February 29, 2008

Barack Can Dance

You've maybe seen it by now, on YouTube or cable news: Barack dancing a little on Ellen DeGeneres's show, either in person or by video hook-up while he was at a campaign rally. It doesn't go on that long in either case. He's a little too cool for that, but here's the thing: the guy can actually dance. If it comes to pass, if the stars align correctly so that he's inaugurated next January, then the unthinkable will have happened: America will have a President who can get down.

I know it's a cliche: White Man's Disease and all that. No finer exemplar than the incumbent. If you saw any of that footage of Bush in Africa dancing to a tribal beat, you know what I mean. Even the memory of it makes me cringe. It looks as though Bush is suffering from the end stages of some horrible degenerative nerve disease. He makes a face like a blowfish, hunches his shoulders and starts waving his arms around, pointing at the tribal chief, bobbing his head. It's a horrible sight. You wonder why someone doesn't grab a tranquilizer gun. I realize the idea is that Bush is being a "good sport," and not too much should be made of it. But that's hard to keep in mind when you realize how scary it must have been for small children to see.

When I was in high school, I was fortunate to have a basketball teammate, an all-star, Af-Am athlete, who straightened me out at a young, formative age. This friend (I'll call him Fred because that was his name) watched me on a dance floor one night, shook his head and uttered four crucial words: "Don't do too much." Fred's idea was simple and immediately grasped. It has saved me from a great deal of trouble at high school dances, college parties, wedding receptions. In the modern free-form dancing that came to dominate the rock 'n roll era, a guy is supposed to just be out there. The women bust the moves, know the fancy steps, do the spins and dips. If you'll think back, you'll remember that there was nothing sexier on God's Green Earth than watching a girl who could cut up. A guy moves with the rhythm, turns a little bit side to side. And the other critical part of Fred's guidance: whatever you do, not too much with the arms. The upper body should be still.

Bush, by contrast, always looks like a man trying to wave down a passing automobile while rolling a log in a fast-moving stream. I would not want him on my basketball team or dancing next to me at the prom. The dude's an embarrassing spaz. On the other hand, Barack does just what Fred said you should do. Subtle, suggestive, cool. His arms are bent at the elbows, he turns a little side to side, he moves on the beat. That's it. A guy who can look cool on the dance floor can command respect and calm everyone down. After watching Bush's African spectacle, how can we regard him as a leader? Why would we ever think he could have a good idea about anything when he does that?

I'm not saying that at state dinners, with foreign heads of government in attendance, that they should clear the East Room floor while Barack does a Travolta number to a BeeGee beat. Or maybe I am saying that. Yeah, I'm definitely saying that. I really wish he would, as long as he doesn't do too much.

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