I am in a hotel in the suburbs of Chicago. After a late night and early morning, I am a zombie debutant walking a forlorn earth and am in great need of a remedial warm beverage. Luggage in hand, I make my way downstairs to the lobby where, using my incredible powers of deduction, I quickly ascertain that I am smack dab in the middle of a dancers’ convention. Young girls and large adults alike wearing tights, hair bunched to maximum high-tensile strength, wander about on their sprightly feet, scurrying through the halls, up and down escalators, past elevators, entering and exiting the hotel restaurant.
Chaperoning the girls are their parents. The dads’ varying glum facial expressions are remarkably similar to those that accompany prostate exams. High-BPM electronica sprays the entire lobby area with audial fructose, seemingly emanating from every available ballroom and conference room. Frenetic grooves ricochet off wall sconces, mass-produced paintings, tiaras, and my bone-tired skull. The hotel glitters in reflective polyester jackets, names emblazoned in cursive on the back, and neon-colored garments. With nowhere to sequester myself away from the surrounding hoopla, I find a corner, a nook at the end of one of the wings to write. I open a blank document, and, as is typical for me, I hurry to wait for words. With nothing urgently pressing on my mind, I begin typing something about wanting coffee and being in a hotel full of tiny dancers.
I have, for as long as I can remember, had an inexplicable aversion to dancing. The very idea of the activity fills me with dread and apathy, dancing having never really made an iota of sense to me, an aspiring curmudgeon. Robins building a nest, golf on television, and the gentle voice of painter Bob Ross on PBS elicit more of a response in my soul than does dancing. Worse than participating in dancing is watching it on television. It ranks right up there with the likes of car racing, Barney reruns, and NBA basketball. Don’t even get me started on Olympic ice-skating or politics.
It’s not that I disapprove of dancing in any moral sense. Far be it for me to judge a person’s need to release pent-up frustrations from a life of repetition, drudgery, debt, or even customer service. But since I never learned how to dance, the very thought of embarrassing myself by flailing my inabilities in such a public forum makes an insecure dude like me cringe. Such inexperience was an anti-commodity in high school. As a teenage boy attending my first Sadie-Hawkins dance, standing inside a poorly lit Knights of Columbus rental hall, I was suddenly and shockingly terrified to realize that, A) Nearly all of my peers eventually made their way to the dance floor, B) I was shorter than most girls my age, most of whom were enjoying shaking a leg, and C) I had never once shaken a leg with another person before, much less a human female. Dancing with my mom in the kitchen absolutely did not count in this situation.
Before I continue, allow me to admit what you may already be thinking — I failed to learn how to lighten up. Dancing is inherently an uninhibited act of falling with glad abandon and complete freedom into transparent self-awareness. Painfully and excessively self-aware, I do not at all fit the loose and limber category that this relaxed and carefree portion of humanity apparently possesses. I am guilty on all counts of navel-gazing. I take myself far too seriously and am more full of paralyzing dread than limber joy. Somehow I fail to enjoy the world and my life for what they are: venues that, whether they know it or not, are in fact waiting to dance.
Though gradually thawing to various cultural inducements to lighten up, especially considering my south Louisiana upbringing — somehow the joie de vivre gene skipped me — I became a master of anxiety and seriousness. I wholeheartedly agree with temperance, sobriety, humility, and a well-balanced life. Certainly these are inherently good and necessary qualities for a life of balanced reflection and dignity, but what hasn’t fully agreed with me, and therefore resolved, is the practical reality of life dancing with death. The two wait on one another, not necessarily in a predator-prey relationship, but as polite centenarians demonstrating respect for one another: opening doors, doffing hats, serving each other buttered toast, deferring to one another, holding hands, and shaking a leg.
It is slightly possible that the world needs calculating over-thinkers like me to help them see just as much as we grim curmudgeons need light-hearted souls to help us see and remember to breathe. As with dancing, some things are better left to more carefree, exuberant night owls. For my part, I hope to learn to gently move through the achy breaky friction of stress and near-falling apart in order to participate in my own idiosyncratic dance of sorts: one of genuine levity and introspection, delighting in motion and the way living and dying dance and wait on one another.
Eric Peters is married with two sons. He writes songs, records them, then sings them for listening humans. Eric also paints canvases, makes oddball sculptures out of repurposed junk (The Daily Piece), runs a book-finder/reseller service called The Book Mole, and mows lawns. All this in the name of liberty and art, and the art of liberty. In reality Eric lives in Nashville, TN, but virtually he resides at www.ericpeters.net.