Dance like no one's watching.
Last night my husband and I went to see Savion Glover perform. He tapped and sang and laughed and brought us all to our feet with a performance the likes of which I had never seen in all my 39 and a half years. His sweat soaked through four shirts several towels that were strategically placed around the stage as he lead his band of four outstanding musicians by the movement of those magnificently jubilant feet. Whenever the audience applauded yet another astounding maneuver, their applause annoyed me because the sound of their hands drowned out the sound of his tapping. I remember being transfixed when he performed with Elmo on Sesame Street years ago. I went out soon thereafter and bought the Elmo’s greatest hits videotape so I could watch that skit over and over. Over the years as I have sorted through our old toys and videos and passed them along to needy friends, I have always kept that tape. With dreadlocs flying, sweating dripping, and my heart on the tips of his toes, Savion Glover absolutely blew me away.
After intermission, he introduced three extremely talented young people, the youngest of whom is only 15, who are literally and figuratively following in his footsteps. The three of them tapped in unison, took turns trying to out-dance each other, and followed Savion’s lead in several numbers. They looked out above our heads the whole time that they performed, swinging their arms, swiveling their hips, and soaking through their own shirts. As I watched them, I predicted that at least one of them will return to Charlotte’s Blumenthal theater 10 or 15 years from now headlining a show of her or his own. (Yes, there was a lone female tapper – and she was white, swinging her nearly waist-length blond hair all around the stage.) I wondered where they would perform when they left Charlotte. I wondered if they practice together daily, if they do any other kind of exercise, how long their road trips last, and if their parents travel with them. I wondered how they met Savion and what he thinks of their talent. Just as he inherited the mantle from Gregory Hines, he is now grooming others to continue wherever he leaves off.
I also wondered what it is in my life that makes me dance, sing, sweat, laugh, and ignore the whole world around me in order to do that one true thing. I felt certain that if no one in the city had been wise enough to buy tickets for last night’s show, he would have danced anyway. He spent more than half of the show dancing with his back to the audience; he was obeying that oft-quoted phrase - He was dancing like no one was watching. I was honored and grateful to be there to watch him do it. The communication he had with his band and with the other dancers was eerie in its silent and, for me, imperceptible accuracy. With whom do I have that kind of intimate communication? Who walks in such lock step with me? Who hears my taps for help, or my taps for energy, and dances with me? Who am I training to carry on when I am gone? Whose taps do I hear and by whose side do I dance and walk and leap for joy?
As I watched them dance in unison, I thought that there are times when we must stand and move together with a common enemy before us. There are times when there is great power and usefulness in marching to the same beat. The allied forces in World War II fought violence with violence in order to win the liberation of Europe from the Nazis. I would argue that often it is more difficult to fight violence with peace, but sometimes peace is the only hope. Martin Luther King Jr. exemplified the power in numbers when thousands stood together non-violently against the most virulent and violent forces of his day.
When the dancers challenged each other to be more creative, when they broke ranks and told their own tales with their taps, when they acknowledged that even when the music sounds the same to our ears, sometimes our bodies respond differently – when they danced their solos, my heart raced right along with theirs as I recalled the countless times I have felt unique responses to identical stimuli. My experience of homeschooling is vastly different than my children’s. I read Greek myths to them and can barely keep up with names and places; they hear the same stories and point out similarities between those myths and The Chronicles of Narnia. I am flabbergasted by their insights. My experience of my marriage is different than my husband’s. I remember conversations and activities that he cannot recall. He plans ahead and buys gifts and plans trips that I have no idea of until the last possible moment. My travels in Spain and Italy cannot be compared to those of friends and family who have seen the very same sights and architecture. There is glorious variety in our diverse experiences. There is great joy in sharing our tales of the road. When we finish our personal recounting of our life stories, when we have compared notes, agreed and disagreed, then we can join hands again, recalibrate our steps so that they fall as one, and march on.
And that young blond woman was certainly a surprise. Images of Sammy Davis Jr. and Gregory Hines and Savion Glover danced in my head; I never allowed for the possibility that there are white people who tap as well. Sure, there are tap classes at the Y and at local dance establishments. But I had never seen a woman tap so well, so fluidly, and so ferociously. In fact, I don’t recall ever seeing any female over the age of 7 or 8 with tap shoes on. Thanks to Ashley and Savion, my eyes have been opened to yet another of my prejudices.
So of course I wonder: what are the other preconceived notions I harbor in the recesses of my mind and heart that must be uncovered and dealt with? What do I assume about women, men, children, teenagers, people of my own race as well as others, gay people, Republicans, straight people, Southerners, Californians, Northerners, Europeans, Indians, and all the other countless groups of people I know and know about? Will I be willing to tap myself on the shoulder and point out my biases when they arise in the future? A pet peeve of mine is this: I simply cannot stand is when people tell me they aren’t prejudiced. “Me? I’m not a racist. I’m not prejudiced against anybody. I see everybody the same way.” Well, that’s a lie. We all have prejudices. We need only be placed in the right situation, and words we never thought we’d say fly past our lips in record speed. Thoughts we never thought we’d entertain scroll across the screen of our minds without so much as a spell check. It happened to me just last night. It happens to me on practically a daily basis. And it happens to everyone; some are more willing to admit it than others.
Savion Glover never knew I was in the audience. He didn’t come to Charlotte with the intention of teaching a black homeschooling mother a lesson in racism and sexism and creativity and relationships - among other things. But I will not soon forget the many lessons he taught me last night. From Happy Tappin’ with Elmo to Tappin’ Happy in Charlotte, Savion and I have come a long way.