On Friday nights, the shopping square in my neighborhood blocks off the streets, erects make-shift kiosks that sell food and drink, and hires a band to play to a packed house comprised largely of locals: parents and kids, young couples, a smattering of baby boomers and a few solitary souls. I go almost every Friday in the summer when the weather is good, opting to walk down late, toward the end of the night, with my dog, an Aussie of 14 years. Inevitably, he is a hit with the kids, who all want to pet his fluffy white fur and frequently ask, “But where is his tail?” I’ve lived in this area for 8 years and we’ve been doing the outdoor Friday night parties for about 6. A ritual. A looked-forward-to-event at the end of the week.
Last night we wandered over late to catch the last set of the band, a rock cover group who did a mean rendition of Purple Rain and Sweet Child of Mine. I coaxed my Aussie toward the front so we could see the group perform and do what I love best, watch people dance.
The dance floor is part patio, part parking lot that turns into happy mass of flailing arms and gyrating bodies. Kids bounce and pop all over the place, sometimes being swung about by their dads, sometimes hanging on to each other’s arms and squealing in delight. Other couples opt to slow dance or go old school, grasping hands and moving in their own rhythm, a fine balance of coming together then pushing apart; the rest elect to dance freestyle, letting their feet, bodies and hands locate a beat and move accordingly. I love to watch people dance, to see the variety and the joy and the freedom the music provides. Very, very rarely do I join in because everyone knows that Aussies have a poor sense of rhythm….But I am a bit of a voyeur and can sit and watch and marvel at the array of bodies moving to the music.
Last night I watched one couple who were dancing several feet from where I sat, sipping a glass of wine and feeding ice cubes to my dog. They were probably in there early 50s and so enraptured with one another, with the private conversation happening between their bodies, that they might have been alone in their house listening to the radio. They moved in and out, up and down, finding subtle rhythms in the singer’s adaptation of Axle Rose’s hit. I marveled at them, their obvious pleasure in the song, each other and the cool night under cloudy skies. To me, they looked ecstatic, an aura of pure joy enveloped them and as they danced, sometimes mouthing the words, they frequently gazed at each other, smiling. A secret look of contentment, a look reserved for those who know each other deeply.
Couples around them ebbed and flowed, kids bopped by, all finding their own pattern in the music and, forgetting about themselves for a few moments, they gave their feet and bodies over to the power of song. I felt such happiness watching, a group of probable strangers engaged in a collective experience, one of inhibitions and freedom.
Dancing is like no other experience in life. It doesn’t matter if you’re Fred Astaire or Brittney Spears…what matters is that you try or at least appreciate the art of music and the magical power it has to transcend the ordinary and create connections between people. Flapping arms. Swinging hips. Feet that jump back and forth and smiles that threaten to split faces. Who cares what you look like? This is a physical representation of joy, and even though I was on the sidelines, I felt it and experienced it and in my heart, I was in the middle of the crowd, spinning until I could no longer stand.