By Gregory Keer
I’m battling a bad back, bone spurs in my heel, and a creaky knee. By looking at me, you’d never know I was the John Travolta of middle school. Really, I even took a disco class in 6th grade and got to “Night Fever” with Tracey Singer (hello, Tracey, wherever you are).
My dancing roots go back to those childhood Saturdays I spent watching TV, copying the guys on American Bandstand and learning to jump around the furniture like Gene Kelly in The Pirate.
I didn’t exactly broadcast my preoccupation to elementary-school buddies. When I did dance in public, at camp shows or religious school events, I got called names that rhymed with wussy and hag. You know, the usual “enlightened” young male reactions. With macho preservation in mind, I stuck to more socially acceptable activities of playing hardcore dodge ball and recounting episodes of Kung Fu.
As disco rose in time for adolescence, I found freedom in courting girls with spins and half-splits. I thought about taking formal lessons, but I once again became too insecure about the unmanliness of it. That and the fact my dancing skills plateaued and were best left for household performances like Tom Cruise’s Risky Business underwear scene.
Nothing can bring back the joy of my youthful hoofing experiences. Nothing, except watching my sons take pride in their own happy feet.
From the time our kids were little, my wife and I would put on music, particularly this multicultural CD called Dance Around the World, and bop about the house with the boys. They would leap onto the coffee table to wiggle with abandon and giggle at my dancing foolishness.
When Benjamin was in first grade, he and his friend Nicky took dance classes at school. It was those two little guys and eight girls — nice odds, though Benjamin was oblivious to that at the time. He loved the experience and dressed all hip-hop for his big performance, which featured his surprisingly coordinated footwork in two-person and larger ensemble dances.
After the show, the pretty teacher walked up to me and said, “Where did Benjamin get his groove?”
I tried to act cool and answered, “I used to have rhythm.”
But Benjamin fell into his own self-consciousness as he got older and stopped dancing. He even made fun of his younger brother, Jacob, who grooved like a combination of Usher and Baryshnikov during our house parties.
“You dance like a girl,” Benjamin said.
“No, he doesn’t, and you danced just like that not long ago,” I responded.
“Other people are going to make fun of him,” Benjamin replied.
“That’s their problem,” I said. “And it shouldn’t be yours.”
Despite the brotherly ridicule, Jacob joined a pop-dance class early last year. He learned everything from breakdancing to High School Musical-style numbers. As I watched Jacob count to himself to stay on the beat and dramatically slide across the floor during his class performance, I was flush with pride — and falling into the very trap for which I scolded Benjamin. I worried that Jacob looked a little feminine and would have to endure the mocking of other kids.
While I worked on rising above my concerns, I got help from an unexpected source.
“Mom, Dad, can I join the pop-dance class?” Benjamin said just before second semester last year.
“I thought you said dancing was girlie,” I answered.
“Well, it’s a lot of hip-hop, so it’s OK,” he offered. “And my friends are doing it, too.”
So, the wheel turned, and dancing became boy-approved in my house. For the year-end show, Jacob — dressed like an ‘80s rapper in a torn t-shirt and bandana — was an acrobatic marvel. Attired in his usual clothes, Benjamin was more subdued as he moved with his posse of friends.
This year, the boogie continues as Jacob takes pop-dance again, and Benjamin (now in middle school) joins pals at a studio to keep it going. My five year old, Ari, is influenced by them and loves to rock out to Kanye West, even in his car seat.
In a complicated world in which dance is given few outlets, especially with gender pressures, I’m happy to see my sons let the beat run its natural course. Kids know what to do with music. We adults need to help clear the social and physical space for them to strut their stuff.
Just so long as we don’t try to school them with our old Travolta moves. Trust me, I’m still limping from the last time I tried.