Tuesday, May 1, 2012

The Dance-off

“I’m going to make up score sheets for Daddy and me,” Spencer says. “We’ll judge you in different categories.”
I look at him and wonder if the preteen in him is enjoying the thought of judging his mother just a little too much. Should I be concerned about bias in his brother’s favor?
We are discussing the dance-off to be held this evening between eight-year-old, Murphy, and me. Murphy has finally challenged me after weeks of dinner conversations following his refusal to dance with me at his school’s Valentine’s Day Party. This was a serious blow because I love to shake my thing like nothing and nobody. Dance floors in several countries have cleared for me and my moves. I have heard my name chanted countless times as I shimmied, fake limboed, and swung my hips to the beat. I vary it up. Do a little swim thing, just for levity. But then I really bring it home with some homage-to-punk jumping in place and a few spins that were damned impressive thirty years ago –  but now they are mind-blowing feats of daring. I’m telling you, I am electric on that floor and there isn’t a soul in the universe who can deny it.
Except Murphy.
He claims that it’s embarrassing to look at me. He says that it’s not just because I’m his mom and, who dances with their mom anyway? It is because my moves are all over the place. He maintains that I need to calm down. Be smoother. At dinner last week, he played some funky ‘Earth Wind and Fire’ and showed me his dancing – swaying from foot to foot, tossing his long curls, and repeating a move I’ve seen a million times: a wave that travels from one hand to the other through his shoulders.
There’s a word for that.
Murphy finishes off his hotdog and brushes the crumbs from his hands all over the place. I try not to react. “I’m going to pick three different songs,” He says. “Score us on each one then add them up together at the end.” He gets up from his chair and walks over to the computer to fire up ITunes.
I don’t point out that by choosing all three songs by himself, he is tipping the dance-off in his favor. Because I’m feeling confident. Spencer’s possible bias aside, the sheer variety of my moves is undeniable.
I clear the table while my husband, Pat, and Spencer get to work on creating the score sheets. The sky outside the kitchen window is still light but I can see the moon already. A half-moon.
I think of Janis Joplin rocking, “Half Moon”, her body pumping out the lyrics, scratchy and real. Her whole self becoming the music. I’m not Pearl, but I know what made her move like that.
I close the door to the dishwasher and when I get back into the living room the judges, Pat and Spencer, are sitting on the couch with pages ripped from a spiral notebook in front of them. I lean over to grab one and see how they’ve broken down the categories.
“No peeking,” Spencer says, snatching the paper out of my hand.
Behind me, Murphy pushes chairs around to clear our stage.
“I just wanted to make sure that you included ‘originality’,” I say.
“Don’t worry,” says Pat. “The judging will be fair. We’ve covered all the bases.”
“Then why can’t I see the categories? The contestants should know how you are breaking everything down.”
“You just worry about the dancing,” says Pat.
I love him for this. This smile behind his business-like manner. He’s always been able to strike this dual chord of assuring the kids that he takes them seriously while simultaneously sharing the joke with me. How does he manage that?
“OK. First song,” says Murphy, standing in the middle of the cleared floor. “It’s ‘Midnight Cruiser’ by Steely Dan.”
He walks over to the ITunes.
“Wait,” I say. “Who starts? Do we each do half of a song? Or do we dance at the same time? Did anyone think this through?”
“Mom,” Murphy says, like ‘isn’t it obvious’, “I dance for a bit and then I throw it to you. Then you dance some and throw it back to me. We go back and forth like that until the end of the song.”
“OK,” I say, shrugging. “Sounds like someone is going to get more time. But if that’s the way you want to play it.”
“Decided.” Pat interjects. “Start the music.”
Murphy hits the tunes and gestures to me to lead off.
Felonious, my old friend
Step on in and let me shake your hand.
I slide into the middle of the floor, making sinewy arcs with my hands. Ballet-like and, I hope, a little surprising. The boys can sing to this song over and over again and I’m baffled by their singular attachment to it over others.
So glad that you’re here again for one more time
Let your madness run with mine
I isolate one shoulder and lift it up and down while looking out the window like I don’t even know my shoulder’s doing that. The lyrics are somewhat enigmatic, but as far as I can make out it’s about two middle-aged criminals who get together and cruise their old neighborhood. What is it about that scenario that resonates with the kids so much?
I do a quick spin and throw it to Murphy, who leaps into the middle of the floor and lands in a pose like an archer taking aim right at the judges. It’s the chorus.
