When 17-year-old Bobby Freeman wrote and recorded his 1958 hit song “Do You Want to Dance,” listeners everywhere answered with a resounding “yes!”
The rollicking tune, released on the now-defunct Josie Records label, skyrocketed to Nos. 5 and 2 respectively on Billboard’s Pop and R&B charts. Over the years, scores of musicians have recorded the song, including the Mamas and the Papas, the Beach Boys, Bette Midler, even John Lennon and the Ramones. Covers of this enduring hit have been released in multiple languages and genres as recently as last year.
I suspect that when Freeman penned the song, he had no idea it would become so popular — but how could it not? After all, deep down, don’t we all want to dance?
I certainly do, never mind that I haven’t had an enthusiastic partner since the seventh-grade snowball dance (thank you, Brett Cheuvront). Years of marriage to a non-dancer have not dampened my enthusiasm for this very physical art form, however — quite the contrary: my husband’s preference for lying on the couch with eyes closed and headphones on means more floor space for me.
While the goings-on at Rock the Block and other traditional dance venues are what generally come to mind when we think of dancing, these events feature just one manifestation of this versatile form of self-expression. For me, dancing is a much more private and spontaneous endeavor: partners — even music — are optional.
In my house, any number of internal or external cues can set off a dancing spree, which may well explain my husband’s predilection for close-eyed inertia. Fortunately for him, these incidents are brief; my stamina isn’t what it used to be. The usual sequence of events goes like this: I feel, think, or hear something that triggers an impulse to leap to my feet and express myself kinetically. Then, I do it. It’s really that simple, and it’s oh-so-much fun.
Being innately oriented toward movement, I suspect that we all have these impulses, but often dismiss them as childish or inappropriate. Why do we do that?
Jumping for joy, dancing a jig, or gently rocking away our blues isn’t kid stuff — it’s a form of self-care. From birth to death, we are naturally rhythmic beings with percussive hearts and chests that rise and fall with every breath. So what’s driving these self-sabotaging inhibitions that make us sit on our hands and wait for such a natural, healthy urge to pass?
Have we forgotten how to dance?
Growing up in the 1960s and ‘70s, I was very fortunate to have been dispatched early on to Winchester’s premier doyennes of dance: the regal Olivia Bogard and her elegant protégé “Miss Fara” Fox (now Fara Tyree).
With the patience of Job and the energy of Bob Fosse, these two lithe ladies taught me the wordless language of dance. Thanks to them, I shuffle-ball-changed, pranced, and plied my way through puberty, sequins sparkling and fringe flying.
Tap, jazz, and ballet moves require no verbalizations, but you have to feel something to dance. The prescribed steps, like words in a dictionary, are yours to infuse with whatever emotion and energy you choose. (If you’ve ever attended a children’s dance recital, you’ve witnessed this idiosyncrasy en masse.)
What causes some of us to outgrow dancing while others gleefully hoof their way into old age?
My guess is that dancing, like so many other creative endeavors, isn’t particularly encouraged past a certain age — unless, of course, someone tells us we’re good at it. What a shame this is, because dancing is intrinsically rewarding, no matter what it looks like to others. (Case in point: Elaine’s ecstatic, quirky dance in the “The Little Kicks” episode of Seinfeld.)
As Valentine’s Day approaches, I hope you’ll celebrate with a heartfelt dance. Whether you’re a lifelong dancer or it’s been a while, try letting yourself go and see where your body leads you. I’ve even got some music to help you get started. Of all the renditions of “Do You Want to Dance,” my hands-down favorite is Bette Midler’s sultry slow jam from her 1972 debut album, The Divine Miss M.
Just click on the link below, close your eyes, and surrender. I hope you find it moving.