4th Grade and I am invited to a birthday party for some girl at her dad’s restaurant. As I recall, i did not really know the kid, but was blessed to be the recipient of a group invite to the whole class. Sort of a collateral guest, owing to the noblesse oblige of her folks. I got there; having been to few restaurants and even fewer dances, and was surprised by two things right away: 1.) it was a dance 2.) my classmates were all dancers.
When i say that they were all dancers, i mean to say that they were all dancing. To my fourth-grade eyes they all looked quite practiced. They were not uniformly teamed up with the opposite sex, or in pairs of girls and boys. There was much more of a clump of these kids all moving expertly to the rhythm of the Jackson Five and Osmond’s and that family group that had the TV show and the plaid bus.
I had dressed up for this event. My dad had bought a flower of some sort for me to bring to the kid whose folks owned the place. As i recall i handed it over to the parent/bouncer at as i walked in to great fanfare of condescending appreciation. Which condescension i was not above liking a great deal. I was feeling like James Bond as he walks into a casino: the only smart guy in the room.
I walked out into the middle of the pinball of dancing figures and did an amazing thing: i pretended to know how to dance. I was in a semi-darkened space (although it was midday outside), i was wearing new striped bellbottoms, i had just gotten accolades at the door for the suave purchase of some plastic covered corsage, and i felt like i was walking up to the baccarat table with high-dollar chips in my tuxedo.
I did the twist, and variations of… well, the twist, i then sorta jumped around a great deal like the Peanuts gang, and finally switched over to the kind of finger-snapping cool dance with hands raised. This looked less like West Side Story hipness, and more like the Archie’s singular dance move, but i was (in the voice of Cagney not DiCaprio) “on top of the world.” I walked out on to the floor of dancers and made them all think i was a dancer. It’s like going to a symphony and striding forward and taking the first chair away from the violinist, or maybe even like snatching the baton from the conductor. I pulled it off. At the end of the party, and i am not kidding, i was handed a first-place prize of being the best dancer on the floor.
In retrospect i have drawn some conclusions about the training each of my fellow dancers had received before our fateful dance competition. I also have some unfortunate suspicions about the amount of irony the parent/judges exhibited when deciding about the respective skills vs. unrestrained self-denying calisthenics.
Regardless, for that afternoon i was a dance god. Moving with unerring grace, and interpreting Sugar Sugar with the confidence of a Balanchine. Casting my glances at the vaguely aware young beauties, too taken by my own prowess to give them the attentions that they clearly desired.
Today I was thinking about my career teaching. It was one of pretense. I was ever pretending to be the teacher in the room. Only i knew that i was just one of the students. At this point in this entry i want to qualify what i am saying and say that there are experts and actual practitioners and we are not all really imposters. But I can’t. I keep seeing life as so short that i wonder if we aren’t all just pretending to dance.
I went through the biography of Churchill last week, and i was taken by in the span of several hundred pages he seemed like just the man for just the task, but you still have a sense that he was aware at all times who he really was underneath the Prime Minister role. He was always still the young soldier asking his mom for more money. He was the back-bencher wishing he had more pull. He was ever acting like PM and trying to convince everyone else he could dance.
I end with this. That if all we can do is pretend because it takes more than a hundred years to become the real thing, then this does open the door to all of us. We can each step out on under the colored lights and loosen our clip-on ties, cast restraint to the wind and become the masters of class for an hour or two at a time.