Friday, April 20, 2012

The Dangers of Dancing


It's a loaded topic for me, one that I've been meaning to muse about for some time. Well, tonight's as good a night as any. I just got in from a performance with Zivio, my Balkan folk dance team, at the University of Utah's multicultural night. And I've got a lot to think about.

I love to dance with Zivio. I love the peculiar, challenging rhythms of the music and the synergistic thrill of feeling everyone's feet in perfect time with your own. Step, stomp, cross, lift, touch, cross, grapevine, stomp, hop . . . it's such a tremendous feeling when your body goes on autopilot, and every muscle's like Yeah, we know this one. No sweat, so that while you tap out a dizzying sequence of steps you can be laughing and joking with the dancers around you. I love the display of precision and skill that is Balkan folk dancing. I love that it is inclusive and challenging and distinctive. I feel safe, and happy, and confident when I'm caught up in these dances, even on stage.

But not all dances are the same.

After our final number, the evening was wrapped up by a team of Brazilian drummers. Brazilian drums are incredible. They make statues and furniture try to get up and dance. And as the infectious rhythm worked into the brains of the crowd, they opened up the stage for an impromptu dance party. And this was where I started to panic.

Flashback! I am suddenly fourteen years old again, newly moved from a tiny town in southern Minnesota to the strange, huge metropolis of Salt Lake City. One of the girls in my church, in honor of her sixteenth birthday, throws a dance in the church building. (To this day, I don't know how she got away with that. Using the ward building for a private dance party? It is a thing I have never seen before or since.) Because I am now fourteen, and thus of age to go to dances, and because in this new environment I am expected to 'get out there and make friends' (Note: don't ever tell an introvert to do this), I show up.

It is dark, there is music, there are lots of people. The only person in attendance that I know at all is the birthday girl, who has little to no interest in me. So I hang at the side of the room, unsure of what to do, wishing I had someone to talk to.

Dances are about having fun, right? So I am probably expected to move into the middle of the room and dance in a fun manner. Dancing is supposed to be self-expression or something like that, right? It's a 'just have fun, enjoy yourself' kind of thing, right? 

I find a corner of the space and start to dance. The only dancing I've ever done is in the kitchen of my own home, with no training, no mirror, no steps . . . just moving because there is music. So I dance, the only way I know how. Just on my own, to have fun. Because dancing is about having fun.

Soon I am surrounded by other people, girls my own age, dancing just as I am. I feel my spirits lift. Someone is dancing with me! This is fun!

Then they stop. They point, and they laugh. They were never dancing with me . . . they were mimicking me in mockery.

I run away and hide. I have been hiding ever since.

So there I was, watching this Brazilian carnival unfurl on the stage, with my hips and my knees and my feet all itching to dance to that addictive, thrilling beat. But every instinct screamed at me to stay away. Isn't it strange how one night back when you were fourteen years old can stay with you so intensely? How a bunch of adolescent girls, who by now have probably grown up into kind, sensible adult women, can leave such permanent scars in a thoughtless moment of self-indulgent cruelty?

I don't go to dances anymore. Not even the traditional mid-session dance at Lac du Bois, which is the safest, most affirming place that I know. I don't go to singles dances, to university dances. I don't go clubbing. Because I'm afraid that I'll dance, and end up back where I was at age fourteen: as an object of communal derision. Folk dancing is fine. Line dancing is fine. Anything with set steps, with a right way and a wrong way where I have learned the right way, is wonderful. But just dancing, free-form, to move and celebrate and have fun . . . that is not for me. Dancing as a form of self-expression is only acceptable if the self you're expressing is acceptable. Gotta love those lessons you learn in high school.

I danced tonight. A little. I wish I hadn't. I wish I'd walked away and hid in a corner and cried. But if I had, I'd be just as miserable, wishing I could dance and not daring to. Nothing bad happened, but somehow that doesn't matter . . . those girls are still laughing at me for daring to think that I might be as worthy to dance as anybody else.

I wonder who they were, and where they are now. I don't doubt they've forgotten that there ever was such an event as Julie Durr's sixteenth birthday party. And yet here I am, twelve years later, still crippled with self-conscious terror whenever the music starts.

I wish adolescence weren't required to graduate into adulthood. I wish there were a way to test out of it. Or, barring that, I wish that it would just end. Why does it have to linger on, infecting the rest of my life? After all these years, why can I still not just dance? I want to so badly. I'm still so afraid.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

An Offbeat and a Gentleman

Now that's what I call gentlemanly behavior.

Pride and Prejudice

This picture just popped up on Facebook the other day, and it's caused me to ponder some things that have been bouncing around abstractly in my head for a while now.

These musings may betray my truly abiding ignorance of the male mind, or at least my abiding ignorance of modern courtship. But here's my thought process:

This woman decided to wear four-inch heels on this particular night. I assume she owns flats, but she weighed the pros and cons and decided that the heels were the way to go.

The heels proved difficult and/or painful to walk in. She knew this would happen, unless she's never worn heels before (in which case this is a pretty ambitious pair of starter shoes).

