Do you want to dance or do you want to be a dancer?

I have a friend who likes to finish his online arguments with a challenge to his reader to prove him wrong, to which he concludes with a definitive, “You can’t.”  While I often can’t, I usually think that’s just because I don’t know much about the subject he’s expounding upon.  To be fair to my friend, like death and taxes, some things just are true.  He holds his arguments as absolute as I hold the belief that everyone wants to be on stage, to be noticed, to express themselves and to be a part of something; it’s just a question of letting the desire be known.

At this point you may be saying, “Me?  On stage?  Oh, God no!  I don’t want to be up in front of everyone!”  To which argument counselor, I present Exhibit A, the smallish stage at a local food court.  At first glance it may not even appear to be much of a stage.  It’s certainly no Met and the patrons bustle by or sit quietly and sip their triple mocha-hocka-locka-cappucino with whip.  However, point out the stage to a group of young kids?  You know the ones, the ones who’ve not learned what it means to be cool, and it’s game on Armstrong!  There’s jumping and hopping and skipping and all sorts of carrying on that happens.  Whether they’re rolling around on the stage or exhibiting moves that would puzzle even a student of modern dance, these performers show the type of joy I believe we were made for.  Finally, in a flourish that would make a hard rocker proud they leap from the stage.  “Thank you Cleveland, we love you!”  Okay, I added that part in there.  They don’t know Cleveland from Coldstone.  And that’s the part that you can’t refute.  This is behavior that hasn’t been picked up by observation and judging by the aghast expressions of some of their parents, hasn’t been taught.  Their parents have leaned other things.

Mom and dad have been schooled in the art of not being noticed.  They’ve learned how to blend in and they’ve decided they like it.  They can’t imagine why their little ankle-biters want to be center stage in front of strangers.  They don’t understand how their progeny would want to draw attention to themselves.  And they totally miss it with this line of thought.  Their kids couldn’t care less about Mary the mall-shopper or Cliff the coffee-drinker (who’s probably waiting for Mary).  They’re dancing and jumping and playing to an unseen audience.  They are being present to or with their inner self, unfettered by what society will try and convince them is acceptable.  Their actions are an act of revelry to the happiness within that unfortunately adults have learned to squelch.  It’s sad really, that we’ve put that down, pushed it so far out of our psyche that we can hardly recognize it when it’s literally dancing right in front of our eyes.  It is emotion, it is joy on display.

So much of our day to day has to do with maintaining control and managing our image to others.  We’ve learned NOT to show our emotions.  As foreign as our kids dancing in public is to us, this learned hang-up is absolutely not understood by our kids.  We’re a curiosity to each other.  Is there any wonder that our camps clash?    While most of those really big battles come later during their teen years, unfortunately we begin beating the expression of emotion out of our kids early on, otherwise why would we scold our kids to “Get off that stage!  Stop rolling around up there, you’ll get filthy!”  The fact is, even sans music, our kids feel the pull to express themselves, to put their joy on display, to show others the happiness they feel just to be alive.  Part of this is just being with others, with their friends or siblings.  They know that life is truly lived with others.

We adults somehow gravitate to doing things alone far too often.  Not so with our kids.  If adults carry their independence like some badge of honor, children hang an arm around their buddy’s shoulder or hold hands as they walk down the sidewalk as an affirmation of their humanity.  They are with each other and if Tommy jumps on the stage it’s because he knows his buddies will be there with him in an instant if they don’t beat him to it.  Chrissie is there because she wants to be part of the experience with her besties.  Long before they declare each other as bff’s they understand connection.  They haven’t begun to compete unless it’s to see who can create the sickest dance move (a clear possibility if spinning is involved) out of nowhere to be shared with the crew.  Meanwhile their parents sit on the sidelines wondering how their young-uns behavior will reflect on them as parents, how they’ll be judged, how they’ll be looked down upon.  They’ve committed to striving for public approval.  Their kids, for the time being anyway, are committed to simply being a dancer.

As they hop and skip and contort on the completely non-descript stage in the food court it’s clear their allegiance is to the spirit within them.  They are not merely dancing to society’s tune; they are dancing to their own beat.  Wrapped up in that is the emotion our maker intended and none of the self-consciousness the world presses into us as we get older.  The community that is humanity is what’s being served, not some contrived set of norms or accepted behaviors.  Watch any group of kids dance on stage, run the bases after a baseball game or leap on the court after the end of a basketball game and tell me that they aren’t dancers.  Tell me that their exhibitions, in all their goofiness and lack of ego aren’t the essence of what it means to be human, to be happy, to be free.  Tell me that you don’t admire their commitment to themselves, to the moment, to their joy and to being a dancer on life’s stage.  Tell me.  You can’t.

Being the parent of a dancer I’ve been fortunate to observe what it means to be one and although I have all the rhythm and grace of a small rhino I know that if we do it right; we all dance in our own unique way.  I hope your days are filled with dancing.  I know it’s worth it.

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