Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Got Rhythm?

I'm not sure how to express what I'm trying to say in a way that is entirely politically correct, so I'll dispense with PC considerations for the moment and just say it. My brother and I dance much the way black people do. It's a bit odd that we both do, as we're obviously not identical twins. My dad says maybe  Irish genes can match up perfectly with  French Canadian genes to produce this ability. My mom says she has no idea from where it came.

Our parents first noticed it when we were very young. Little kids sometimes spontaneously dance to music. We were our parents'  first children to make it past the neonate stage; they say they thought little of it when they saw us dancing. A black colleague of my dad's saw us once and observed that it was a bit unusual.

I participated in gymnastics from the time I did the "Mommy and Me" classes as an almost-two-year-old until I was nearly eleven. No one really talked to me about it, but my mom told me that people who saw me performing my gymnastics routines used to assume out loud that I was bi-racial, presumably because I had wildly curly hair and rhythm. It doesn't really show in my profile photo, but my lips were and are are at least moderately full. My skin is fair, but when I was little I tanned to a reasonably dark shade in the summer. On the balance beam, and in floor exercises even more so,  the natural ease of my movements led spectators to assume  I had a racial advantage.

Matthew, on the other hand, didn't  have overly curly hair. He just had rhythm. No one, to the best of my knowledge, ever assumed he was bi-racial. He looked and still looks like a northern European. (He strongly resembles our French Canadian father.) When we were tiny, we would get down to whatever music was playing on the stereo. My parents neither encouraged nor discouraged it. We just danced.

When Matthew and I were in second grade, our teacher noticed our unusual ability and entered us in the school talent show. We did some sort of Ike and Tina Turner impersonation that I suspect was incredibly culturally insensitive, but it wasn't our fault; we were just doing as we were told. I can remember the audience, including many parents, laughing hysterically at us. I certainly hope there were no black people present to be offended.

The concept of "having rhythm" is a bit vague and not terribly well understood. It's really not totally about rhythm, as a classically trained musician certainly understands rhythm, beat, and related concepts, yet often does not dance innately in the way that my brother and I do. It's not even necessarily about physical coordination either, as athletes who are also musicians don't necessarily possess innate skill at dancing. I've read research offering different theories as to what enables a person to dance in the natural and flowing way that many but certainly  not all black people dance. No real consensus exists, but several researchers hypothesize that it happens at the subconscious level of brain activity and may be related to the brain's ability to disconnect from the movements the body makes. This makes sense in regard to my brother, as his brain very often seems to be disconnected.

I didn't go to lots of high school dances, but when I did go, I spent much of my time there dancing with African-American boys. I noticed that my brother danced mostly with African -American girls. (He said that they asked him to dance.) When I attended a Utah prom for the past two years, two black male students were present. When I danced with the others, I mostly danced the way they did as I did not wish to attract undue attention.  When one of the two African-American males present asked me to dance, I danced a little more in the way that is natural to me because he was dancing that way as well. For the rest of the dance (except for the very last dance, which I danced with my date) I alternated between the two African-American boys and a couple of Tongan boys, who also typically "have rhythm" more than do the average Caucasians. Other prom attendees gawked a bit. The prom was much the same the next year except that the other "rhythm people" and I  found each other more quickly because we already knew each other from the previous year.

My paternal grandparents and many relatives live in Utah -- some very near the school whose prom I attended. The Utah County rumor mill was operating in full force on prom night. Before long after my first Utah prom, my father received a telephone call from his father. My grandfather dispensed with pleasantries. He got right to the point of  letting my father know that I had disgraced him by dancing like a black person. He didn't say "black person" when he conveyed his message to my father. My dad hung up on him because there are words he refuses to hear either on the phone or in person. This spring the scene more or less repeated itself.

What is so humiliating or scandalous about one's granddaughter dancing in a particularly rhythmic manner? I didn't grope myself or make indecent gestures or body contact with my dancing partners. I don't do that sort of thing anyway, but anyone at the dance who did have inappropriate contact was asked to leave. I wasn't even warned, because nothing I did was in any way inappropriate. My only regret is that my brother was not also in attendance at the prom. Then there could have been two of us disgracing my grandfather.

P. S. I've never seen Mitt Romney dance, but I doubt that he dances in the manner in which my brother and I dance. He's probably more into the fox trot or some similarly antiquated move.

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