Seeing her discomfort, her date removed his sensible slip-on sneakers and graciously offered them to her.

Date walked home in his socks.

This is, indeed, a chivalrous move on the part of this man. (For those of you who are going to get after me for it, I'm using 'chivalrous' in the Victorian sense here, not the medieval sense. If he were chivalrous in the medieval sense, her shoes would be the least of her problems.) How very kind and self-sacrificing of him.

But what was she thinking?

This woman . . . a competent, modern adult woman . . . chose her shoes of her own free will. She knew the shoes came with consequences. Perhaps she thought, "It'll be okay. I'm tough. I can handle it." In which case, her date's insistence on proffering his own shoes implies: Those shoes were a stupid decision. You've gotten yourself into a situation you can't handle. You are not tough enough to cope with this, no matter what you think. And she has to walk home feeling like an idiot for 'making' him go shoe-less for her comfort.

Maybe what she was thinking was: "He's such a nice guy. I'm sure that, when my feet get tired, he'll lend me his shoes/call me a cab/carry me." This is just manipulative. She's going to make this guy walk all over town in his stocking feet, wrecking a pair of socks, because she wanted to wear cute heels? She expects this level of pampering from her date? In this situation, the question is: why is such a nice guy dating such a self-absorbed priss?

To be fair, maybe the walking wasn't part of the plan when she picked out her shoes. Perhaps one of those things happened . . . keys locked in a car or the Trax skipping their stop or some other act of God . . . that necessitated this unexpected cross-town hike. If this is what happened, then it is a cute picture. Yaay for chivalry!

So this guy could be thinking I saved the day! and actually did save the day, or could be thinking I saved the day! when the day was not in need of any saving, or could be thinking This is really uncomfortable, and probably dangerous . . . why didn't she wear something actually designed for walking in? I don't know which it is . . . I wasn't there, and I'm not a guy. Maybe a guy would never think such a thing. Beats me.

So what I might be getting at is that I'm uncomfortable with both ends of the 'chivalry' spectrum . . . men saving women who didn't particularly need or want saving, and women deliberately putting themselves in circumstances that will necessitate rescue.

Let's look at another example: luggage. I'm a pretty light packer. My honored parents taught me never to travel with more than I could carry for a block at a dead run. So when I was on my mission in Korea, I brought a superbackpack, a wheeled regular backpack, and my shoulder bag. A lot, but not too much for me to carry competently for a mile or more.

Elders were always trying to carry my bags, and it kind of annoyed me, particularly when I had to physically beat them off of my stuff. I assume their motivation was the desire to be gentlemanly, like the photo above, but somehow all I could think was "Hey, I know how much I can carry and I packed accordingly. I'm not dumb enough to overpack by accident, and I'm not manipulative enough to overpack on the assumption that I can make the elders carry all my crap." What made it worse was that I did know both kinds of sisters: ones who couldn't fathom reducing their luggage load, never considering that it would have to be carried, and ones who didn't bother to reduce the luggage load because 'that's what elders are for'."

Sometimes elders would ask, "Do you need a hand with any of that?" and I could say "No, thanks, I've got it," and everything was fine. They were polite and considerate, I was a competent adult, everybody was happy.

And on one memorable occasion, I did need help. A combination of transfers and moves meant that I and several other sisters had to hike a mile with more baggage than could reasonably be carried by four human beings. (For the record: I was carrying my own crap and then some, so this situation was not my fault. Point of pride.) And when the elders called to ask, "Hey, it's getting late, the bus will be leaving soon . . . do you sisters need some help?" I could tell them, "Yes, actually, we do need some help. Please come rescue us." And they did. They got to ride in and save the day, because that day genuinely needed saving. Nobody had to be condescending, and nobody had to be manipulative. And we all made it to the bus on time.

I know there are some things, like opening car doors and offering jackets, that are sort of expected of men in my culture. But I've never been comfortable with them. I can open my own doors, and if I wanted a jacket, I should have brought one. These gestures, however well-meant, convey to me either the implication that I'm not competent to handle my own life, or that I'm so high-maintenance that I expect others to do for me what I can do for myself. Neither assumption is particularly flattering. Does this make me a rabid crazy feminist? I don't know. Maybe.

But what about when I'm stranded by the side of the freeway in the middle of a cold snowy night because my parents' car has died? The man who crawls out of his nice warm bed to come get me and take me home is a gentleman indeed. (Thanks again, Brother Stokes.) What about when I have to move four big heavy wooden benches from Beaux Arts down to the plage? The man who asks "Need a hand?" and grabs the other end of the bench . . . not the whole thing, but the other end . . . is a man I'm pleased and proud to know. (All my Y-chromosome-bearing Lac du Bois colleagues . . . you know who you are.)

I'm sure I don't speak for Womankind at large with any of these musings . . . I just felt like I needed to articulate something that's been nagging at me, personally, for a long time. Maybe I'm misjudging my fellow women. Maybe I'm misjudging men. Maybe I'm way out of line, and am being way too touchy about common courtesy. But that's what went spiraling through my brain when that picture popped up on my Facebook feed.

