Roses for those who dare to dance.
Recently my son has stopped believing in Santa Claus and started listening to Shakira; and yes, I do think that the two things are related. So yesterday, when Shakira was playing at full volume in his room, we started to dance – or not really dance but to jump and hop and shake our hands, clumsily yet eagerly, the way kids do, when they still don’t know that they should feel self-conscious and awkward.
Afterwards we were sitting on the floor red-faced, out-of-breath and inexplicably happy, and it was then that it came to my mind how nice it was to dance, especially as I never dance, because years ago I decided that I was a rotten dancer. And since then I have always played the role of the ever-so-indifferent wallflower.
Before I knew it I was making a mental list of all the things I haven’t done in the past because I didn’t believe that I was good at them. And believe me, the list was as endless as it was impressive.
Take languages, for example. How many long dinners and never-ending lunches had I endured silently when everyone else around me was talking in rapid gunfire Italian, whilst feverishly composing in my mind that one perfect sentence? And didn’t it always happen that when the sentence was ready and perfect in my head, everyone was already talking about something else? Hadn’t I choked back tears going back home, because I knew that it would have been better to say what you’ve got to say imperfectly than not have said it at all?
Just like singing. Wasn’t it better to sing off key than to not to sing at all? Wasn’t that the purpose of your existing, that you make yourself heard? And wasn’t that why frumpy village women singing hallelujah off key at Sunday Mass often touched me – because there was something courageous in their sincerity and simple devotion, and in their own way they dared more than me?
Not to mention writing. I don’t know how many years it took before I realised that I can’t find my own voice as a writer unless I first dare say something – anything – even imperfectly. A writer who is silent may not make any mistakes, but the problem is that no one will ever read what she or he had got to say.
I remembered a famous artist’s wife who lived in Florence for a while. She amassed around herself a court of artsy people who regularly gathered at her beautiful house for long, Chianti-steeped dinners. One evening she insisted that everyone should dance. To make the others follow her example she started to move rhythmically to music, her eyes half-closed, a gigantic cigar in her mouth. Mind you, she was in her late-sixties – she was no Shakira. But she danced with such poise that the result was breath-taking. Ask me what courage is and I still see her dancing in my mind’s eye.
I’m not usually the kind of mum who gives life advice, but at that moment I wanted to grab my son by the shoulders, look him straight in the eye and say, look son, dance badly if you have to and sing off key if you can’t do any better, but never stop dancing and singing and making mistakes, because it’s always better to have failed than not to have tried at all.