Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Happiness IV: Keep moving

Mary Beth,  my sister, on the left

"Mary Beth is equally famous in Ann Arbor and the surrounding area because of her contagious, positive, dynamic personality. Among her circle of friends are musicians, artisans, professionals, and regular folks of every persuasion who have all enjoyed the best conversations and 
dancing of their lives
because they shared them with Mary Beth."



You'd be hard-pressed to find a picture when she was still. She moved more in her lifetime than I ever will, despite losing her to the errant driving of a self-described Christian missionary.

Mary Beth knew deeply that in many ways humans are fucked by our own behavior, something most of us deliberately ignore. She also knew she was mortal, and lived that way--mortality made her fearless.

Still, she danced.
And danced and danced and danced.


It's hard to be unhappy when you are dancing, even when you are aware of so much sadness.

She changed much of her part of the world--she worked nationally on environmental issues that affected all of us, and her work required all of her.

But all of her included dancing.

We tell our children to sit down. We train them to sit still for long periods of time.
We do this even though we now know that this is dangerous.

Mammals were never meant to be compliant.
Social, yes--doing things together is not the same thing as compliance.

Our bodies are meant to move, to twist and wiggle, to walk and gallop, to sprint and jump and, yes, to dance.
Labour is blossoming or dancing where
The body is not bruised to pleasure soul,
Nor beauty born out of its own despair,
Nor blear-eyed wisdom out of midnight oil.
O chestnut tree, great rooted blossomer,
Are you the leaf, the blossom or the bole?
O body swayed to music, O brightening glance,
How can we know the dancer from the dance?

W.B. Yeats, from "Among School Children"

The dominant culture does not trust dancing so much, no surprise since it does not trust our bodies, our mammalness, our humanness. Our culture needs bodies, of course, and when it did not have enough, it took them and tried to strip the human from them.

Many pale folk fear what they perceive as a monolithic black culture--though praise it for entertainment. This is no accident, and is only genetic in a cultural sense.

If white folk can't dance, it's because we, as a culture, have chosen not to, and do not trust our bodies/ourselves to be mammals humans again.



It's always OK for children to dance for joy. Same goes for you, dear reader.


12 comments:

Al Heath said...

I dare anyone to visit any pub in Dublin with live Irish folk music. The dance floors are well worn.

My (100%) Polish-American ex once told me about when an a family of African immigrants moved into her Grandmother's neighborhood of small farms in North Dakota. In a conversation comparing what amount of work was getting done (Midwestern Polish-Americans are very proud about being hard workers), the African woman seemed impressed at first, but then looked worried for her and asked "But when do you find time to dance?"

Kate T said...

How I wish that I had known your sister!
My children laugh at my "mom" dancing. But I keep on doing it.
And now I have to figure out how to dance in class tomorrow - there has been too much sitting down.
(Less than a week from the equinox. We finally have snow, but I know that spring is near.)
“Let us read, and let us dance; these two amusements will never do any harm to the world.”
(Or so said Voltaire In the best of all possible worlds)

doyle said...

Dear Al,

Thank you for the gentleness of your first sentence, but at the risk of sounding like yet another Oirish Am complaining that Irish had it bad, too--and the stories, of course, cannot compare--the Irish were not the dominant culture (in the power sense, anyway) in their own lands. Besides, we never did learn to use our arms properly in dance.

The folks that came to America early on, the ones who ultimately tamed the land, were a spectacular subset of humans that led to a genocide. (Europe had its own genocides by folks very similar in culture to those who landed here voluntarily.)

Anybody can dance. Many (I'd daresay most) cultures encourage it.
Not sure the waltz or the foxtrot count.

See you soon!
~Michael

doyle said...

Dear Kate,

Thanks for the words--Voltaire would have made for a lousy Puritan.

We are buried in snow covered in ice--the streets are clear now, but we did mi two days of school, and I sat far too long during both of them.

I plan to start the tomatoes and basil this evening. The equinox is coming! I keep track of the sunrise and sunsets daily on our classroom whiteboard. Amazing how much light swings throughout the year. Even more amazing is how few of us see it anymore.

~Michael

Kate T said...

Voltaire would have made a TERRIBLE puritan!
We didn't dance in class today, but we had fun with idioms. There was great joy in my classroom today (you could hear it in their voices) - the noise was productive and fun.
We are deep in 6" of snow, but I am sure there will be a thaw on the horizon.
My seventh graders know about the solstice, the equinox, and the sunrise because I just keep talking about them! (Equi= equal, nox = night - everything is word study.)

Madame Esme said...

Ah! But Michael, we must not forget that those earliest on this continent did not "tame" the land, they learned to dance and sway with it. A collaboration rather than a conquest!

I'm a friend of Leslie's. I live near and still travel to Ann Arbor frequently. I regrettably never knew your sister, but I do pass her park from time to time and feel a pang of loss for not having known her.

Madame Esme said...

Ah! But Michael, we must not forget that those earliest on this continent did not "tame" the land, they learned to dance and sway with it. A collaboration rather than a conquest!

I'm a friend of Leslie's. I live near and still travel to Ann Arbor frequently. I regrettably never knew your sister, but I do pass her park from time to time and feel a pang of loss for not having known her.

doyle said...

Dear Madame Esme,

Thank you for your words.

As for those earliest on the continent, you are right. I meant the early Europeans, but did nt make that clear--perhaps my Eurocentricity showing.

~Michael

Jenny said...

One of my favorite colleagues has decided we need, every week, Dance Party Friday. Whenever we see each other (and plenty of others) we dance a little. There's no music playing, outside of our heads, but the dancing is wonderful.

And, Michael, the waltz and the foxtrot are great fun!

Mary Ann Reilly said...

We need more people like your sister--both for her dancing and her advocacy for the earth. The Irish dance. But perhaps that doesn't count as we weren't always considered white.

doyle said...

Dear Jenny,

I love your DPF idea, and I agree the waltz and the foxtrot can be fun, but formal dancing darn near wrecked the relationship of my life. We're still together after 40 years, but foxtrot is off the dance card.

~Michael

doyle said...

Dear Mary Ann,

The Irish do indeed dance--but my suspicion is that we do not dance as well as we once did, at least not those of us too far removed from the island now.

(Another throw-away hypothesis: Our ability to dance in this culture is inversely proportional to our relative power.)

~Michael