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“Feel like dancing… Dance cause we are free . . .” —Bob Marley, “Rainbow Country”
“He began to get an inkling that the point was to be dancing in your brain all of the time . . .” —Jim Harrison, The Man Who Gave Up His Name
You might think this rather odd advice to come from my dog, Brooklyn. After all, let’s be honest: She herself doesn’t even really dance.
Well, unless I’m dancing with her, that is—which I admittedly do sometimes. I pick her up in my arms and we waltz around the kitchen to old-school hip-hop or Jamaican ska or random mambo beats, her front paws hanging over my shoulder, a distant, bemused, almost bored look in her eyes. Brooklyn is not a small dog, either—maybe thirty-three pounds or so, including a good couple pounds of scruff—and so I know she looks a little ridiculous in my arms, too big to be carried around that way, but I cannot help myself: The moments I get to dance with my dog are some of my happiest. I could say Brooklyn likes it, too—or perhaps at least that she doesn’t seem to mind—but maybe a more truthful way of putting it is that she tolerates it.
Anyway, as I was saying, excepting our little waltzes in the kitchen, Brooklyn doesn’t “dance” in the traditional sense of the word.
But she does have moves.
For instance, her wiggle-butt—that full-tilt, whole-body wag, every atom of her ecstatic, shimmying with good vibrations.
Or the way, hoping for a treat, she’ll look up at us with expectant eyes and do an eager little two-step with her front legs, a sort of deerlike prance of sorts, her toenails clicking against the kitchen floor.
Or the way when she’s really excited, she’ll run off and grab one of her little stuffed toys—her flamingo, or her rhinoceros, or her moose—and then trot back in proudly with the thing in her mouth to show it off to us.
Or the way she’ll look up at us and tilt her head with perfect curiosity, as if trying to figure out just what the hell we’re talking about.
In fact, it’s hard to think of anything Brooklyn does that’s not a move of sorts, almost as if her whole life is in fact a kind of dance, every instant of it a work of art. After all, dogs have this remarkable way of inhabiting their bodies with a kind of unqualified ease, and the result is that there is something exact—something perfect and irrevocable—about their every movement. Even when Brooklyn’s not moving—say, for instance, when she’s sprawled out, asleep—she does so in positions that have a certain flawlessness, as if they cannot be improved (though, apparently, in her own mind, they can be, for every now and then Brooklyn will rise to her feet, make a few determined circles, paw at her dog bed a little bit to soften it up, and then settle back down again, often in almost exactly the same spot: which is of course yet another ridiculously cute move).
And it’s not like Brooklyn’s trying to take these poses—or trying to do anything, really—she’s just being herself, doing her thing. But there’s something truly enviable nevertheless about the way dogs are so present and at home in their bodies, in their skin. About their existence, so natural and fluid. Yes, even with all the collars and the leashes and the crates, dogs are free in a way it sometimes feels we humans can only dream of: that ability to just be themselves without any apparent self-consciousness—their calm, easy presence. And the result, unintentional, is that dogs emanate a kind of languid grace. A simple, unadulterated perfection.
Of course, whether we realize it or not, we humans are not actually so different. We, too, are wholly complete, though we may not always feel that way. Each of our lives is a unique and marvelous dance, utterly our own, and beautiful, too—though for some strange reason it seems easier to recognize this in a dog than in ourselves. But consider this: At any random moment, if your simple posture or your lovely, sad eyes could be captured in paint by a true master, the result would be a masterpiece. Because you are a masterpiece—you just can’t see it. As it is with dogs, so it is with us: At any moment—in every moment—each of us is this great, fathomless treasure.
The problem is, if it doesn’t feel that way, who cares? If we humans go through existence feeling separate and awkward, rather than beautiful and whole, isn’t that, then, the reality of it? And if that’s the reality we’re experiencing, what can be done?
Like the helpless wag of a dog’s tail, dancing, too, is an expression of joy.
Well, one solution, as Brooklyn might suggest, is to dance. Put on some funky music and shake your butt a little bit! (After all, let’s not forget that shaking your butt is basically the same thing as wagging your tail.) And the great thing about dancing is that it gets us out of our brains and into our bodies, into the moment. Yes, start moving our muscles, and suddenly we’re not thinking so goddamn much anymore, thank God. For once, like dogs, we’re just existing, we’re just moving, jumping up and down and shaking ourselves free from ourselves and all our ridiculous fears and inhibitions—we’re being a little silly and having a little fun—and it feels really, really good . . .
Yes, and let’s not forget that this is the point of dancing: to celebrate. After all, like the helpless wag of a dog’s tail, dancing, too, is an expression of joy. It is to be at play; it is, for once, to be free.
How wonderful it would be to go through your whole life like this, with the simple, joyful presence of a dog. The funny thing is, if you’re truly going to inhabit the moment the way dogs do, you almost have to dance. Because the nature of the here and now is that it’s ever-shifting, and so to remain with it requires that you stay on your toes. You need to be alive to what’s in front of you—almost as if life itself were your dance partner—you need to be able to be flexible, respond, adjust. You step to the side, do a pirouette, take two steps forward, two steps back, do the cha-cha. And then, all of a sudden, it’s clear that you, too, are free—that you’ve always been free—and that in each and every moment, you can make of your life whatever you want, as big and beautiful as you please. You can make of your life a work of art, a dance—which is what it already was—only now, you no longer feel so separate from it.
Of course, admittedly, this is mostly conjecture on my part. I myself catch only the most fleeting glimpses of the moment—and rather than waltzing freely through my life, alive and responsive, I often feel stuck in mud. But I do believe it’s possible that we can be more present, that, like dogs, we can be lighter on our feet, and in our hearts—though for me this is, as I say, a work in progress. All I really know for sure is that I like dancing with my dog—and she likes dancing through her life. I bet we would, too.
Originally published here on Love, Dog, an online publication that explores the companionship between humans and dogs.