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Worldwide Ace » How to Grow a Wallflower

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How to Grow a Wallflower

15 December, 2010 (13:03) | Social Commentary

“It’s a perfect storm,” I said, smirking. Dara scoffed. “It’s true!” I cried defensively. “It has to be the right time, the right mood, the right activity, the right music. It’s rare, but it happens.”

“A perfect storm… right, Ben.”

“Seriously,” I assured her. “I rarely dance, but I do dance. Rarely.”

When I was 16, I went to Israel for a month with a tour group. Given my inclination to decry religion, I chose to travel with a group centered around sports and sponsored by the Maccabia, the Jewish Olympics.

SIDE NOTE: The history of Hannukah is a strange one. Despite the heavy mythology associated with the holiday, the celebration actually centers around a small group of Jews knows as the Maccabis defeating the much larger Assyrian forces. Traditionally, it was celebrated by an Olympics in which the Jewish people showed their military might. The miracle of oil is supposedly a fabrication by the rabbis of the Roman era, as a show of military strength didn’t exactly sit well with the Jews’ Italian overlords. At least since the establishment of Israel, Jews there celebrate Hannukah not only with the traditional Hannukiahs and fried foods, but with the Maccabia (or Maccabi Games), reinventing the classic show of strength as an athletic endeavor.

I was one of eight boys on the basketball team, but we certainly weren’t the entirety of the group; a coed tennis squad, a girls volleyball team, a boys soccer team, and a girls basketball team were also party to our journey.

It surprisingly secular crew and that suited me perfectly. Rather than temple tours and ruin excavations, we spent our time at college training facilities, high school gymnasiums, and a wide-variety of hotels equipped with athletic facilities. We still climbed Masada, visited the wailing wall, and spent time wandering the desert with a Bedouin encampment, but we weren’t there simply as Jews; we were there as athletes.

One of the filler activities programmed for us was aerobics. Twice, they brought us into a mirrored dance studio, lined us up and threw an instructor at us that attempted to get us moving in sync with electronic club beats. For most of my compatriots, it seemed an easy and relatively mundane task. For me, however, it was a scarring experience.

I blame the mirrors.

Maybe, just maybe, if I hadn’t been able to see myself, I might have been more coordinated, concentrating on my movements instead of on my image. Maybe, if I hadn’t been able to see myself, I never would’ve known how gangly and uncoordinated I was. Maybe, if I hadn’t been able to see myself next to the others, I might not have realized just how much distance separated my abilities from theirs.

Dancing is about release, about moving to the music and losing yourself in the rhythm, and about creating a winding and intertwining beauty that compounds the sounds and movements into a sphere of joy and elation. In that moment, my feet fumbling and brow furrowed, I realized that not only did I not meld with the music and movement, I so muffed the motions and timing that I created a dissonance and discord that detracted from everyone else’s joy.

In essence, I broke the music.

I’ve been told that dancing should be fun.

It’s not as though I’m uncoordinated. I play sports at a high enough level and my hand-eye coordination is above average. I’m surprisingly agile and quick for a big guy and can turn it up a notch when I really want to. But when it comes to dancing, I feel lost. Where are my limbs going and why?

I’ve been told to simply feel the music and let it flow through me. Let my body move on its own. Perhaps my friends aren’t familiar with the laws of physics, but when I let my body move on its own, I fall over and stay down.

I might tap my toes or pound out a rhythm, but any time I feel music, I want to be playing it, not dancing to it. When I dance, I feel self-conscious and awkward, which is the exact opposite of how I feel when I’m having fun.

“I took nine years of dance,” explained Sunjay. “I did tap, ballroom, point ballet–“

“You did point ballet?” Tova interjected.


“Why did you stop?”

There was a pregnant silence as we awaited his answer.

“Because I’m fat.” The table erupted in laughter. “It’s all in the delivery,” Sunjay would later tell me. I completely agreed.

“I love ballet,” I said, my memories of watching ballet still fresh in my mind despite the years of distance, the beauty of Prokofiev’s Cinderella, both visual and musical, suddenly fraught with the image of Sunjay’s large frame deftly gliding into the vision.

“Yeah, but I’m a boy. Do you know the kind of shit a boy in point ballet gets?” He paused, an eyebrow arched, eliciting nods from around the table. After a moment he continued, “The point is that I know what I’m missing when I choose not to dance.”

I envied his excuse.

In middle school, my parents sent me off to take ballroom dance lessons. I wasn’t excited, but after quickly developing a crush on one of the girls in the class, I decided it was in my best interest not to complain.

I didn’t do poorly. When given a set of instructions and defined steps, dancing was easy.

During the school dances, with hip hop blaring, I found myself drawn to the edges, tucking my head low as I whispered to the other boys, and making frequent trips for unspiked punch just to have an excuse to move. There was no ballroom, no form to follow.

It was, to put it bluntly, movement without purpose.

To many, dancing has one or more purposes: fun, relaxation, exercise, feeling the music, the creation of beauty, etc. When others dance, all these things are possible. I love watching the ballet because of the beauty. I love seeing people dance at clubs because of the easy relaxation they exhibit.

When I dance, however, I’m not having fun. I’m lost and self-conscious. I’m unable to feel the music because I’m too busy trying to feel my own movements. I guess I could dance for exercise, but there are so many other ways to get a work out that are more enjoyable for me.

“You’re doing fine!” she yelled over the music, the lights pulsing and music blaring in time. “See, I told you it was fun!”

I wanted more than anything to agree with her, but it didn’t feel fun. I didn’t feel fine. I was faking it like a pro, but in the end it made no difference how good I looked. I was completely uncomfortable.

The music waned and the dance floor stopped writhing. We clapped for the DJ, though his musical selection had been questionable at best.

“I’m going to head back up,” I said as the next song sprung into action.


“Sorry, it’s just not my thing.”

I made my way up the stairs and sauntered over to my table, slipping into the chair next to Dara.

“See,” I exclaimed with a wry grin, “I danced.”

“Yep,” she scoffed, rolling her eyes.

“Only because a wedding is a perfect storm,” I clarified.

“Sure it is, Ben.”