I have a confession to make: I can’t dance. In fact, my aversion to this activity is so severe that it makes watching other people dance an uncomfortable experience. I love music, but dancing? Not so much. At a concert, say a Lyle Lovett gig at the Les Schwab amphitheater down in Bend, I am appalled by the wanton prancing of those who gather on the grassy knoll and leap about carelessly. I have probably always thought of dancing as something slightly ridiculous, and I don’t know why. I imagine people dancing without the music, and the whole premise of dancing as a rational activity simply collapses. I remember seeing a bumper sticker, proudly plastered across the tailgate of a destroyed pickup in Eureka, Nevada. It said: Real Cowboys Don’t Dance; A Buckaroo Won’t Even Watch. Line dancing was a craze then, and I suppose the grizzled waddy behind the wheel of that smoke-belching rig was making whatever protest he could.
So it was very odd to find myself dancing last friday night. In public, where others could see it happening. Full disclosure: I’ll admit to an occasional sachet, a private Feet of Flames moment when I’m particularly happy. But that happens down in the barn, and what happens in the barn, stays in the barn. What I decidedly do NOT do, is cut rugs in public.
And yet, last friday night we were invited to a small gig at Cork Cellars in Sisters. My editor at the Nugget, Jim Cornelius, and Mike Biggers, two thirds of The Anvil Blasters, were playing for a couple of hours. So Wendy and I went. We took an elevated table in the back, against the wall, with a terrific view across the tight confines of the restaurant into the corner where Jim and Mike had set up their equipment. The neon OPEN sign burned into the night just over their shoulders, they went through their sound checks, the place started filling up, the windows started fogging, and we ordered a bottle of zinfandel.
Outside it was freezing, black ice covered the roadways, the sidewalks were covered in crusty snow, but inside this cozy little wine bar we had babies–and I mean an infant in a straw hat and overhauls–little kids who danced on the sofa or made crayon drawings on an old wine crate, young couples, old couples, and even some singles, while Jim and Mike ran through a terrific set of Tom Russell, Ian Tyson, Steve Earle, and others. We had a former mayor, the new school superintendent, old cowboys, business owners, and a waitress who had lived in Sisters for three days. The crowd was perfect. There were no fights, no cross words. No stink-eye stares from across the room, only a perfectly mixed crowd of people who were perfectly enjoying the music and each other on a moonless night in the cascades.
Someone recently told me that the people who live in Sisters are either hiding, or healing. It was a bold indictment, and I won’t say there isn’t some element of truth in it. Maybe that’s true everywhere. But I can tell you this, as Jim and Mike played their guitars and harmonicas and sang songs that resided squarely in my wheelhouse, I wasn’t hiding or healing, or laying that down on anyone else. I was smiling because I felt very strongly that I belong exactly here, with my wife, my neighbors, and the life we are building in the woods.
And then something strange happened. The geezers and grassy knoll dancers were whirling about, knocking into tables, the atmosphere seemed forgiving, the second bottle of wine was better than the first, my wife was an angelic being sitting across from me with a smile, and the little voice in my head kept growing louder. “You must dance!” it kept saying, until I felt myself stand up, reach for Wendy’s hand, and we stepped out among the tables and the wildly gyrating old couples, the babies and the kids, the whooping disco lady who kept pointing her index fingers into the sky, and we began to dance and to sing and to laugh. And it was good.