Once you stop dancing, you die a little.
I used to dance all the time. In my early twenties, we were out at honkytonks every Saturday night. I ran around with all of my cousins back then. We never went anywhere without each other. Even when we weren’t at a bar or a club, we’d find a way to dance. If we were in a restaurant that had a jukebox loaded down with good songs, we’d get up and dance. Didn’t matter if there wasn’t a dance-floor. We’d lean our heads back, close our eyes, and listen only to the music. We danced on the lake bank, in our living rooms, on the wide front porches of our youth.
Once I settled down and had children, the only dancing I ever did was with a baby on my hip. Some of my favorite memories are of dancing with my daughters. I’d slow-dance them to sleep, drawing in that scent that can only be found at the nape of your daughter’s neck. When they got older, I fast-danced with them. We used to dance every single night, the music turned up as loud as it would go. I taught them how to clog. I taught them that the best dancing song in the entire world is “Hurts So Good” by Mellencamp. I taught them to not care what anyone thinks when they are dancing, to just listen to the music.
My girls are getting bigger now, so we don’t dance as much as we used to, and nowadays it’s more that they demand that I dance for them and they sit and hold their stomachs laughing as they make me dance to songs they think I probably won’t like. Tonight was like that. They made me dance to “Diva” by Beyonce, which is a song I would most likely never dance to unless someone was making me. But I did, for them. I closed my eyes, leaned my head back, tried my best to listen to the music. There wasn’t the same attachment to the music that I might have gotten from Mellencamp, but I found the beat, and went with it, much to the girls’ delight. They laughed until tears streamed. But I didn’t care.
The only real dancing I ever do these days is at the square dances that pop up occasionally around home, or more often, at writing workshops where I teach. Less than a month ago I was cutting a rug up at the Hindman Settlement School at a big square dance. Some of my best friends were there, so that made it even better. Square dancing is the most communal kind of dancing. You are forced to touch others, to speak to them, to learn the way they move and move with them. Square dancing makes you realize that you are all dancing together, working together, helping one another.
In some strange way, I remember every single person I ever danced with, whether it was at the Moose Lodge, the Maverick Club, the Cumberland Falls Square Dance, the Dixie Café, or any other. Most of them don’t remember me, but I recall them sometimes, all those strangers and lovers, all those people I spent four or five minutes of my life with during a great song. It’s a connecting thing, dancing.
I’m in my late 30s now, so some people might say that’s too old to be out dancing. But I don’t intend to stop anytime soon. In fact, I intend to do it even more. I’ll just close my eyes, listen to the music, not care what anyone thinks, and be a little more alive in the process.