It’s time to shake your tailfeather!

By Caitlin Kelly

Rock the Casbah
Rock the Casbah (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I am a dancing fool.

I take two dance classes (so far) a week, jazz and modern. This fall I’m adding a third one, studying something I’ve wanted to try for decades — choreography.

They’re my happiest three hours of the week — 90 exhausting minutes each. I come home sore, weary and happy.

There, we use a totally different vocabulary — spins, leaps, turns, pirouettes, chasses, contractions — without saying a word. It’s a blessed break from the tyranny of diction. There, our arms and legs do the talking, our heads and shoulders and neck twisting and bending, our wrists to the floor, our toes to the ceiling.

Two of my classmates are also self-employed writers, happy to flee our daily isolation, and the computer and our clients. In one recent class, our teacher had us take turns improvising (shriek) and the rest of us had to follow. It was both terrifying and exhiliarating to make it up on the fly and see what spontaneously erupted when we just…riff.

Not surprisingly, we all moved very differently.

Our teacher stopped to correct us: “Stop thinking! I can see you planning every movement. Keep going. Keep moving. Just…do it!”

I loved her demand that we just dance.

So much of our lives is dictated by others’ rhythms: rushing for the subway car or elevator before the doors slam shut; answering a call or email or text rightaway!; feeding a hungry baby over and over; walking the dog several times a day; having your keystrokes counted by an invisible boss.

We also need to dance to our own tunes.

I have friends addicted to the tango, to tap, to ballet, to swing. I’ve been dancing, and taking lessons, since I was young and hoped against hope to become (like many little girls) a ballerina.

But I didn’t have the skills or the right body shape. I still took five dance classes a week in my 20s, three ballet, two jazz.

dance (Photo credit: Dino ahmad ali)

Even as my left hip was destroyed by arthritis and steroids to heal the inflammation, I kept taking class, my movements shrinking each month as the pain increased. Now, with my new hip, my battements look like the real thing once more.

And even with classmates half or even a third my age, and 50 pounds lighter, I do just fine.

But it’s not just dance class. It’s dancing, anywhere, any time.

If there’s a Rolling Stones album nearby, clear the floor, kids! Same for Stevie Wonder. If it’s “My Sharona” or “Rock The Casbah”….move!

Michael Jackson performing The Way You Make Me...
Michael Jackson performing The Way You Make Me Feel in 1988 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Here’s an older list of great dance tunes, from The Telegraph.

And a newer list of 25 from Buzzfeed, with some of my favorites like “You Can’t Touch This” by MC Hammer or “Thriller” by Michael Jackson.

Here are some amazing images of dancers in everyday, non-performance or classroom spots — Pennsylvania Avenue, shoveling gravel in pointe shoes, exulting in a Barnes and Noble, a post-shopping battement.

Here’s a great recent post, chosen by Freshly Pressed, about the body as narrative:

before we learn how to use verbal language as our primary tool of conscious expression, we have our bodies and nothing else. Even after we have learned to use our words, we continue use our bodies as a means of expression until our last breath, even if we don’t know it. The human form is fundamental to our expression, and it will always tell a story, no matter how simple or complex, whether we want it to or not. So it is no wonder dancing predates almost every form of storytelling mankind has devised. It’s a part of who we are. It’s ingrained in our DNA, and yet so many men in the modern world deny it, brand it as feminine.

Do you love to dance?

What are some of your go-to tunes?

40 thoughts on “It’s time to shake your tailfeather!

  1. I am pretty sure I’m a wretched dancer. I decided when I was 18 that I really didn’t care. I don’t dance to entertain other people. If you want dance to entertain you, you should pay good money for it and watch someone with both training and talent. I dance because it feels good to me. I love it.

  2. Loved this, as usual, though I’m a terrible, terrible dancer, truly awful. I’m not good at singing, but when I do sing I almost always feel wonderful. With dancing, more often than not I almost always feel dreadful afterwards, because I’m just so rubbish at it. On a related topic, I’m no good at air-guitar either, though – and this is as true as can be – I’m quite a good air-harpsichordist. The wonders will never cease. He says, inching his way over to the record-player to put on some harpsichord music. Maybe I’ll be brave enough to actually dance to it. Perhaps, instead, I should put on some Clash and mosh on top of the couch…

    1. Air harpsichord. Of course!

      Jose and I went to a play this afternoon and on the way home in the car I sang 1950s Broadway songs like “It Takes a Woman.” I love singing and it make me almost as happy as dancing. Doing both simultaneously? Bliss!

