood. I was the Twist soloist at my kindergarten recital. I have pictures to prove it. I'll post if get around to scanning :-)

tangobaby March 13, 2008 at 8:43 PM  

Hi b,

I remember reading this article a while back on Johanna's blog.

While I don't think at the age of 5 or 6, I was looking for the caliber of men in my company, I'm sure there is an evolutionary/genetic component for dance in the continuation of the species.

My guess is that Sesame Street or the Electric Company had more to do with my wanting to dance, as well as very early Michael Jackson music.

Dear Psyche,

You can go on and on and on as far as I am concerned. I love how you write and how you respond to whatever topic I throw out at you.

I think you are right in that children are not allowed to embrace dance as much as they could, but my instinct tells me that it's much more about suppressing the boys than the girls. One would hope that the hours spent watching these dance shows might encourage some of these kids to try some sort of dance sometime. I don't have kids so I'll never know.

Dear Johanna,

Of course you were dancing to ABBA! That was the whole idea. ;-)

I didn't start "bopping" (as my mother called my dancing) until later, after the braces came off, so until they did, I was just trying to walk without falling over.

But I bet you were a super cutie pie dancing around and you should share a photo sometime.

FogBay March 13, 2008 at 11:17 PM  

Brave personal post and great thought-provoking comments. As a male I have to agree that the theory put forward by b rings true.

While I hesitate to look silly or awkward dancing I don't have the same caution about other unfamiliar physical activities. I have no problem looking like a fool on a board while learning to surf, ski, whatever. Hey, I'm learning and I know I'll get better.

But dancing is another thing all together.

It's not the teamwork aspect of dance, sports have teammates that I know will forgive a missed pass so why does the thought of a missed step cause me dread?

It's not simply the male-female dynamic I've played sports with female teammates (tennis, softball, etc.) and been comfortable with the limit of my skills.

Perhaps it is the intimacy of dance, maybe it DOES come down to a mating instinct for men. And without a scoreboard on the dance floor we don't know how we are being judged.

Whew! I'm going back to the photo blogs. This one is too hard, I'm a guy I'm not supposed to examine or understand my motivations.

AnnieElf March 13, 2008 at 11:31 PM  

This comment might not be totally to the point but it got me to laughing about my own dancing history with DH.

Dancing is just plain fun. I love dancing and I got lucky when I married a dancing man. A weirdly funny dancing man, though. He does this quirky little move I call the Phillipino Monster Mash (because he learned the move in the Phillipines during his Navy years). Turn on Rock Around the Clock and he is Swing and Mash Man. Whatever I may call him, it doesn't matter. We have fun. We may look a bit silly but we have lots of fun.

Oh, and he watches football once a year right along with me. WHAT is it about the Superbowl anyway??

Christie March 14, 2008 at 7:31 AM  

Thank you for sharing something so personal. Dancing is a form of therapy and recreation that everyone should indulge in! CC

tangobaby March 14, 2008 at 1:17 PM  

Hi FogBay,

It's great to get your perspective. There are a lot of guys who don't dance, and it really is very enjoyable so it makes me wonder why more of them don't try it. It can be a wonderful way to socialize and meet people in a way that is very real and heartfelt.

The things that we fear--funny thing, all the stuff you mention: team sports, the dangerous sports like surfing or skiing. The idea of doing those things makes me break out into a cold sweat.

Speaking of getting back to the photo blog, that reminds me that I need to check in with my favorite SF blog today: FogBay! I have to see what you've put up there for me today.

Hi AnnieElf,

You husband sounds like a great, fun fellow. There is a very nice swing dance community here that I bet he would love. Everyone is very friendly and welcoming (from what I can tell). You could mash and swing your little hearts out.

I cannot begin to explain the Superbow to you. I just watched the last quarter of this year's game, but I haven't really watched football regularly since Joe Montana was the Chosen One. I miss those days. *sigh*

Hi Christie,

I'm glad you liked what I wrote. I think of all of our blogs as personal, so to me this is not more personal than something else I might write. To me, I like to see how my mind works, how a past experience connects with a question I have which connects to the larger picture.

But I am so grateful to be able to dance, and to my mom for making sure I got the right care. I wish all kids had an opportunity to dance because I think it would make the world a much happier place.

b March 14, 2008 at 2:18 PM  

But jeez, in terms of Argentine Tango, you gotta wonder about all this "happiness" talk because unhappiness seems to be the greater norm amongst women who tango. It is a continuous topic amongst blogging tangueras. And when I am dancing around a room at almost any milonga here in BA, for just a second every tanda or two the seated people will cease to be a blur and I see table after table of groups of woman watching, and not looking especially happy to be seated. Crazier still: yesterday I was dancing with a woman from Perth (tons of them here now) and she was saying how the night before she'd been at a dinner party of various folks and met this Danish couple. When she told them she'd taken up tango and come here for it, they were aghast! "Why would you do such a stupid thing! Who will you dance with? You've just opened a huge can of worms that's going to make you miserable for a long time." Turns out they've been dancing for four years and have seen nothing but sadness come to their friends who've taken it up. Were they jerks? Obviously, but still, goes to show ya. Tango probably has the highest price and the highest reward of any social activity I can think of, next to golf. :)

paris parfait March 17, 2008 at 5:06 PM  

It's true that women seem to like to dance much more than men. And can I just tell you that we have another thing in common - I had leg braces too, until I was about 3! And I love to dance too. Sadly, most of the men in my life have not been dancers - at least not good ones (except for that Ides of March guy and a couple of others). :)

tangobaby March 17, 2008 at 8:53 PM  

Dear Paris Parfait,

That is so interesting about the braces. I wonder if we had the same condition?

My advice to you and the men in your life who can't/won't dance: dance anyway, dance now. If he's a nice guy, he'll understand and not try to discourage you from something that makes you happy. Life's too short to wait around for some guy to do something with you. Trust me, you'll still have a good time.