I Wanna Be a Soul Train Dancer



Okay so not quite that but I am taking dance classes–African dance class was the night before last.

From all appearances it seems that I’m the last Black girl without rhythm on this planet, but I have fun there.  I get very sweaty.  I feel accomplished by that since that’s one thing I’m doing like everyone else.  And by the fact that I can follow the choreography with everybody else.  Now don’t get it twisted; that is not to say my technique is particularly on point.  Sometimes my flailing arms and uncooperative legs do not do as my mind wills them—that is, in rhythm with the drum.  But I have fun. I really like dance.   

I think it’s because I grew up so clumsy and energetic (as if those should go together).  I used to tumble down every hill on my elementary school grounds, breaking many more pairs of glasses than my parents’ checkbooks care to recall.  I flipped across the living room floor, and swung from the bar in my bedroom closet.  My undershirts were always untucked and hanging like a too-long slip; my ponytails always askew.  All of this to my mother’s dismay.  And fodder for my sisters’ teasing. 

They called me Tumbelina, I tumbled so much.  Sometimes they sang “awk-awk” like a bird squall before the name.  It was an abbreviation for “awkward.”  I was a sloppy mess of a girl until adolescence.  Somehow those years found me more interested in neatness and seeking more grace and poise. What I still do not have in grace and poise I make up for in neatness.  Everything has it’s place.  I have perfected my handwriting to a script. 

But grace and poise?  Well, my knees continue to move toward each other as I walk and if I’m walking with purpose or anger, I look like I will trip myself!   Dance has taught me that an exclamation point belongs behind that sentence.  Not a colon and left parentheses.   It took me a while to do it though.

In school I rarely went to dances; in high school my sister’s friend marveled at my “smoothness;” that I was “cool” as I two stepped the night away.  I feared any  more would only reveal the secret behind the gold ballerina slippers and smoothed chignon of my high school years—my clumsiness.

College was a time in which like most who pass through that age, I became.  More gracefully than I imagined could ever be.  I cut my hair and pierced my nose and felt sure of myself and most importantly that that the self I was becoming was all my choice. And that was okay.  Even when it wasn’t so cute.  (Insert image of me in patent leather skirt and matching sneakers for a reference to the latter).   

I even began to dance.  In the first year I was part of my dorm’s hip hop dance team, practicing nightly in the basement for the party we would headline.   The next year I joined a liturgical dance troupe under the guise of “just seeing what it was like.”  By my senior year I had the nerve to study with majors in Modern Dance I.  The final exam was a self-choreographed piece.  My poem was the hit of the performance.  Mr. Bryce kindly suggested that my written performance critiques and this poetic explanation of my moves were evidence that I should pursue dance…journalism.  

I am certainly not a natural at this thing.  But belly dance is teaching me control and African Dance is teaching to me how to let that control look and feel spontaneous.  “It ain’t about moving around all wild!” Jerrell reminds us as he kicks kicks that I can only achieve while seated.  And Trish shimmies like Shakira while mine look more like running in place.

The whole experience of dance teaches me to be okay with myself.  It is an expression after all and no two people have the same things to say or the same way to say them. It teaches me to be bold with that, even if that’s a quiet girl two step.  I dance like I mean it even when my body moves in a different language.  It teaches me that the best way, indeed, to keep a secret is to tell everything.   My secret is out.  The quiet girl with the Soul Train dancer’s soul can’t hide behind her round afro, patted into a pristinely un-dented halo, or newly acquired nails (yes I bit them until adult braces forced me to stop) buffed to healthy pink.

I’m still a goofy 10 year old, y’all.  And I really kinda like her.  She’s sexy as a 24 count shimmy when she twirls her a mean hula hoop around her hips, welcomes dust and sweat like a summer street race or really good hmmmm ummm as she flips forward then back on the jungle gym.       

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