Dancin’ Fools

This could be our future: Frank Sinatra as Transman's son; Gene Kelly as Transman. Image: flixster

[Note: tap dancing can be bad-ass. Had Transman’s parents pushed him to take tap dancing, he might have acquiesced. Instead, they pushed ballet and got this: http://theadventuresoftransman.com/2012/02/01/i-aint-wearin-no-tutu/]

My younger son shares a tragic part of my DNA: the uncontrollable urge to imitate the song and dance numbers in movies and music videos. I have grown out of it, or more precisely, was shamed out of it; but, the itch is still in there–if the beat is incessant and the lyrics are catchy, I”ll be tapping my feet in no time flat. When I notice it happening, I give myself a mental slap and say, “Get it together, man! Life ain’t no Busby Berkeley movie. Cut the crap!”

"I can't go to bed now, I was just getting ready to sing 'Jail-house Rock'!" Image: costumekingdom.com

At his age, I was an Elvis impersonator. We had a stack of Elvis records that covered his whole career from the rockabilly days to the Las Vegas casino show era. My after dinner ritual was to commandeer my brothers’ room and make use of their record player. I had a shiny track suit that I unzipped to my navel and pretended was Elvis’ white Nudie suit. I’d go through the “concert,” singing along and making the same moves I’d seen Elvis do in clips from old Ed Sullivan shows and his movies.

My career ended the day my sister brought the cheerleading squad to the house and opened the door to my brothers’ black-light poster and Playboy magazine filled den of iniquity. Oh, and there was a motorcycle in there, too. They had it all.

Anyway, I was doing my hip-swiveling best on “All Shook Up” when I heard the screaming giggles of teenage girls behind me. If it had just been screaming, I could have pretended they were a pack of teeny boppers yelling for the King. But, no, it was giggling that turned into cackling and became the sort of laughter that echoes in the victim’s skull 40 years later. That kind of laughter. Any kid who has spilled water on their crotch and been taunted for peeing their pants in front of the whole school knows what I’m talking about. Not that that ever happened to me or anything.

So, back to the cheerleaders …

“X! I hate you!” I yelled and tore the needle off the record player.

My sister was laughing so hard, she’d crossed her legs to keep from peeing.

“We’re not laughing at you,” she hiccuped.

“Well, I’m not laughing so don’t tell me you’re laughing with me.” I zipped up my track suit. I was so full of indignation, I nearly punched myself in the chin I was zipping with so much force.

The cheerleaders had stopped laughing, but they were still smiling and smirking.

“Oh, calm down you big baby!” X said.

“I’m not a big baby!” I yelled.

“Big baby! Big baby!” she yelled back. This was her favorite taunt. Whenever she started chanting this, my vision turned red and I rushed her, fists flying. That’s just what I did this time, too, only as I ran at her, I tripped over my brother’s tool box.

This made the herd of cheerleaders laugh even harder. Tears of pain and humiliation formed in my eyes, but I blinked them away. I got up, shoved past them, and stomped outside. This was the end of my budding entertainment career.

Fast-forward three decades or so …

Thirty-eight years after his father's humiliation by the ring of cheerleaders, Transman's son makes his debut. Image: halloweencostumes.org

My youngest son has stumbled upon the 1980s era Michael Jackson. The Michael Jackson of moonwalking and “Beat it” fame, not the Michael Jackson of the Wacko Jacko years. Thanks to Youtube, my son can watch and study the moves Jackson made frame by frame. (I have tried to intervene and shown him James Brown, but he’s not impressed … he is young; he will mature into appreciation for the Godfather of Soul.)

Sometimes I catch him practicing his moves and I smile. It is both heartwarming and creepy to see your children behave like you. I have never shared my dark past with him; his urge to do the funky chicken is inborn, a part of him passed along from one generation to the next like dimples or red hair.

When my son notices me watching him, he stops and fixes me with his big brown eyes.

