Dancing Is Life

I love to dance. This isn’t because I was raised in a dancing family; just the opposite. I can’t remember ever seeing my parents dance. And as far as my grandparents, I know that my paternal grandparents and probably my maternal ones absolutely frowned on it. They were raised in a culturally conservative church in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia which opposed drinking, smoking, gambling, premarital sex and dancing as the ways of the devil, literally.

However, growing up in the 50’s and 60’s in Lancaster, Pa., I ran with a group of kids who were into hosting and going to dances in one another’s homes, and the high school which I attended also sponsored dances. I must have had some natural talent because I won a contest at one of them as a teenager for the best “mashed potatoes” dancing, despite knowing just about nothing about what the steps were.

About seven years ago my wife and I decided to take an East Coast Swing dance class. We had a good teacher, started going to local dances and have been doing it ever since. We’ve found a community of people whom we enjoy being with at every-two-weeks dances.

We especially enjoy swing dance culture, as we’ve experienced it at a number of locations over the years. It’s rare that two people who are a couple just dance with one another throughout the evening. It’s expected and encouraged that, as a “social dance,” people dance with a number of others. It’s part of the culture, as we’ve experienced it, that women often ask men to dance.

There’s also occasional same-gender dancing, more two women than two men. Less frequently, mainly as the dance is getting toward the end, there’s large-group communal dancing in a circle.

Dancing is life. Without dancing and music, human existence would be a dull and sad thing.

Dancing can also be an effective political tactic. Lgbtq groups and other groups have organized public dances in the streets in front of locations where there are especially regressive and powerful people. If you google “dance party Trump,” you’ll find many examples. One was held outside Trump Tower at the end of February, 2017:

“The lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer community, along with their allies, turned up the music for a protest dance party outside Trump Tower on 5th Avenue in New York City Sunday night. Following a rollback in federal protections for the trans community, protesters sang and danced to show their support for those impacted.

“You can’t miss this. You need some joy in resistance, and I feel that getting out in the street and being with community refills your tank,” said Liz Dalton, a Manhattan-based writer and teacher who brought along her wig-wearing dog.”

We should not forget about those for whom dancing is difficult. I remember being at a big rhythm and blues dance at the Roseland Ballroom in New York City a number of years ago. All of a sudden I noticed someone in a wheelchair out on the dance floor, moving his body as best he could. What I also noticed was that there were close-by, able-bodied others who were interacting with and smiling at him, and all were enjoying the experience.

A.J. Withers, a disability rights activist, wrote about this issue in these words:

“If I can’t dance it ain’t my revolution” [Emma Goldman] is as true today as it ever was. If you can’t dance, you aren’t allowed to participate equally in revolutionary struggle. If you dance cautiously because you are in pain, or ‘strangely’ it isn’t your revolution. If you aren’t dancing because you have been forcibly restrained it isn’t your revolution. If you dance alone because you have been excluded from society because you have an intellectual disability, are psychiatrised, deaf or physically disabled it isn’t your revolution. If you don’t dance you aren’t allowed to participate equally in the struggle, it isn’t your revolution.”

I hope that there’s a lot of celebratory, spontaneous, inclusive dancing around the country after electoral victories for progressives and a big defeat for the Trump-led Republicans the night of November 6th.

Ted Glick has been a progressive activist and organizer since 1968. Past writings and other information can be found at https://tedglick.com, and he can be followed on Twitter at https://twitter.com/jtglick.