Tell me where are you driving Midnight Cruiser
Where is your bounty of fortune and fame?
Spencer leans forward and I watch them both mouth the words as Murphy struts around, pointing at various parts of the room. That’s it. They’re both imagining themselves zooming around town in a car that they call the Midnight Cruiser. It’s a buddy song. And they’re the buddies.
Murphy does the wave thing with his arms and shoulders through the next verse and throws it back to me. I shimmy to the center in a move that everyone has seen before too. But I’m not thinking now. The music takes over and I let my pelvis swing to the beat as I raise my hands above my head and punch the air. We’re back to the chorus and we’re all singing.
Tell me where are you driving Midnight Cruiser
Where is your bounty of fortune and fame?
Murphy turns up the volume and I throw it back to him. He races into the middle, acts like he’s getting into an imaginary car, and starts driving toward the judges. We keep singing the chorus that repeats over and over, probably because Steely Dan ran out of narrative.
Tell me where are you driving Midnight Cruiser
Where is your bounty of fortune and fame?
I am another gentleman loser
Drive me to Harlem or somewhere the same
Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. Murphy and I toss the floor back and forth to each other. Strutting and swinging and jumping and twirling all the way to the end, when we collapse into chairs.
I am spent. My wet hair sticks to my neck and I am covered in a glistening layer of sweat. Looking, I imagine, like an old otter. I can’t believe we have two more songs to go. The judges mark up their papers. Spencer leans over, tries to look at Pat’s, and he covers it up.
“No looking at each other’s scores,” Pat says, while Murphy and I pant.
I sag into our high-backed chair. Flaps of leather and loose stuffing scratches the back of my knees. The seat split over a year ago. We seriously have to get this battered old thing to an upholsterer.
“All right,” announces Pat. “We’re done with that round. Moving on.”
I admonish myself for thinking about the chair. I can’t think like a mom right now. I’m in the middle of a competition here.
Murphy stands on a chair and announces that the next to selections are ‘Earth Wind and Fire’s’ “Gratitude” and “Thriller”.
“‘Thriller’?” I say to Murphy and he smiles.That song never ends. Is this a calculation on his part to make me forfeit from sheer exhaustion?
Contemplating this possibility gives me the fire I need to get back in the game and stay in. Although I do find out that I can no longer do high kicks at the end of ‘Gratitude’.
In the middle of ‘Thriller’ I pull a glut.
We end with a lightning round of moonwalking and fling ourselves into our respective chairs like boxers. Only no one plies us with water. Pat and Spencer grab their score sheets and leave us to eye each other with new respect. I really didn’t think that Murphy would change it up that much. And I bet that Murphy greatly underestimated my stamina.
“Nice work,” I say between gasps.
“You really shouldn’t try to kick, Mom,” he says.
“I didn’t know that until I tried,” I say.
“The rest was pretty good though,” he says.
I’m still breathing heavily when the judges return. They take their places on the couch and arrange themselves while Murphy and I wait.
“It was very close,” says Pat.
“Very,” says Spencer. “In fact…” He pauses for effect. “Mom only won by two points.”
I shoot a look over to Murphy. The thought occurring, maybe this win matters to him. He is smiling. Face a little soft.
It does matter. It does, I can tell.  And I want to give my victory back. It doesn’t matter to me, I want to say. I don’t care about winning. I only agreed to this silly dance-off because I wanted you to see me as me and not just your mother. I wanted you to tell me that I’m a dancing queen, not an embarrassment you had to dodge at your school’s Valentine’s Day party.
This, of course, is the truth of it. One that I haven’t admitted to myself. Until now, I thought that we were simply playing a dopey family game.
Murphy gets up from his chair and stands in front of me. “Congratulations, Mom,” he says, his voice catching. “Let’s do a rematch next week. I know I can win.”
I draw him to my chest.  
“I bet you can win, too,” I say. “I bet you can.”
I’ll take out the kicks and the fake limbo, I think, as I bury my face in his hair. I can give up some of it. That little bit.   
But I also know that there isn’t a person in this world that can stop my hips from doing what they do when that music rocks my soul.
I pull him onto my lap.
He may never love my moves. But I hope that he learns to love the woman who trusts the inner thrum of who she is.
A dancing queen and so much more.

1 comment:

  1. Love it! A woman who will never sacrifice her right to shake her booty is the best role model possible (their future girlfriends will thank you).