Work of Art: Let’s do the Jeffersonian Rock

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By Art Trujillo

My favorite dance — there can be no doubt — is the Elevator Dance. It has no steps. And the second favorite, a bit more complicated, is the Y- Dance. The idea here is to escort an attractive woman to the middle of the dance floor, put your arms around her and ... Y Dance?

Any attempt at fancy footwork on my part might lead to an appearance on Dancing to the Stares, as my tripping would be more fantastic than light.

Let me explain:

A smart-alecky guy from Gallup High School cured me of ever even imagining I could dance. Back in 1962, I was doing a photo shoot of Vivian Arvizo, who had just been chosen Miss Indian America. The Gallup native, then a student at Colorado College, was back in town for a parade and banquet in her honor.

We hit it off so well that I invited her to a company picnic for the newspaper I worked for. The next day she reciprocated by inviting me to the banquet. “There’ll be dancing, which I’m sure you’re good at,” Vivian said. I explained I was a lousy dancer, couldn’t jitterbug, and sometimes even lost count with the two-step. Her reply, “Then we can learn together.”

Big mistake. My only requirement, other than keeping this member of the Navajo Tribe entertained, was to have the first dance with her. But rather than go into too much detail, let me explain that her movements were those of an accomplished dancer, not someone who’d need to learn with me. My movements, well, just imagine a small, young Clydesdale.

Having 200 pairs of eyes on us didn’t help. I tried to ease my discomfort by assuring myself that all eyes were on her, that her dancing partner was irrelevant, anonymous and invisible.

On the second measure of the opening dance, others joined in. The aforementioned wise-a-- Gallup senior steered his date quite close to Vivian and me, and he began imitating us — me, much to the delight of his fawning followers.

I got through the dance, steeling my constitution to appear unfazed by the imitation of my corpse-like movements, but it still hurt. And it cured me. And nowadays, it’s tough to be at a wedding dance, for example, and having a woman ask me to dance and then insist I am simply being obstinate when I refuse, explaining I don’t dance. Don’t ask me.

“But isn’t every Hispanic a good dancer?” someone once asked me. Most, perhaps, with one obvious exception.

It’s gotten worse. In the ‘60s, dancing was still a graceful, rhythmic relationship between a man and a woman, but over the years it’s become the individual contortions of two people simultaneously seized with fits.

But in spite of my choice to sit this one (and all the others) out, I enjoy watching good dancers. I admire them, but you won’t find me on or too close to a dance floor, for fear of being asked to dance and having the rejectee make a scene, as almost happened at an anniversary dance for my parents, back in the dark ages.

Dancing is a wonderful form of expression, an element I wish had been incorporated into the First Amendment. Maybe it should read, in part, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press, or of the dance; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances, or to dance.”

A group of people chose to dance in the Jefferson Memorial. It was a silent dance, with restrained movements, and the only sound coming into dancers’ ears through iPod headphones.

U.S. Park police quickly put an end to that merriment, handcuffing the dancers, body slamming at least one participant, and closing down the memorial temporarily.

A few days before, the dancers had sent e-mails to hosts of friends, inviting them to film the event, which they did. Both the camera footage and the foot footage soon became viral, and YouTube now has a number of versions.

The law that prohibits things like the interpretive dance the groups performed apparently deals with the dignity and decorum of the Jefferson Memorial, which, the court said, is a place for quiet reflection and contemplation.    

They might be right, but how does any law-enforcement officer explain, “You’re under arrest for dancing”? As dancers were being held face-down, with their hands behind their backs for handcuffing, some of the about-to-be-arrested dancers continued their conga line, circling the action.

And that could be a tough call. How does a police officer distinguish between dancing and limping?

And that gets us back to the wise-a-- Gallup senior who mocked me in full view of millions. How did he know that my jerky movements on the dance floor with Miss Indian America weren’t simply limping brought on by the touch-football game we played at the picnic the day before?

By the way, Vivian later told me she’d prevaricated a bit about her assumed inexperience. In fact, she said, she and her boyfriend in college had already won two dancing contests.

The solemnity demanded of visitors to the Jefferson Memorial might work for some, but let’s not automatically surmise that dancing is irreverent, or as some might say, pagan.

The Bible teems with references to dancing. In the books of Lamentations, Ecclesiastes and in the Psalms, the Bible makes a clear distinction between the joy that dancing brings, and the opposite, mourning. David danced before the Ark of the Lord, and Miriam led dancing, singing and praise.

So, where it’s legal, go ahead and dance. But as for me, I’d rather sit this one out.

Art Trujillo is a copy editor at the Optic and a contributing member of the newspaper’s Editorial Board. He may be reached by calling 425-6796 or by e-mail to artbt@rezio.net or atrujillo@lasvegasoptic.com.