I still remember the "dances" in the gym when I was a tenth-grader in school. They were excruciating affairs; Girls animatedly chattering on one side of that big room, boys squinting silently at the girls from the other. No dancing. No talking. Vague, compelling inner churnings and urges, but no action.
My mother and father loved to dance, but had no outlet. In our house, just outside a tiny western New York state town, they sometimes waltzed in the living room. I remember them as quite graceful together, doing their ballroom steps in the lamp-light.
As for me, I showed no evidence of dance-ability in my youth. I was shy, physically awkward after an early bout of polio, and very self-conscious.
Fast forward to 1968.
I was your friendly anchorman on the evening local television news. I reported all over the south, mostly following the swirling civil rights battles that flared in small and large towns alike. I interviewed Ralph Abernathy and Dr. Martin Luther King, and I watched history up close and personal.
Most of the civil rights demonstrations began with gatherings at the local black churches. This skinny white journalist from the north stood in churches packed shoulder-to-shoulder with brave black people, their faces hopefully and intensely alive, who traveled and sang gospel songs, knowing they would soon be beaten and jailed.
When they sang and walked, I walked with them. It was in those churches that I began to feel connected to my body in any form of movement-as-expression.
Then there was the 'counterculture' … free-love hippies, marijuana smokers, vastly talented musicians. They certainly knew how to move and dance.
I covered this culture, too, short-haired, in a coat and tie. I did not dance, but I watched. And I like to think it all finally penetrated my tight self, like WD-40 on a closed-up part. The black churches, the hippies, the incredible music of the times finally got into me.
I quit the TV job, and someone turned me on to marijuana. Well yes, I had to move then. And sing. And begin to learn about love. And I started to dance.
It was free-form rock and roll dancing. The music carried me away, and I found, to my delight, that I had a talent and love for dancing.
Fast forward to 1992 in Santa Fe, New Mexico.
I was a marriage counselor in private practice (No, I never went back to broadcasting), and I still loved to dance. In Santa Fe, that mean doing the country two-step, waltz and swing.
I had discovered that, unlike those times at the gym at high school, I was a pretty popular guy. It was not necessarily my sterling personality. I discovered this secret: If you are a man 35 or older who is clean, polite, employed and can dance, you are a rare and precious commodity, and the women will line up to dance with you. I danced at least three nights a week, and it was a blast.
And that was where I met my wife, Betsy. She was one of the women on those dance floors, and we danced for eight years before we ever had a date. I did not think she was my 'type'. The women who were my type kept turning out to be opponents on two feet, so I finally decided to date outside my type, and there was Betsy.
When we married, we were the last couple on the dance floor with the band at our reception, well after midnight, dancing and dancing.
We sometimes tell people the "eight years dancing before a date" story, and they all go, "Awww … that's so sweet!"
It's more than sweet. Dancing is very intimate, even when you are not involved or especially friendly off the dance floor. You must feel, expect and know each other on a wordless level to be good dancers together. You must be able to lead and follow, to blend, to move quickly or slowly, to synchronize. It's good training for a relationship.
Now that my knees are cranky, we do not dance so much. But we still love it, and when a great band comes to town, we go, and we dance at least one full set. We used to dance three sets, but one is very satisfying now.
So, my friends, get up and dance … good things will happen!