Sunday, November 14, 2010

Put Your Right Foot In

Let me just say: I love to dance.

This doesn't mean that I have a natural sense of rhythm or movement, that I can bust any decent moves, or even that other people like to watch me dance.

I do most of my dancing while I clean, dustcloth in hand, or while I cook, sampling from a wooden spoon. Think of it as a less graceful version of Julia Roberts' love-interest-neighbor in Sleeping With the Enemy, who sang and leapt to "When You're a Jet, You're a Jet" with his garden hose as a prop.

But dance in public? Not so much. I need a bottle or so of chardonnay to boost my confidence first.

On Wednesday, I attended my first ever junior high dance, not as a chaperone, but as the event coordinator. It was my job to make sure the DJ arrived on time, the kids had fun, and all the stepped-on Skittles were pried off the floor at the end of the night.

While the other adults hovered near the snack table or stuck to the doors, as far from the speakers as possible, I drifted around ther periphery of the mob -- 100 or so 12- to 14-year-olds who had crammed themselves into a tight, sweaty circle of approximately twenty square feet. Around the edges of the circle, kids were standing, barely moving to the beat. The real dancers were in the middle, their faces slick and shiny.

A boy from my second period class was sitting with his back against the back wall. "'C'mon, get out there," I motioned, trying to encourage him. He shook his head, but later I saw him ask a girl to slow dance -- no doubt the moment he'd been anticipating/dreading since dance posters went up the week before.

As I wandered the periphery, I kept bumping into one tiny dark-haired girl, who was busy spinning in dizzying solo circles. Whenever I passed, she would call, "Come dance with me!" And I laughed, smiling, thinking, No way, sweetheart. But I admired her guts. She didn't care that the cool kids were in a tight, grinding bunch -- she was dancing her heart out and having the sugar-fueled time of her life. She reminded me of myself, doing the Charleston in my kitchen or jitterbugging my way down the hallway, terrified pets scattering at my approach.

I took a break during a slow song and pulled up a folding chair to the snack table. "Who's that girl out there?" I asked, gesturing. Although the floor had cleared except for about twenty couples, the girl was still out there, swaying with her arms hugged to her chest, as if her partner was a slim, invisible boy.

"Seventh grader," one of my colleagues replied. "She's in special ed."


I kept watching her, noticing how she kept dancing even after the music stopped. You go, girl, I thought. Put that whole body in.

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