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WOSTER: Thoughts on the merits of being a dancer

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opinion Mitchell, 57301
Mitchell South Dakota 120 South Lawler 57301

If I had it all to do over again, I think I'd try to learn how to dance at powwows and feel comfortable doing it.

No, I'm not native. I have a daughter-in-law and four granddaughters who are enrolled, but I'm Irish and Bohemian. I'm not much of a dancer, either. Like a fair number of people (mostly guys, casual observation suggests, but probably certain number of women, too) I'm not very comfortable in a public setting that involves any sort of dancing, whether ballroom, jitterbug or powwow. I'm just not that good at it, and it shows.

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My friend Larry Johnson, who spent his entire career as a band teacher and who sings with a lusty, confident bass voice, always told me that the worst mistake a singer can make is being timid. It only compounds any, uh, weaknesses in the voice and emphasizes any lack of training. When we were in the dance band together, we played a couple of songs that required me to really reach for a high note. Larry said the only way to pull it off was to attack the note, holding nothing back. He was right. I never sounded great, but I sounded better — or less bad — when I went after it with gusto.

I'm thinking the same is probably true for dancing. Even the least accomplished of dancers probably doesn't look quite so bad if he or she attacks the floor and seems to be having fun or showing confidence. Hesitating and holding back can only destroy whatever rhythm the dancer has.

Why am I talking about this? Because of my 6-year-old granddaughter and the recent Chamberlain High School powwow.

Sage has been dancing at powwows for a few years already, young as she is. She's beginning to master steps, positions and movements so that her dancing sometimes floats along somewhere above the surface of the drum beat and the songs of the singers. She probably isn't up there with the best of the best dancers, but she's beginning to look comfortable, and sometimes it appears as if she and the music are part of the same spirit. When that happens, it's a pretty breath-taking thing to behold.

She has brightly colored regalia with a broad, flowing shawl that looks, when she spreads her arms and twirls, like a richly plumed bird spinning across the floor.

She also is beginning to do what some of the most spirited of dancers seem to sometimes do. She loses herself for periods of time somewhere inside the music of the drum groups. I've seen it before at powwows, but I noticed it more than before with Sage this time in Chamberlain.

The powwow was in the new city hall. The old building to my knowledge never hosted a powwow. It was a place where I played junior-high basketball and sweated bullets during piano recitals for which I was completely unprepared, but it wasn't a powwow site. It was torn down a while back, and the new hall hosted the powwow. It was a good celebration.

From the first song to the last, the granddaughter danced at every opportunity. Sometimes when a song would end, she would walk slowly back to where we sat, so tired she seemed barely able to climb the bleacher steps. You'd think she would never dance again. Then a drumbeat would signal another song, her head would lift, her eyes would light up and she'd scoot down the steps onto the floor of the gymnasium.

Almost immediately, she would be so deep into the movements, she would seem to be in a world somewhere beyond the one where her grandma and I sat and watched. For much of each song, she seemed unaware that others were dancing around her, caught up in her own thoughts or feelings or whatever was going on in that little mind and spirit as she whirled and stepped. I didn't understand it, but it looked incredibly peaceful. It looked like a good place to be.

Well, as Gibran said, the young go places the old can never visit, not even in dreams. The old can wish, though, and they can enjoy the moment. I did both.

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