I was preparing to teach a contemporary dance class at Nuit Blanche, an all-night contemporary arts festival, a few weeks ago. My class would be outdoors from 10-10:45 pm and would, hopefully, attract people to participate. I had no idea what to expect. After all, it would be a chilly Saturday night and the streets would be teeming with thousands of people who could be drunk, stoned or really not into taking a dance class. Plus, they would likely be non-dancers, average Joes, so I had to prepare something uncomplicated and fun, something that would sustain their 45-minute interest.
I used M as my case study, my guinea pig. I figured if he could do it, anyone could. Truth is M is quite a good dancer. For a middle-aged white guy, he has surprising rhythm and coordination. Not that being 51 and white should negate one’s ability to groove. The fact is, M’s always loved Motown and rap, and definitely thinks he’s more “funky white boy” than white boy.
So Saturday morning, I tried to teach my funky white boy a few steps. Disaster. He couldn’t pick them up. He started improvising, doing things that didn’t look anything like the things I asked him to do. Then he enlightened me:
“Ever notice I don’t move my feet?”
“What?” I asked incredulously.
“When I dance, I don’t move my feet, it’s all up here.”
He proceeded to plant his feet, and groove with his upper body, bringing to mind the scene from Hitch, when Will Smith is trying to teach Kevin James how to dance, except Kevin manages to move his feet too.
I told him to just try walking side to side. Suddenly, his shoulders hunched and his entire torso stiffened, like he was encased in a body-cast. He began moving homolaterally (not as in Gay, but as in stepping with the same leg and arm, not in opposition). This is a bizarre phenomenon that I’ve noticed with non-dancers. They try too hard to do what they think it should be, rather than what it actually is. Counts and structure also screw people up. Hell, even some professional dancers detest structure and counting, so they gravitate towards this thing called contemporary dance!
Kidding, but not really.
When M dances without care, he’s completely relaxed. And though his repertoire may be limited, he’s developed some signature moves that I’ve even modified and incorporated into my professional classes. Since he promised to take my class later that night, I included a gesture I dubbed “The M,” to surprise him. It’s this thing he does after his football team scores a touchdown – arms spread wide open, scans stadium, nods head – classic M.
The Nuit Blanche class was awesome. Great turnout, lots of energy and enthusiasm, plus they picked up very quickly. M did the entire class and had a blast. My friend came by and was so impressed that M was doing my class she told him he was the best boyfriend ever! Clearly, that made his night. Every half hour or so afterwards, he declared, “I’m the best boyfriend ever!” I’m pretty sure he incorporated the “M” too.