What To Read: 'And Then We Danced'

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They need to move, to tap-tap-tap, to side step, and do-si-do. The music’s on and you gotta move. You can’t help it, your toes gotta go and in “And Then We Danced” by Henry Alford, you take the lead.

Think of all the times you danced in your life.

Your first was likely some bouncy-toddler thing you did, and the adults around you laughed. Later, you endured embarrassing and awkward boy-girl classes, or school events until you became cool (even if only in your mind) and snuck into clubs. You’ve danced at weddings, for fun, for joy; and Alford has danced for work. He’s a journalist who immerses himself in his subject in order to write about it but, in the case of dance, he’s been immersed his whole life. 

Dance, he says, is a “universal language.” If you suddenly found yourself in Siberia and you began dancing, nobody would mistake what you were doing. It’s an art, yes – but it’s so much more.

Dance, he says, is a way of “Social Entrée.”  Cotillions and debutante balls are good examples, dancing in a club falls into this category, and if you ever took classes from an Arthur Murray studio, you get the picture. 

Politics can step onto the dance floor, Alford says. Think about your favorite candidate on the campaign trail, dancing with potential constituents. Or think of the Cakewalk, a dance that was “Originally devised as a way for slaves to mock their masters…”

Teenagers know that dance can be a form of rebellion; icons such as Isadora Duncan and Martha Graham knew that, too. Dance can be a form of emotional release, happy, sad, or angry, and it can involve one’s entire body, almost without thought. Any good church choir can tell you that dance is spiritual. With the right group, it can bring on feelings of nostalgia. And dance, if you need it, can be healing.

There’re a few pleasant little surprises to this book about moving your body: it’s also author Henry Alford’s memoir, and it’s a series of mini-biographies of dancers you may know and admire. And it’s delightful.

Part of the reason is that Alford uses his youth as example here: he was a gawky kid who tried very hard to ignore his gayness, an attempt that made junior high boy-girl dances understandably more awkward. His tales are mostly universal (who didn’t hate forced dance class?) and they’ll make you laugh, while anecdotes of researching to write this book – Alford dives into dance, remember – are woven between the life stories of Murray, Duncan, Graham, Savion Glover, Toni Bentley, and other dancers, as well as lighter-side dance history through the ages.

Yes, there are “Awww, naw” moments along here with the Nae Nae, but the joy in this book supersedes any sadness. All in all, it’s a quickstepper, and for a hoofer, ballet lover, line dancer, or anyone who shimmies and bops, “And Then We Danced” will have you on your feet.


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