It began with the telephone answering machine. If you liked, messages did not need to be returned. That was the beginning of what is often common now, not returning emails, messages or phone calls.
The practice of Ghosting, cutting off all contact with friends, even romantic partners without an explanation, is so much more efficient than dealing with the other person’s emotions.
Then the video camera was introduced, ushering in a huge cultural change. Instead of people being together at events and family functions, they were often filming, further removing the necessity to pay attention in present time to real surroundings. With the introduction of flip-phones, we could be in public with a prop to hide behind. No matter our location we could disconnect on the street, at the beach or even alone in nature. Now there are many more choices to keep us isolated from each other in the old flesh and blood way.
And then came Covid, more separation.
Desperate for a drop of connection in the ocean of isolation, I decided to learn how to waltz. Not only to dance, but to look in the eyes of my friend Nina Jirka, both of us moving together in unison with our mouths shut.
For 27 years we have been in a continuous discourse about politics, mostly on the same side, but even the slightest nuance of difference has created some close calls; indelicate arguments bordering on scary territory that could lead to the disintegration of a valuable friendship. She might not agree. We could even argue about whether-or-not we have approached such a dangerous precipice!
Last Sunday night in the Community Center of New Paltz, to the unbearable beauty of Klezmer waltzes, we were lifted beyond all the concerns of this world while we held each other, wordlessly, in an ancient embrace.
“Starting around the 13th century, waltz gradually evolved from a number of peasant dances and eventually from the fields it made its way into the ballroom. The weight of such a long history connected us to all the waltzers who ever were and ever will be rendering discord to fall away with each step.
Nina doesn’t believe in counting one, two, three. She believes the music “carries you like water in an aquarium” and the rhythm inhabits the entire being, so counting is unnatural. I, on the other hand, after choreographing hundreds of dances over 40 years, counted the music and asked my students to do the same. A difference of opinion or more accurately a different approach.
As happens in life when the noise of personality is set aside so something new can come to fruition, I learned much more than the dance steps. Most arguments could be diffused by defining differences of opinion as different approaches. Although this sounds very “kumbaya” at this time of planetary upheaval, it outdoes losing a valued friendship which only results in more isolation.
Nina is there every Sunday at five o’clock with her music and her good will. The class is open to anyone of any age or ability. It’s by donation only.
There is no pressure to return each week. It can happen only once or become a new way of life.
In the anti-apartheid Broadway play by Antol Fugard, one of the main themes is about dancing as a metaphor for melting away injustice and racism.
When Sam, a main character, is asked by a boy why he dances he says, “Ballroom dancing! It’s beautiful because that is what we want life to be like. But instead, we’re bumping into each other all the time. We don’t know the steps. People get hurt in all that bumping, and we’re sick and tired of it. Those are big collisions. They make for a lot of bruises. It’s been going on for too long. Are we never going to get it right? Learn to dance life like champions instead of always being just a bunch of beginners at it!”
We can begin to learn not to collide with each other right here in Ulster County, Sunday nights at 5 p.m. at the Community Center in New Paltz. May I have this dance?