“I’m too shy to sing; could you not listen to me?” he says.

I try to respect his wishes. I also try to protect him from his big brother who has lost (and possibly never had) his inner child and who likes to tell the younger one that he is “a dork” and that “nobody likes” him because of his tendency to break into dance for no reason–(I hope his big brother never wakes up in an alternative universe where everything operates on the rules of Bollywood films; he will find himself in more song and dance numbers than he has toes, and that will all be before lunchtime).

The younger boy has a little more strength than I did at his age. He ignores his big brother and works on his moves. When he’s not dancing, he’s working on karate and fighting stances.

The other day, he announced, “I’ve decided I want to be a movie star when I grow up.”

I told him, “You have to learn to read … for the scripts and all.”

Not one to be daunted, he said, “You don’t understand. I mean, I’m going to make my own all action-filled movies.”

I will have to introduce him to the song stylings of Lee Marvin and Clint Eastwood in Paint Your Wagon one of these days. Now, I must say a short prayer: Lord, please do not let Sylvester Stallone, Jackie Chan, Chuck Norris, Arnold Schwarzenegger,  and Bruce Willis team up for a musical superhero movie. Please.

And just because everyone should appreciate Gene Kelly’s athleticism and grace, I leave you with this clip that I have pushed on the lad (… come on, tap dancing on roller skates? I can’t even stay upright on skates):

12 responses to “Dancin’ Fools

  • WSW

    Try showing the youngster video of the Nicholas Brothers on YouTube. They make Michael look like a piker.

  • free penny press

    Savion Glover is the toe-tapper that I admire.. He is poetry, drama, music, life all in a pair of tap shoes..

  • Alison

    I love the way you write and I hope your son gets much enjoyment from his dancing!

  • paralaxvu

    Have you ever seen the Canadian roller skating guy who took ballet lessons and did a roller skating version of ‘Singin’ in the Rain”? Awesome. A cool guy with ballet moves who can do Gene Kelly. If I weren’t so old I’d remember his name. Sigh…

  • Eli

    Jesus, that Kelly bit at the end? Incredible, thank you. And there is something not just endearing, but brave and joyful about singing and dancing. I can’t let myself relax enough to do either really, but I hope it is never scared or ridiculed out of your son.


  • sweetmother

    i love this line, ‘it is both heartwarming and creepy to see your children behave like you’. that was such a good line. such a good line. i also love, ‘if he ever wakes up in an alternate universe where the rules are based around bollywood films’. okay, i paraphrased, but anyway, i like you. you write really purty/ handsome and me likey.

  • hollybernabe

    Holy Christ! Tap dancing on rollerskates?! Gene Kelly was Da Man. I loved him in Singin’ in the Rain. I especially liked that modern dance section, which wasn’t quite the usual fare in the musicals of the day. He was so muscular and athletic, and beautiful to watch.

    Love your line about: “When I notice it happening, I give myself a mental slap and say, “Get it together, man! Life ain’t no Busby Berkeley movie. Cut the crap!”” Wouldn’t it be cool if life WAS a Busby Berkeley movie? Hmm. Maybe not. His numbers are a lot of work and I’m not organized enough.

    Love that your son is into the song and dance men and acting out their moves. So cool. And just so you know, at my niece’s 13th birthday party, there was a boy who did a killer impression of Michael Jackson from his “Beat It” era–even wearing the jacket and glove–and had all the moves down. He was quite popular with the girlies. It seems MJ transcends time, and people will always like to impersonate him. And doing so won’t make you the butt of ridicule. (Leastaways, not at my niece’s school, lol.) Maybe your son will get lucky, too. :)

    • transparentguy

      As long as the Busby Berkeley number wasn’t from “Dames,” I might be able to cope. Fast forward to about the 4-minute mark and you’ll see images that will amaze and terrify you.

      Good news on the MJ impersonator future career for my son. Thank you. Someone in this family needs to make money.

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