Thanks for listening.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Waking Dreams and Sleep Depravation

So, to continue my adventures of what happened after I got trapped in the temple . . .

As folks may or may not know, a few weeks ago I was accepted into Brigham Young University's graduate program in English. Yes, I know English is a field for impractical starry-eyed artsy drain-on-society types and that I will never get a job and should have studied something real, like accounting. Because accounting is so much fun. The simple and brutal fact of the matter is that I liked studying English as an undergrad and want to do more, and that I'm very comfortable with my increased risk of starving to death in the gutter. When I do so, you'd better believe it will be poetic.

So here's me, jumping up and down with utterly unfeigned excitement because I get to write huge papers under looming deadlines and live like a hobo, just like back in the good old days, only more so. And this is when I receive a letter.

Dear You,

English grad students teach freshman writing around here.

You are an English grad student.


Writing Department

The word 'teach' is a loaded one for me. On the one hand, there has been for years in the very back of my mind the faint and tentative thought: Wow, English professors have awesome jobs. A life saturated with books. So cool. That's as far as that train of thought ever went, because I am a realist and know that the privilege of teaching post-secondary education is reserved for Really Smart People. Really Smart People like my dear friend Avram, who will be teaching at BYU starting this summer. Avram radiates smartness. When people walk past him, they miss a step because proximity to his smartness makes them too dumb to control their own feet for a second.

I, also, am pretty smart, but my smartness is more in the realm of 'I know more about Victorian literature than a healthy person probably should, and can correctly determine whether I should 'pull' or 'push' a door roughly 85% of the time.' This is not the caliber of Smartness expected of English professors.

But . . . they sent me an application. In the mail. With a STAMP.

I left the application sitting on my desk for about a week, playing the game of "Should I? Couldn't hurt . . . nah, not worth it . . . unless . . . of course not . . . but they sent . . . might as . . . hate resumes . . . already typed resume . . . ish . . ." And then, with the instant regret of tearing through a yellow light I really should have stopped for I picked up the phone and scheduled an interview.

This brings us back to the night I got trapped in the temple. My interview was the next day. Inasmuch as I am a cheapskate, I tend to bus down to BYU when my presence is required there. This is my master plan as a grad student: work in Salt Lake, study in Provo, sleep on buses, in hallways, and anywhere else I can reasonably expect to not be stepped on. I will probably not see my actual bed for periods of days at a stretch. Should be fun.*

So after my fiasco with the temple, I worked my full shift, walked out the door, and got on the train.

Managed the trip in about 2.5 hours, which is faster than last time. I arrived a little groggy. However, I still had about an hour and a half until my interview, and the English department is located on the fourth floor of the JFSB**, which is quiet and sunny and relatively unoccupied. So I found a cosy chair and a cosy footrest, put my coat over me for a blanket, set my phone alarm, and went to sleep.

This is probably not considered the classiest way to prep for a job interview.

(Also, when I start doing this regularly I'm going to rent a locker in the field house and keep an air mattress and sleeping bag in there. Also possibly a sign saying "BYU Grad Student: please do not call police.")

When my alarm went off, I woke up, packed up camp, adjourned to the restroom to throw my tangled hair into an instant professional-looking updo (a skill worth its weight in gold, let me tell you what) and apply chapstick in lieu of cosmetics. (Makeup wasn't going to survive this ordeal. I'd been up and going for fourteen hours already, no end in sight.) Then I slung my purse on my shoulder and walked into the Writing Department's office like I'd just driven down from my modest home in Alpine in my oh-it's-just-a-starter-car BMW.

No matter how this story turns out, I'm always going to be proud of that entrance.

Because there was still a part of me screaming "Don't you dare get this job! Do you have any idea how much work this would be? How are you going to handle two jobs and a class load? Are you insane?," my heart was not in my throat. Flubbing this interview would be a relief. So I waltzed in, cool as a cucumber, and proceeded to have what I think was the best job interview of my life to date.

Except where the bit that I told my interviewer that his mission had been destroyed.

"So you served in Korea?" asked the interviewer. "Which mission?"

"Korea Pusan," said I, proudly.

"Oh, really? That's great! I was in Seoul West."

"Oh, were you? How wonderful! I'm so sorry about your mission."


"Oh . . . um . . . the Seoul West mission . . . was discontinued. While I was out there. It was absorbed by Seoul and Daejeon. You didn't know?"

"Hadn't heard a thing."

Oh, OOPS. Sorry. And by the way, just in case no one's mentioned it, your cat was run over by a semi yesterday.

Other than THAT, it was a good interview.

And when it was over I waltzed out, got on the bus, came back to Salt Lake, changed clothes and went to Cub Scouts. Sleep is my 'It's Complicated' on Facebook.

So now we wait. If I don't get this job, then oh, thank goodness. I really bit off more than I could chew. What a relief.

And if I do get this job, then . . .

Hi. My name's RoseE. I teach at BYU.

*I was not allowed to pull this kind of stunt as an undergrad, when I was required to have an Official Housing Contract in Official Provo. But now I am a graduate student and will do exactly as I please, so ha.

**Pronounced 'Jifsbuh.' Or it should be.