Telluride Daily Planet, Sunday, January 17, 2016
We’re at a dance party.
The DJ is talented, the people have come — even on a school night — and the birthday girl is happy. At 65 years old, she has a certain amount of defiance stored up, especially when you factor in a family escape from East Germany at a young age, a penchant for rock and roll, a love of leather, camo and militia boots and that inscrutable Germanic black-and-white-and-primary-color view of things. That’s reality, you know? Cut to the chase. Tell it like it is. Get in someone’s face if it will make a difference.
At some point, the mic is in her hand and she’s giving a spiel. How she never saw Jimi Hendrix (the great regret of her life), but how she managed to see Queen twice (while no one in the audience has ever seen them at all). How EXPLETIVE happy she is to see everyone at her party; how when they turn 65 maybe they will find it in themselves to EXPLETIVE think of her because chances are at that point she will have been dead a very long time….
That now, however, it is time to EXPLETIVE dance.
Yeah. She pauses. EXPLETIVE, yeah!
One fist shoots up in the air. It’s one of those movements I’ve never been able to pull off — that I might have to try out in the privacy of a bathroom or something before liberating it. More likely, it is one of those body-words better left unarticulated by me. She, on the other hand, can pull it off, no sweat, because it comes naturally, like a sneeze. It’s one of her go-to physical articulations. You know, you can feel the essence of the fist up even when someone else does it; it plays sort of like a micro-anthem, a bird getting out of a cage. She works the crowd to get their fists up.
I’ve been to a lot of dance parties with this woman. Some with three people and some with a hundred. I’ve danced to the Stones, and Prince, and the BeeGees and Ricky Nelson, and Pearl Jam and French rockers from the ‘60s. I’ve done line dances, gotten on tables, done the twist, shimmied, bumped. Gone in costume (many of them from her closet), gone in jeans, even pajamas. We’ve danced with our daughters who grew up together — right up until the point that they started rolling their eyes at us. Then we kept on dancing anyway.
It’s gotten hot. The mostly middle-aged crowd, already dripping with sweat, is really beginning to let it rip. You got your people shakin’ it, your people grindin’ it. You got rockers slamming into each other. Your couples occasionally swinging too hard and twirling too much. You got your lone free spirits expressing grandly; your ladies-with-husbands-at-home pulling it off, inner fists up. There’s an audience participation version of “Bohemian Rhapsody,” a big group in a huddle singing every word as they stare into the mirror of each others’ faces. There’s a make-way-for-dancers version of Night Fever. Hips instead of lips get looser.
Birthday girl, in her black jeans and black top and punky shag-spiky black wig, is moving through the crowd to be everybody’s partner. In “Moves Like Jagger,” she’s got her hands behind her back in chicken wings, homage to her man, Mick.
What a blessed thing to see 22-year-olds and 70-year-olds and everyone in between on a dance floor! I feel happy to be dancing, especially happy to have a husband who loves to dance. But dancing has always given me this gift. I feel happy in fifth grade in ballet class. Happy in sixth moving onto Michael Jackson. I feel happy in college in a ballroom dance marathon, happy in New York learning Martha Graham technique with zero prior training. I feel happy in ‘80s aerobics classes, happy in Zumba, happy back in my own living room cranking the Motown and funk. Dancing is one of the few things that roots me in the present moment with instant and unequivocal joy.
So Baerbel, happy birthday!
I wish you many more opportunities for fist-up, smile-on, Jagger-moves dancing. And from the bottom of my heart, I thank you for all those moments together on the dance floor — from the tiny patches of cleared-out living rooms to the bigger stretches of scuffed up, drink-sticky parquet. Thanks for loving and worshipping music’s ability to raise blood temperature and bring joy, and for creating a space for me (and lots of other people in your life) to turn up the volume, peel off a layer or two, and get real. [Insert fist-up here]