Dancing has been my inspiration and my delight since early days when I watched my parents, oblivious, it seemed, to everything but the music and the movement—Waltz, Foxtrot—my father’s patent leather dancing slippers with the flat grosgrain bows flying across the polished floor. There’s a downside, as we know too well now, to these glimpses of parental glamor; can the child ever hope to equal it?
When I began to train as a ballroom dancer myself, it soon became clear that the hours and hours of practice, the expense, the monotony of the routine, and the endless time consumed by travel to competitions, hair appointments (often at six a.m. or earlier for those dancers like me on the low end of the totem pole) and strenuous make-up sessions took most of the freewheeling pleasure away.
But not entirely. Every now and then, a favorite tune, a smooth partner, and the swirl of a ballgown brought it back—all except the grosgrain bows which no longer exist—as far as I can tell.
And then there’s the vicarious delight of seeing dancing on the stage, never more exhilarating than in the production of Once on an Island now in New York.
Set in storm-ravaged Haiti, with a goat, chickens, beach trash, clotheslines and sand, the cast dances with the incredible resilience of people who have always woven music and movement into their ritual lives.
And it’s a love story that ends in realism—as love stories usually do—but without a woman flat on the stage in despair.
When the eternal ironies of racism keep the white man and the dark-skinned woman from marrying, she is drawn back into her family—from which such a marriage would, inevitably, have separated her.
Her final act is to climb a tall tree, resplendent in a red dress with a long train—the same dress she danced in, fiercely and triumphantly.
Voodoo inflected dance is remorseless, a far cry from the genteel twirling of white ballrooms, but the impulse is the same: to move against despair, with gestures that bring music into the dancer’s bloodstream, and even into the spectator’s.
Walking back to my hotel through the nighttime madness and splendor of the city, I felt the hope that dancing always brings, the hope of not just enduring despair but leaping over it.