After turning 70 this year, I’m performing in my first, classical ballet. Seeing all those ballerinas on tiptoe, I’m wondering—why didn’t they just get taller dancers?
I don’t claim to be an A-student in dance, but I’m trying to be. It’s been my experience that great dancers don’t expect the rest of us to be poetry in motion, they just want us to be willing. It helps if you can feel the beat, but joy-filled dancers just want to “move and groove” and have us join them.
“Nobody cares if you can’t dance well. Just get up and dance. Great dancers are great because of their passion.”—Martha Graham, American dance icon and “Joy Warrior”
Giving thanks here to some “goddesses of dance.” I’ve been blessed to know some patient and determined Ginger Rogers-types who seemed happy to teach a fellow with two-left feet and a dyslexic counting challenge to look like Fred Astaire or at least Fred Flintstone who danced “The Twitch,” “The Frantic” and “The Flintstone Flop” in his eponymous, cartoon show.
Dance in the Alabama farming community of my childhood was Appalachian clogging and dosey doe-ing to talented fiddle music and a square dance “caller.” Next, my proper and devoutly Southern Baptist mama taught me to Jitterbug listening to jump-jivin’ records by her cousin, the great Rockabilly star, Gordon Terry.
Twistin’ the night away at high school sock hops and doing the wa-wa-Watusi in my teens at the “Shower of Stars” concerts that rocked the South propelled me toward classical ballet in the evolution of dance. A frequently foot-bruised young lady named Sheila Jennings taught me the two-step, and in college I got physical education credits as a teacher’s assistant for ballroom dancing. I not-so-gracefully rhumba-ed, tango-ed, cha-cha-cha-ed and waltzed across the Tennessee-Alabama border into semi-adulthood.
The Plush Horse, a long-gone disco club in Huntsville, Alabama was my Studio 54, where some spirits-emboldened evenings I succumbed to “Saturday Night Fever.” Although drinking and driving don’t mix, drinking and dancing sometimes do because liquor allows you to lose some of the “I hope no one is seeing this” inhibitions. Some nights at The Plush Horse, it seemed like half of the crushed velvet hot pants and Nik Nik-shirted groovers in the valley were testing the fire code and heating up the “Disco Inferno.”
S.U.N.S. DANCE DISCO ODES: “Everybody get down tonight. Put your boogie shoes on. Do ‘The Hustle.’ Can you dig it? Follow the disco ball. It’s fun to stay at the YMCA. Take me down to Funky Town. Uh, uh, uh, uh, stayin’ alive…stayin’ alive.”
Let me fast-forward through years of swing dancing on the lighted floor at The Club in Birmingham and limbo-ing on cruise ships and such. “Limbo lower now. How far can you go?” My 40th birthday involved a tap-dancing instructor with friends. I dressed in black garbage bags (iffy costuming to look like California raisins), and we tapped our trepidations away as we “Heard It Through the Grapevine.”
But lifelong aspirations to be a classical ballet dancer? Not so much. Still, after all the pontificating I’ve done as “The Gerontologist of Joy, aka The Joyrontologist,” encouraging 50-plus folks to fight dementia by making our brains learn new things, how could I say “No thank you” to what promised to be a fairly painless and mostly delightful new experience?
My good friend, Brooke Desnoes, who once owned the most prominent classical ballet school in Europe, asked me to shuffle around a bit on stage as the “grandfather” in a charming, condensed version of Prokofiev’s “Peter and The Wolf” performance she was choreographing. It only took a couple of glasses of French wine for me to say, “Oui.” After a full bottle of wine, I’d probably be willing to climb into a “go-go” cage.
Brooke, a consummate professional dancer/choreographer, created a few simple steps for me and provided confidence by surrounding me with gifted, young dancers who actually knew what they were doing. This “participatory journalism” feels like George Plimpton meets Baryshnikov or Bozo.
The age range of this dance performance spanned from Molly, a little girl of 6, to the somewhat more seasoned me at 70. (Molly totally outshines me. What film divas say about, “Children and dogs always upstage you,” is true for us ballet divas, too.) The “pièce de résistance” is the show benefits Dance4All, the inclusive-of-all community outreach program Desnoes founded in partnership with local educational institutions and nonprofit organizations. (Brooke Desnoes Ballet Academy, www.brookedesnoes.org, 256-338-6401)
S.U.N.S. DANCE—I hope you dance and here are some reasons you should:
DANCE DECREASES DEMENTIA
According to a 21-year study of senior citizens reported in “The New England Journal of Medicine,” dance may be the greatest exercise to enhance our memory capacity. Playing golf seemed to have a 0% impact reducing the risk of dementia but dance had the highest score at 76% reduction. All physical exercise increases oxygen flow to the brain, which is a good thing at every age, but dancing requires “split-second” decisions to form new connections in the brain.
