We Dance, Therefore We Are. (Sisterly Sentiments by way of Pittsburgh)

Just back from celebrating my sister’s 60th birthday in beautiful springtime Pittsburgh with 70 of her friends, fans and family members. This is the first time I remember that she was the central focus of attention – and for an entire weekend.

From being born first in the family and all that goes along with that (including caretaking our mother from age 5) to raising her own two children, working as a psychotherapist and being married to the student of a Nobel prize winner, my sister has found little time to think about herself much less play the starring role in her life.

Except this year when body parts started creaking at higher than bearable pitch causing pain that stopped her from getting around the way she used to. No more long walks to the reservoir with the dog, no more African dance class with her daughter, hardly a Tai Chi class where body motion is so gentle you might not even consider it moving.

No matter what her intentions were otherwise, she had to turn inward more and cope with often excruciating physical limitations. Unlike certain parents before her who’ve made a career of unfortunate bodily malfunctions laced with a generous dose of hypochondria, my sister’s new body-centered consciousness could never be categorized as narcissistic. She’d much rather be riding a bicycle or chasing her step-grandson around the yard.

All that said, one would expect a selfless person like my sister to resist being shoved onto center stage. If not cower, she’d at least blush a little, right?

Surprise, surprise!

Radiant and dressed to the nines with her shiny brown hair swinging perfectly across her face she was graceful as a fully prepared debutante at her coming out party. Bad analogy, I know, for a left wing, principled feminist woman of high intellect and Jewish descent, but my sister’s long overdue step into the limelight was equally uncharacteristic.  I can only imagine how hard it was to keep the caretaker tatoo on her heart from showing just below the neckline of her dress.

The verdict for my sister’s party night (and subsequent Sunday brunch) was A+  - just like the grades she kept through her entire student life. The evidence of its success was abundantly clear in the dancing. Replete with aching joints and probably a gullet full of ibuprophen,  my sister’s fanny never hit a chair the entire night.  The irresistible beat of Motown music propelled her and her flock around the dance floor from the time we put down our cake plates until the last guest left the hall.

In our family, a good time is measured by how much we dance. We were partly inspired, originally by our friends, American Bandstand and Soul Train (for us born a tad later) and our mother who couldn’t make it to the party because of her travel limitations. With her, it was spontaneous rounds of the Lindy Hop in the cramped kitchen of our split-level, track home in suburbia. She was a good dancer with a firm grip and a strong lead. We never really got the steps exactly right.  Personally, I was a bad follower (a trait that’s haunted me throughout my life).

Whatever, wherever our fever for dancing came from, it is the safety zone where none of us can find fault with the other. There is no bickering, no competition, and nothing but messed up hair and giggles on the dance floor (we prefer kitchens). We weave in and out of conjoined jitterbug moves to the solitary flailing of arms and legs when Stevie Wonder starts playing, “Signed, Sealed, Delivered…”

We are a dancing family. It is our preferred communication mode where we are all equal no matter our birth order, our achievements, our station in life or our mental health. On the dance floor, all is level and neutral. Dance floors are our Switzerland. Peace supersedes any and all of our shortcomings and we’re momentarily healed of our histories.

Happy birthday big sis and remember what Irving Berlin said, words that have been like medicine to our family’s health – where, and whenever possible --  “Let’s face the music and…..dance!”


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