By Dyana Herron
There’s a game I play each day, where I try to pinpoint the sentence that comes out of my mouth that even just that morning I could not have imagined I would say.
It’s a fun game. You should try it.
Recently the sentence was this: “Everyone likes to put their face in that dragon beard.”
As surprised as I would have been in the morning to know I would say this by evening, I would have been more surprised to find out what I would be doing later that night: dancing in a near-empty club, surrounded by a handful of strangers, not really caring what they thought about my flailing limbs and sweaty t-shirt.
The club was a small Seattle venue called Chop Suey, and a friend of mine from high school who now lives in Baltimore was playing there with his band. I’d never been in Chop Suey, and it was decorated much as one might expect: deep red walls, Buddha statues behind the bar, paper lanterns, and best of all, suspended from the ceiling, a gigantic gold dragon with glowing red eyes and a low-hanging gray beard.
Everyone liked to put their face in that dragon beard.
“Everyone” on this night consisted of the seven or eight other people in the venue, five of whom turned out to be the opening act, and one of whom turned out to be the sound technician. The show was on a Monday night and a better-known group was playing at a larger joint down the street, so the room stayed almost empty.
I felt bad for the first performers especially, but once they took the stage and played as hard as if the place had been packed, I couldn’t help but be moved by their enthusiasm. By the time my friend’s band took the stage I was literally moving, dancing, along with others in the small crowd.
Dancing wasn’t a part of my culture growing up. Though the Baptists at my church would “run the aisles” in some services, dancing was something our more charismatic Pentecostals neighbors did, along with speaking in tongues and anointing one another with oil. My church community was much more comfortable expressing sorrow than joy. They believed the correct posture in which to approach the throne of God was bowed to the ground, not jumping or spinning.
We didn’t dance at weddings. I didn’t even dance at school dances. At my prom I was spared by being class president, which carried the responsibility of pointing the blinking eye of a camcorder at my more footloose classmates, procuring footage for the senior video.
At college, dancing was forbidden. If a club or social group gave a dance performance, it was officially titled “creative movement” on any promotional materials.
I can’t remember exactly when this all changed for me. It may have been when my best friend Jenny said, “Dance with me!” and dragged me onto the dance floor the night before she moved to Japan. It was her goodbye party and everyone was waving miniature American flags like rhythmic gymnasts and I was so sad.
It just seemed like the right thing to do, like giving my sadness the finger.
Or maybe it was in grad school, on the final night of one of our MFA residencies. After ten days of workshops and craft lectures, my classmates and I were exhausted and ready to return to our families, but also reluctant to leave one another. Even tired of talking and writing, we’d turn the music up, loud. And move.
Last week at the end of the MFA residency in Santa Fe, which ended the same night as the Glen Workshop, this happened again. The dance mix may or may not have been provided by a certain Program Director / Journal Publisher, who may or may not have executed his own dance moves, inspired by Annie Dillard and Gerard Manley Hopkins.
And the students, even battling fatigue and needing to pack before their early morning flights, well, they raised the roof.
Dancing of this kind requires a surrender to joy, a release of ego, and the courage to walk into the dark and let loose. Who can say that when God moved upon the face of the waters, this wasn’t a dance too, the ultimate “creative movement”? Maybe God did a moonwalk or soft-shoe across the face of that water, a holy shuffle and jive.