The Stanford University summary of the research (mentioned above) states dancing “integrates several brain functions at once—kinesthetic, rational, musical and emotional—further increasing your neural connectivity.” Rather than a memorized “dance routine,” this study suggests the best form of dancing to fight dementia is “free flowing” which demands new brain connections.
DANCE, DANCE, GOOD FOR THE HEART
The American Heart Association lists dancing as “endurance exercise.” Yesterday, I visited the “Active Adults” center in Cullman, AL during a “Live” music jam session. There were some terrific musicians and great dancers whose hearts, muscles and bones were getting a joyful workout. During the dance fun they LAFF EVRY DAY and lungs get a good workout, too.
DANCE YOUR TROUBLES AWAY
As these lyrics from “Tap Your Troubles Away” written by Jerry Herman for the 1974 Broadway production of “Mack and Mabel” remind us, when it seems like there’s hardly a chance, just quit your fretting and dance.
“When you’re the one that it always rains on
Simply try putting your Mary Jane’s on.
Your boss just gave you the axe.
There’s years of back tax
You simply can’t pay
Or a sky full of crap
Always lands in your lap.
Make a curtsey and
Tap your troubles away.
Your brother gets locked up
Tap your troubles away.
You’re fat as a horse
And find that you’re knocked up.
When you need something
To turn your mind off
Why not try tapping
Your poor behind off?
When your parachute strap
Is beginning to snap
Smile a big smile
And tap, tap, tap your troubles awaaaaaay…”
DANCE TEACHES VALUABLE LIFE LESSONS
Catherine Oppenheimer, co-founder of the nationally recognized, National Dance Institute of New Mexico, emphasizes how dance is a catalyst to build character and change lives. About her focus, Oppenheimer says, “There are four basic tenets that we call the ‘Core Four,’ which are: WORK HARD, DO YOUR BEST, NEVER GIVE UP and BE FIT. I believe—and I live this way—that if you really do those four things, you’re going to have a pretty successful life.”
DANCE STRENGTHENS BONE to fight osteoporosis and builds density to resist breaks.
DANCE BUILDS LOTS OF MUSCLES unlike jogging or biking which mostly address one set of muscles, and simultaneously dance enhances balance and coordination.
DANCE MAKES US MORE CONFIDENT AT ANY AGE
Feeling your own power is like pockets full of self-esteem. We become less anxious about “joining in” and can remain more active, healthier and happier longer. Just ask any of the joyously aging folks at the Cullman Parks, Recreation & Sports Tourism Active Adult Center.
S.U.N.S. (Smile-Making, Uniting, Neighboring, Spellbinding) DANCE is like a FREE, all-you-can-savor “joy buffet.” SMILE-MAKING—Try arm swings like “The Monkey” and torso-strengthening with “The Twist.” UNITING—Could be “Strictly Ballroom” with a life partner or dancing with your dog. (Warning: Cats don’t always appreciate dance lessons.)
NEIGHBORING—How about Jazzercise or Zumba or country line dancing at your community center? Our neck of the woods has an annual fancy dress gala with a dance band that benefits the hospital. Some couples who attend that event enjoy practicing their couples dancing in the lead up to the enchanted evening. Lots of dance halls host evenings for charity.
SPELLBINDING—Let yourself get “in the flow” with whatever dance speaks particularly to you whether it’s 70s funk, 80s punk or just moving that badonkadonk junk in your trunk.
S.U.N.S. DANCE ODES FROM OTHERS
“Let us dance in the sun, wearing wildflowers in our hair.”—Susan Polis Schutz
“There are shortcuts to happiness, and dancing is one of them.”—Vicki Baum
“We should consider every day lost on which we have not danced at least once.”—Friedrich Nietzsche
“Dancing is like dreaming with your feet.”—Constanze
“To watch us dance is to hear our hearts speak.”—Hopi Indian saying
“Life is short and there will always be dirty dishes, so let’s dance.”—James Howe
“Life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass; it’s about learning to dance in the rain.”—Vivian Greene
S.U.N.S. DANCE LAFFS
In order to stay healthy during the pandemic, I’ve been dancing in public and damning people who don’t wear masks. I practice social diss dancing.
