The Cowboy, The Horse and The Dance

You can't be sad and dance the two-step at the same time. It's some kind of law of physics. The same way that you can't sit heavy and weigh down a barstool while also lightly tripping along in the arms of some cowboy from just outside of town.

I don't know if he's a cowboy. He's dressed like one. Got the hat, the boots, the well-broke-in jeans. I guess first-off that he's fifty but that's a gift; on second inspection he's probably eyeballing seventy from several yards away, getting ready to clear the fence and keep on dancing his way toward the senior center. But the man is a professional with the ladies; he doffs his battered headgear and holds out a hand. The barstool I'm weighing down suddenly threatens to tip over, I leave it so fast. My girlfriend snatches the tequila from my hand and boots me the rest of the way onto the floor.

I haven't two-stepped since the year I moved to Austin. For the first few bars I struggle to remember: is it quick-quick-slow, or quick-quick-sloooow-sloooow, or a combination of both? What do I do with my feet when he turns me? I try to remember to put pressure against his hand, and to relax into his encircling arm. Ladies go backwards; men go forwards; sexist much? I wonder wildly if the cowboy has ever worked a horse in his life. The band is so country it hurts: I mean lyrics like "gee-golly-whillikers I hope we both die together so we can meet up in heaven" kind of shit. And it's still only the first half of the first verse and I'm struggling with my whirling brain, my two left feet, what to do with my clunky right hand, my stiff back and my jaw which will not do anything but clench, madly, against having to spin backwards. I feel like a mustang about to buck straight vertical.

And then it happens. The cowboy shifts his weight to accommodate my quick-quick-stumble. A drip of sweat falls from the brim of his hat to the back of my hand, where it rests on his shoulder. Time quits dragging me forward like a wild horse, and instead of racing into what I'm supposed to do in the next moment, I shut my eyes and stay in this one. I let the old cowhand press me around the dance floor. I move away from him when he moves toward me; I move toward him when he moves away. I stop stepping on his boots and my knees stop colliding with his. The sweat from his neck continues to drip onto the back of my hand, and the front of his shirt soaks the front of mine. He presses me into a graceful twirl, and my back arcs and my knees bend as I whirl away, floating in space but not too far, my center of gravity bound by a strong thin thread to the center of his.

My eyes are still shut. I peek now and then. He doesn't run me into any of the other dancers. Here and there I gouge him with a sharp elbow, but he doesn't seem to mind. And this is how I know he's worked horses. Nobody gains this kind of patience unless they've put in their time around large, gawky prey animals with nervous systems set to "run now, look later."

When the dance is done, he offers me his open palm and leads me back to my bar stool. I thank him and sit back down, but the sadness doesn't sit down with me. The cowboy has somehow unpacked that burden, slid it off and kicked it into a corner. I watch him slope off across the dance floor, just an old dude dressed in old ranch-hand boots and jeans. He's probably got a long drive to get back to wherever he's from. I realize we never exchanged a word. Didn't need to. Dance is a language, and most animals speak it. We're the ones who have forgotten, and have to re-learn. That's alright. The only prerequisite is to be willing, and to close your eyes so that they may be opened to possibility.

Below, I have included a link that illustrates the possibilities of what can happen when we learn to dance with creatures who have not forgotten how:


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