Anne Lamott is one of my favorite writers, and one of my top five sort-of-famous people I would like to have dinner with. By chance I came across an email about Anne doing a book signing at the local Barnes and Nobles last night and I just had to stop by.
Her new book is called Grace (Eventually): Thoughts on Faith, which is her third series of essays about her quirky and funny take on spirituality and living. I got there a few minutes early, so I got a chance to read her chapter called “Dance Class,” which was published previously in the LA Times last year. It’s a lovely piece about Anne helping with a dance class for people with development disabilities. In the opening, Anne quotes from a beautiful poem by Rumi:
Whatever there is, is only He,
your foot steps there in dancing:
whirling, see, belongs to you,
and you belong to the whirling.
Anne’s description of the dance class sounded to me like barely contained chaos, the instructor attempting valiantly to teach a roomful of students with various levels of autism, down’s syndrome and cerebral palsy how to do the electric slide. I would have found the whole situation appalling, trying not to let my fear and embarassment overwhelm me.
So I was moved by Anne’s broader take on the students’s clumsy but spirited dancing:
It’s incredibly touching when anyone seems so hopeless, yet finds a few
inches of light to stand in, and makes it all work as well as they can.
All of us lurch and fall, sit in the dirt, are helped to our feet, keep
moving, feel like idiots, lose our balance, gain it, help others get
back on their feet and keep going.
And that for me is the beauty of partner dancing, versus “club dancing” for lack of a better word. When you are dancing with a partner, in a sense you are helping the other person dance as well as he or she can. The nature of social dance — whether tango or salsa or lindy hop — requires kinesthetic cooperation with your partner to execute the moves in time to the music. Without this, you’re just two people free-styling while holding hands.
What’s so sweet is that the sum often adds up in surprising ways to more than its parts. At the end of a great dance, you look at your partner in mutual amazement. “Damn, we are good!” you think. It’s a kind of grace.
The rest of the book looks really wonderful, and “much less angry” as Anne described it. B&N has a cool audio interview with Anne Lamott that is worth a listen. I have her first two, Plan B and Traveling Mercies, which I turn to on occasions when I need a spiritual refresher, as well as Bird by Bird, which always makes me want to work on a novel.