March 1, 2014
The prompt arrived in my inbox, as it does daily. “Write about the best dream you ever had,” it commanded.
I promptly got stuck. I’ve been getting stuck a lot lately.
I tried to think of my best dream. The first thoughts I had, though, were about all of my most bizarre dreams—from the fat old mall Spiderman, like the mall Santa but a lot weirder, who tried to make my little sister squeal (my earliest remembered dream); to the terror of the city on fire during the biblical Tribulation (my next earliest); to the dreams of theaters and labyrinthine hotel corridors and enormous bathrooms with every stall out of order or doorless (frequent, recurrent).
Those were not good dreams. Fascinating, perhaps, but not good.
I then remembered one rather sexy dream in which a shirtless man in black nylon leggings had my hands tied together with a thin nylon cord and…well, you can probably fill in where that seemed to be heading (it didn’t, actually).
Fascinating, except that I couldn’t decide if that was a best or worst dream. Besides, it would scandalize my mother if she ever read about it.
Discouraged, I figured I just wouldn’t write to this prompt. My brain disagreed, kept churning.
It wasn’t until later that same day, when my friend Lisa and I were talking about, of all things, Jimmy Fallon—his new gig on The Tonight Show, his adorability, and his merits—that something clicked. Lisa said, “I love a man who can dance.” And I had a flash.
I remembered my best dream ever, and it had been about dancing.
I grew up in a fundamentalist, conservative, Baptist home. We did not dance. (In youth group, we used to joke that sex leads to dancing. Yes, read that again.) In fact, one of my aunts’ favorite stories to tell about the child me is when my Aunt Christi, still in high school, was groovin’ and shakin’ to an unheard song in my grandparents’ living room, and my six-year-old response to her movement was an exuberant and self-righteous shriek: “Contro-oh-ol your body!”
Nonetheless, music is a powerful draw. I found, as I got older, that I couldn’t keep still. Even when the music was Bach or Vivaldi or Chopin, as it most often was, I couldn’t refrain from swaying or toe-tapping or head-bobbing. My sister and I used to dance out all of the musical scenarios on our It’s a Small World record (making it up as we went, having not gone on the ride until I was into double digits), but it wasn’t “really” dancing—just enacting.
Even though we weren’t allowed to listen to “rock and/or roll,” just let me overhear it in the mall or blaring from the obnoxious open-windowed car at the stoplight and just try to make me be still. It was catchy, that beat, that rhythm. (“Tool of the devil,” the blue-haired church ladies would proclaim.)
The first time I danced “for real” (a.k.a. ballroom style) was at my cousin Chrissy’s wedding reception. I was in high school at the time. I bided my time and watched carefully as all of the mature ladies took their turns dancing with the groom; I watched how they held their hands, how close they stood, how they moved their feet, their hips. When I felt ready and there wasn’t a line anymore, I stepped in to take my turn, mimicking what I had observed, positioning my hands, my feet following his lead, hips swishing. It was fun. I felt so grown up. It ended too soon.
Fast forward to sometime after college—the only dancing I’d done in between was to dark and moody Christian rock after bedtime on low volume on my bedroom boombox, and at alcohol-loosened college house parties, moving emotively to Enigma and the Divinyls with the living room lights off—quite some time later, when the dream presented itself unexpectedly. I hadn’t been watching specific movies or having any conversations that would have fueled it, the usual explanation for my not-as-random-as-they-seem dreams. This one came unbidden and uninformed, unsuggested, apropos of nothing.
It was a large ballroom with swirling couples and lights and music acknowledged but not really heard. I was standing along the edge, the periphery, appropriately dressed, aware as always of my own dancing ineptitude, when suddenly Fred Astaire—the man himself, dressed in traditional trim black tux, face serene, not serious but not quite smiling—appeared before me, almost out of nowhere, and gently grabbed me, pulled me to him with command, and there was no time to react, and I surrendered without a thought, and away we went, cutting a swath through the crowd, never in any danger of coming too near any other couple. This was not a thoughtful or self-conscious activity; it was an athletic event, though neither of us broke a sweat or seemed to exert ourselves at all. We covered every corner of the floor. We spun. We glided. We swirled. We flew. This was not dancing—it was flying. Oh, this was dancing…oh my god.
The dance (along with the dream) was over way too soon. I don’t remember being deposited back along the wall. I just remember my heart racing and feeling breathless and exhilarated.
I didn’t even have to write down that dream to remember it.
Beyond grooving along to good songs while sitting in my car or desk chair, or twirling with my once-patient kitten, I haven’t danced since. How does one ever compare to floating with Fred Astaire?
Why did he pick me? Who can say why things in dreams happen? All I know is that, even on my best days, in my best shape, I have never moved so fluidly, as if propelled by a potent engine; the movement was so effortless and powerful, I could never have pulled it off on my own. But when the benevolent skilled one took my neophyte hand, I could fly.