So I don’t watch television’s Dancing With The Stars—or at least I try not to. Yes, it’s cheesy. The judges are cheesy. The set comes off as some kind of overhauled soap opera court room or “upscale” restaurant set. There’s something about the lighting that reminds me of a bad day in a mall. Of course it doesn’t help that all but a handful of the dancing celebrities conjure the most embarrassing and awkward moments of my own life—a very disconcerting parade of events. And then there’s the last judge on the right that’s just a little creepy. And so even though I try not to watch DWTS it still manages to get recorded and I still manage to see at least some of the “highlights” during the most mindless and please-just-maybe-60-minutes-that-require-no-decisions moments of the day.
But in the midst of of it all something like Jennifer Grey happens. Like many of us, I grew up for the most part with Jennifer Grey. She played leading roles in some of the great 1980s “coming of age” films. Movies like Dirty Dancing, Red Dawn, and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off have become standards. (Really, what adolescent boy could go unaffected by Red Dawn in 1984?) And Jennifer Grey was actually standing (or sitting I guess) right there on the set when Patrick Swayze said, “Nobody puts Baby in the corner.” RIGHT THERE! Grey is one of those people that has always seemed so genuine, honest, and vulnerable to me. Hold that thought.
In the world of dancing that we’ve seen played on the small screen in recent programming like DWTS and So You Think You Can Dance I’ve come to expect praise for the male dancer not for his art as much as his strength. It’s common for judges to affirm a male dancer with things like “You were there for her”, “You were strong for her,” and “She knew she could trust you.” When the partners are at their best, working together, and putting on display the most beautiful expression of the dance … it is an absolute art form that calls to mind so much of what is good about being human and alive. A dance such as this provides both opportunity and context to create a chance moment of authenticity. And this has never been more evident than in Jennifer’s recent Viennese Waltz on Dancing With The Stars. Apparently the song this waltz was choreographed for is a number from the Dirty Dancing soundtrack. Jennifer reveals to us during the introduction that her friendship with Swayze and his recent death were very much on her mind throughout rehearsals. And so when she stands on the dance floor in front of millions, making her heart and most intimate internal dialog a matter of public record, what she needed most was a partner willing to accept the invitation and dance the dance with her. Clearly there was quite a bit of life rolled up into those 90 seconds.
Is their greater application? Well there doesn’t have to be. It’s OK for beautiful things to have their own addresses and stand on their own merit. But I would say that if we’re serious about growing, maturing, and being all that we’ve been created to be, then we stand to learn a lot from an imperfect Viennese Waltz during which one partner provides strength and another is allowed to be beautifully broken.
And so I find myself right here at the junction of empty nest and mid-life. Life can be such a pleasant fiction. We spend the first third in such intimate community, doing life together, and learning how the world works as we sometimes stumble/sometimes soar through those early years. Then we move on to college, career, and family before waking up to find that those intimate relationships have collected so much dust on the shelf as to make them hardly recognizable. The last third holds so much promise of restoration and putting into practice all the things we believe we’ve learned.
Maybe Jennifer’s dance captured so much of the victories and the pains required of us? Maybe its heart is found in the simple power of a shared story? Who knows. I say bring it all to the dance floor. The more people you’ve got in the dance, the more likely we’re going to find magic. Here is a video of Jennifer’s Viennese Waltz. Now this is dancin’.