I finally broke down and watched “Dancing With the Stars” on television last night.
Most of the contestants joined me, either “breaking it down” with surprisingly adept dance moves (especially for a former federal prosecutor, a former woman, and a former Courtney Cox husband), or “broken down” in humiliation after their gyrations failed to impress judges and a TV audience of millions.
I came away from the viewing with several observations:
- Dancing automatically looks better when you do it in front of fiery explosions
- Ron Artest will now forever be called “The Basketball Player Formerly Known as Ron Artest”
- Between hosting this show and “America’s Funniest Videos,” I don’t know how Tom Bergeron lives with himself
- When we’re finally able to fully map the inky depths of the world’s oceans, I bet we come across several previously undiscovered Kardashians, living off the heat of volcanic fumaroles
- It would be helpful if the “stars” could be outfitted in special garb that distinguishes them from the staff dancers they’ve been assigned as partners, because I can’t recognize either one as a celebrity (I suggest the “stars” either be painted entirely in gold, or be required to wear a crown)
- Hostess Brooke Burke Charvet is no less palatable just because she added a third name
- I have a headache
Oh, and one other thing: I’m glad I’ve never claimed to be a dancer.
Thus far, I’ve managed to make it through almost 58 years without significantly shaking a leg (unless you count my continuing bout with the neurological disorder Restless Leg Syndrome.) I have absolutely no grace and even less poise. My aptitude for rhythm is about what you’d expect from someone who’s last name is “whiteman.”
And yet I can still cite several examples from my personal history when I’ve attempted to “cut the rug” and somehow managed to avoid lacerating myself as well.
When I was about ten years old, I tried out for a local production of “The Sound of Music.” At the time, my actually-talented sister was involved in the South Florida entertainment scene, having made several local commercials, and taking voice, tap and acting lessons. Not wanting to leave me out, my parents arranged for me to join in the fun of show business.
The tryouts were held at a local college. I don’t remember much more than that. I assume I was up for the part of one of the von Trapp children who, in the story, learn about the glories of Bavarian music from their nanny nun in the run-up to World War II. I guess I’d be playing the fat, pimpled, sociopathic preteen, a part for which I had trained extensively.
I didn’t get the role, however, I did get my picture in the local newspaper, which was doing a feature on preparations for the musical. Somewhere deep in the photo archives of The Miami Herald, there’s a shot of young Davis leaping into the air, his arms extended high above his head. I’m not sure how else you’d describe the move, except to say it was strongly reminiscent of how fleeing Polish troops retreated before the onslaught of the German blitzkrieg.
My next opportunity to stomp about the room while music played in the background came during a junior high sock hop. A fear of dance combined with a fear of girls compounded this into a major trauma of my teen years. Somehow, I managed to convince one of the young ladies to stand across from me while I spasmodically seized to the tune of “Glad All Over” by the Dave Clark Five.
These were the early days of rock dancing, when steps like the Frug and the Watusi and the Monkey encouraged creativity. I had watched “American Bandstand” in preparation for the hop, but the moves shown by those kids were nothing I could imitate. Finally, I became comfortable with a dance called “The Hammer,” in which you raised and lowered alternating arms in a motion not unlike the milking of a cow. I lost my partner some time after the third song, when she suddenly left with an irresistible urge to consume dairy products.
By the time I got to college, dancing to music was considered passé, even bourgeois. Martha Vandella, only a few years before, had called for “Dancing in the Street,” despite the obvious dangers of mixing vehicular traffic with choreography.
“It doesn’t matter what you wear, just as long as you are there,” Martha claimed. “So come on every guy, grab a girl, everywhere around the world they’ll be dancing in the streets.”
In my circle of politically aware friends, dancing was a mindless way to waste energy that otherwise could be spent on the coming socialist revolution. We preferred to gather in darkened rooms, drifting in and out of a drug-fueled unconsciousness while listening to music. In a strict sense, it was still a form of artistic movement — we had to roll over periodically so we could vomit without choking.
My last exposure to dance as a means of personal expression came shortly before I was married. Beth and I were aiming to get back in touch with our German heritage by attending an Oktoberfest celebration and becoming ill from drinking too much beer.
While still only slightly inebriated, we were introduced to “The Chicken Dance.” We immediately fell in love with the quirky-but-simple steps: first you open and close your hands, like a squawking chicken; then you flap your elbows as if they were wings; then you shake your butt; then you clap your hands. It was so corny, so hokey, so trite, as to round the far bend and become ironically cool.
When we planned our own wedding and reception a few months later, we adopted a German theme for the celebration. My parents and my new in-laws opted for the more standard polka while our contemporaries absolutely adored the Chicken Dance. It was a great way to celebrate the beginning of our new life together, though our traditional first dance as Man and Wife — squawking and flapping and shaking our rumps — was not the charming memory my older relatives had hoped for.
Now, I’m closing in on 60 and can happily assume that my dancing days are finally over. I may someday face a forced “dance” at the retirement home, do-si-do-ing my wheelchair at the insistence of some sadistic physical therapist. After I die, I imagine my corpse might contort and shrivel in the flames of the crematorium. Then, of course, there’s the dancing on the head of a pin with my fellow angels in the afterlife.
Until then, the closest I plan on coming to the delight of dance is during my daily jog around the neighborhood. I swing my arms, I shuffle my feet, I barely avoid cars and I flee from dogs. The gestures are less than expressive, but I do work up a good sweat.
Which is more than you can say for the ever-delicate Nancy Grace.