As my grandfather tells it, he always thought of himself as rather weak and small. He’s short, and as a child he seems to have been somewhat bookish (though his idea of bookishness was to run five miles to the library, get a book, and run five miles back), and as an adult he became a corporate lawyer, not a role that necessarily calls for strapping men.
Then, in his forties, he took up mime. Now, this was before mimes became a horrible punchline, before that awful time in the eighties when mimes, like the homeless, became a constant urban menace. The way her learned mime, it was a serious, strenuous art form. He lost weight, gained strength, and developed a sense of physical presence and spatial awareness that was still serving him well into his eighties, as he would dance about the kitchen, closing cabinet doors behind him with his foot.
I take after my grandfather in a lot of ways, and certainly physically. As a kid, I was small for my age, and I was never much good at sports. Compulsory Israeli folkdance at summer camp was always a horror of ineptitude and humiliation. And you might have noticed that I have certain bookish tendencies.
But in the last couple of years, I’ve started to dance. I was not the quickest student in my swing classes, but I wasn’t consistently the slowest, either. And at this point in my life, I’m willing to learn slowly and awkwardly. It’s really OK. I make a grownup living and can spell and all that, so it’s not really a big deal if my Charleston is a little sloppier than some other people’s.
And now I’ve managed to find my way into Korean dance. Karen, the resident American who’s been studying this stuff for 15 years, insists that I’m learning faster than most students, that I’ve got great lines, that I’m a natural. I kind of think this might be similar to the way Koreans have been telling me my language skills are amazing ever since I learned to say hello, but she might also be being honest. For once, it seems, my odd little duck walk may be paying dividends. I tend to walk back on my heels, with splayed feet, and I’ve been told this is the walk of a yangban, or traditional Korean gentry. And my years of swing dance practice have taught me to keep my knees bent. So maybe I am better at following dance instructions than I used to be. Maybe my physical prowess is greater than it was when I was 12 and practicing layups.