What do you call a dancing sheep? A baa-lerina. (That pun is for six year-old Molly, my delightful dance troupe pal in “Peter and The Wolf.”)
The inventor of the ballet skirt was struggling for a name for the frock. Finally, he put tu and tu together.
My Polish aunt was a ballerina. It was always awkward listening to her Pole dancing stories.
The workers at Goat Island Brewery do a little jig whenever they open a new keg. It’s a tap dance.
JOY-GIVERS CELEBRATING A BIRTHDAY THIS WEEK
July 30—Lisa Kudrow
July 31—Andy MacDonald (skateboard champion)
Aug. 1—Jerry Garcia
Aug. 2—James Baldwin
Aug. 3—Tony Bennett
Aug. 4—Louis Armstrong
Aug. 5—Neil Armstrong
HUMMUS AMONG US—MONTANA
Each week, “The Joyrontologist” shares a recipe saluting a healthy food produced in America. The delicious and nutritious collection is called “The S.U.N.S. Longevity Cookbook,” and highlights vitamin B-3 (niacin), which many gerontologists believe holds the promise for a long, healthy, joyful life.
- 2/3 cups dried chickpeas (garbanzos), picked over and rinsed, soaked overnight, and drained
- 3 cups water
- 2 cloves garlic
- 1 bay leaf
- 1/2 tsp. salt
- 1 tbsp. olive oil
- 3/4 cup, plus 2 tbsp. sliced green (spring) onion
- 2 tbsp. sherry vinegar
- 3 tbsp. chopped fresh cilantro (fresh coriander)
- 1 tsp. ground cumin
- In a large saucepan over high heat, combine the chickpeas, water, garlic cloves, bay leaf and 1/4 tsp. salt. Bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low, cover partially and simmer until the beans are very tender, 50 to 60 minutes. Drain and discard the bay leaf, reserving the garlic and 1/2 cup cooking liquid.
- In a blender or food processor, combine the chickpeas, cooked garlic, olive oil, 3/4 cup green onion, vinegar, cilantro, cumin and the remaining 1/4 tsp. salt. Process to puree. Add the reserved cooking liquid, 1 tbsp. at a time, until the mixture has the consistency of a thick spread.
- In a small serving bowl, stir together the chickpea mixture and the remaining 2 tbsp. green onion. Serve immediately or cover and refrigerate until ready to serve. Makes about 1 1/2 cups.
1,070 JOY-GIVING THINGS FROM MY FIRST 70 YEARS (continued)
687. “Gatoring” on the dance floor at the Tyler, Texas Country Club
688. Asking, “Shall we dance?”
689. Aping the city slickers doing “The Monkey” on “American Bandstand”
690. Dancing in the sand and beer suds at The Florabama
691. Slow dancing with a woman I didn’t know who whispered her husband was in the federal prison
692. “Dances with Wolves”
693. Dancing through the suds in the laundry room
694. “Walking Like an E-gyptian” and “King Tut”
695. Joining a Conga dance line through a Louisville hotel wine cellar
696. “Dirty Dancing,” the movie
697. Cruise ship ballroom and hula dancing
698. Doing “The Swim,” “The Mash Potato,” and any 1960s dance with a name
699. Ogling “Kitten with a Whip,” Ann-Margret
700. “Everybody’s dancing in the moonlight, everybody’s feeling warm and bright”
701. Dancing “The Virginia Reel” on the lawn at Jefferson’s “Monticello” in Charlottesville, VA
702. The “go-go” dance cages in The Boom Boom Room
703. Synchronized swimming like water dancing
704. The spellbinding tap dancing of the Broadway musical, “42nd Street”
705. “The Hypocrite Twist” with dance instructions: “First you, smile at their face, then you stab them in the back.”
706. “Dance with My Father,” sung by Luther Vandross
707. Dancing “The Hokey Pokey” on roller skates
HAPPY DANCING ON S.U.N.S. SHINE THIS LAST WEEK OF JULY!
Read previous columns at www.cullmantribune.com/tag/odes-to-joy-2022.