by Amanda Cleary Eastep
This oldie but goodie post is one of my faves, so I’m linking it up with #wholemama this week in honor of the “dance.”
We can dance if we want to.
We can leave your friends behind.
‘Cause your friend don’t dance,
and if they don’t dance, well they’re
no friends of mine.
–from “Safety Dance,” Men Without Hats
My mother loves to dance.
I’m not talking about the acceptable-in-almost-any-denomination waltz.
I mean…the first on the dance floor at the wedding throw your arms up in Y formation to the Village People.
I mean…the roll up the family room rug on Thanksgiving and do disco moves to ABBA’s Greatest Hits while unabashedly squeezing my dad’s backside in front of the grandchildren kind of dancing.
My mother wanted to be a dancer when she was a little girl. Instead she fished and beat up the neighbor boy and dug up her dead cat, ruining her new Sunday coat in the process. Hardly ballet class. But the need—nay, the compulsion—to shake, shimmy, and perform gymnastic feats with her bosom was part of her make-up even before a bosom became precariously involved.
And she passed this trait on to me and to her granddaughters. All four of us women having the innate ability to shake our groove thang. Not that anyone would make the mistake of believing so, but NO professional training has ever been acquired by any of us…except for a few belly dancing classes I took at the community college, during which I engaged in stretching exercises, inevitably ending up touching my toes directly behind a 5’ x 5’ aspiring exotic dancer who apparently had devised a way to incorporate farting on cue into her routine.
Kitchens are not for cooking
When I was 12, we moved into a house that had an intercom system installed throughout. For my mother, it was a means by which to pipe music into every room. I especially remember her dancing in the kitchen. Because it really wasn’t a place for cooking. So in between taking the fish sticks out of the oven and putting the tater tots in, there was always time for “disco arms”!
Painfully shy, I didn’t participate with my mom, although there was a worn spot in the carpet in front of my bedroom mirror where I practiced daily. At that time, WLS was the station for rock music, not talk radio. And I had ABBA on 8-track tape (“a magnetic tape sound recording technology, popular from the mid-1960s to the early 1980s”).
First on the floor
My mother waits for weddings. You dance at weddings. You are not embarrassed to mimic the antics of gay men famous for performing the pop hit YMCA while simultaneously contorting their bodies into the corresponding letters of the alphabet. Mom is usually the first on the dance floor, pulling my father behind her, who will commence to move his feet as if he’s putting out a cigarette under his shoe.
Shopping for the perfect dance outfit precedes these festivities. My mom invites me on the hunt for a new wedding outfit; something flattering but age appropriate, something sexy—at this point my mother bends over in front of the dressing room mirror and shimmies—but withstands the “if I do this while I’m dancing nothing will fall out” test.
Mall or disco?
My son quickly discovered that going shopping with his grandmother was a safer bet at the more subdued American Eagle, because in Abercrombie, my mother cannot peruse the overpriced merchandise without dancing her way through the racks. During one shopping excursion, she proceeded to ‘bust a move’ among the vintage polos, causing my mortified son to duck his six-foot frame and skirt around the perimeter of the store to avoid being seen with us.
I am not embarrassed by her public displays. I’m proud of her. How many grandmothers walk boldly into Hot Topic (where it is always Halloween and never Christmas), slide a nearly-filled frequent shopper punch card out of their wallets, and start shakin’ it to Rob Zombie? The cashier with the black fingernails was amused by this woman who was shopping for her teenage granddaughter and wearing a pink, fuzzy sweater and Mickey Mouse pendant made out of Swarovski crystals. “You are so cool,” she told my mom.
Ooh, see that girl, watch that scene
I look at my mother’s dancing as an expression of joy and freedom; as a kid, her example gave me permission to do the same. Although a shy and reserved adolescent, I was introduced to a way to express my spirit physically, besides through writing and drawing. Once I started to dance, there was no such thing as being shy. I was the gangly fifth grader who never made the cheerleading team but made it up on the stage at the talent festival to perform a choreographic masterpiece to “Banana, What a Crazy Fruit!” I was the high school freshman hiding in my locker during the day but gyrating at the school dance like a regular on American Bandstand.
Today when my mother visits my home, my elder daughter cranks up “It’s Raining Men” and exclaims “back up singers!”, to which my younger daughter and I respond by jumping off of the couch to get in the act. Then all four of us—three generations sick with Saturday Night Fever –dance our joy out into the world…
…the world in which my mother is the “Dancing Queen.”