      Yes. yes. yes. Clash on the couch. With the chooks… 🙂

  3. There is some music I can’t resist dancing to but after doing a bit of dancing at a Natalie McMaster concert last year, I was practically immobilized with back pain. Jigs are not good for the spine. So I have learned to dance with my upper body more. Unfortunately, my husband doesn’t like to dance and is not a good dancer except for swing which I cannot do anymore. So we’re screwed. Dance forever, Caitlin.

    1. Most men (white men, anyway) dance for shit. People expect Jose to be Mr. Suave on the dance floor, all salsa and tango — as if! I love him dearly for trying, (and he does) but it’s pretty D.C., 1986-ish…

      I miss my old BFF with whom I’d go dancing. I’d go out to clubs alone but dread being hit on (which might still happen….)

  4. Your post took me back to the days when I took ballet and was three steps behind everyone on the moves 🙂 Still, I’m sure I would make a great Flamenco dancer and often dream about it, shoes and all and the stances. This one singer from Cuba, named Beny More, is terrific to listen and dance to. It’s Spanish music with African elements mixed in, so good. Let me know if you give him a chance 🙂

    1. I second your recommendation of Beny More. I love listening to his music.

      I would like to try flamenco one day. Perhaps I will get a chance to dance it when I’m living in Spain next year. I enjoy salsa and Latin American dancing; I take classes once a week and at the end I always feel so energized!

      1. So cool — OK, going to seek Beny More.

        One of the most incredible memories of my time in Spain was seeing flamenco and hearing people spontaneously start to clap and sing as they walked down the street in Andalusia.

        So glad you know the joy of dance as well.

    2. I hear you…I used to get “No, Caitlin the OTHER left.” 🙂

      I still am a little fearful of doing all the floor work (as opposed to the hour warm-up) as my pirouettes and leaps are still a work-in-progress. Flamenco is amazing! The next dance form I want to learn is swing.

      1. haha Our poor teachers 🙂
        I’m glad things have gotten better for you there after the surgery and I’d be hesitant too. Swing is beautiful and the music is magical bringing back innocent romance. I can’t describe it right… but the music was happy and hopeful in the swing era.

  5. I’m a swing dancer. At the start if this year I auditioned for a performance troupe and got in! It’s just an amateur troupe bit it’s great. Got my first gig in 2 weeks from now. I love learning the aerials and that scary feeling of being thrown upside down and having to just trust the lead to get me back on my feet. I just jump, crunch my abs, and they do the rest. I see wallceilinglightfittingwallfloor in a blur and then suddenly there I am on my feet again, giggling like a kid 🙂

  6. As an Englishman moving to France, the change from an enclosed formal place to France where conversations are expansive with arms, shoulders and the swing of the body all used to expand the sense of the words, it took a while to get used to it. I am still less spread out than my French neighbours, but I have improved. 🙂

    Dancing however is still a risky business for me, I have a tendency to trample people.


  7. yes!! loved this post… i can relate to this euphoria! i once took a choreography class similar to this. my modern teacher would turn on music & ask us to improvise movements. those were always my favorite classes. // michael jackson is one of my favorites to just get crazy. when my sister & i were little, our favorites to free-style in our parent’s living room also included the pointer sisters, cindy lauper, & hall & oates. ah, nostaliga…

  8. I love to dance as well and was very fascinated by your passion for dance forms. Besides being a great form of exercise, it is a great way to cheer up. It’s impossible to be anxious when you are getting down on the floor to the beat! I have been taking bellydance classes for close to 2 years now. I love the grace, elegance and muscle control that it requires, not to mention discipline in practising the techniques! I’d love to take up other dance forms too, hopefully soon…

    1. How fun! And so true. It’s one reason I SO appreciate that my jazz class kicks off (literally) my week at 9:30 Monday morning, as facing yet another week working alone at home is difficult.

      I’ve noticed a definite change to some of my muscles as well. I showed off some isolations to my husband the other day. He was a little stunned by what you and I have learned to do.

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