Charlie Brown Can’t Dance

Bumblebees Dancing by Yana Ray

If you’ve ever watched a Charlie Brown cartoon, you know that Charlie doesn’t often hit the dance floor. Children all around him move with crazy, awkward flair. They dance with wild abandon, inhabiting the music with strange and jumpy, glorious moves. Snoopy cavorts with ears flapping, face uplifted. It’s all about the joy.

Only Charlie Brown doesn’t dance. At least not often. Sometime after the tenth or twentieth football fumble, he must have decided that it wasn’t worth the risk of falling. I can relate to that. As an adult, I’ve often been a Charlie Brown, watching from the sidelines, opting for wallflower status, afraid to play the fool.

Eventually, after I had kids and stopped taking myself so seriously, I slowly shimmied back inside a wider world of groove. I am not particularly graceful. My husband has told me, gently, that my “moves” are a bit silly, and I’m pretty sure he’s right, but I’ve stopped watching myself through someone else’s eyes, looking for the fumble. I’ve given up the fear of falling (mostly), the illusion of a choreographic whole.

As a mom, I dance through days littered with Legos and balled up tissues. In homeschooling my daughters, I botch science one day, history the next. I confess that my seven-year old has, on occasion, corrected my math.

Numbers were never my strong suit. I’m much more at home in words. Even there, as a writer, I make a mess, shuffling sentences in awkward clumps until I find the sweet spot that snaps them into place.

Still, in dancing and in perseverance, I’d rather follow Snoopy. I’d rather take my inspiration from the wildness of the bees.

A bee needs to dance. It isn’t simply a thrumming rush, the urge to tap clever, hairy feet. For a bee, dancing is work. A wiggle to the left means, “great pollen over by the apple trees”. A waggle to the right means, “take a left at the hydrangeas.” For a bee, dancing is language. The dance tells other bees where to find the pollen that will become the honey that will keep them all alive. For a bee, dancing is survival.

What a strange and marvelous thing, this necessary dancing –though it doesn’t always bear the look of joy. We are conditioned, as we grow, to disconnect work from pleasure, to find them mutually exclusive, incompatible components of a normal, grown-up life.

The bees would be startled at our binary coding, our black and white thinking, our somewhat stunning lack of imagination.

Somehow, on the path to adulthood, we forget how to dance. Oh, there are adults who can waltz and samba — some of them quite well — but it is a different kind of movement from the wild shimmy of a bee, the naked dance of childhood. As adults, we believe in choreography, in measured beats and tempos. We loose our heart-flung grace, and though the best dancers get it back, they do so only after years of training, endless hours of repetition, molding muscles into place.

Children, like bees, dance with everything they are, an unrehearsed and step-less wonder.

My daughters love to dance naked, and not just in the shower. They love to dance in tutus and ragged shorts and in their underwear. They dance barefoot and in sneakers and, after a good rain, they dance through mud puddles in their boots. They dance with their entire bodies, arms swaying, legs hopping, hips wiggle-waggling, bellies in a bee-bop, feet a vivid blur.

Like the bees, children dance a language, a foreign tongue of energy and joy. Dancing is a child’s play and play is a child’s work, his or her way of discovering and navigating the world. There is no separation. As for survival, just ask my seven-year-old what would happen if she couldn’t dance for one whole day. Oh, the skies would wail.

My kids dance with the crazy mirth of children on a Charlie Brown cartoon, as if they’ve never fallen. As if they don’t remember that gravity has a pull, an arc, a call.

If I worked — as a mom, as a writer — solely for the moment where my shoe connected with the football, I’d never be at peace. Like Charlie Brown, I often end up on my butt, staring at the cool indifference of a saphire sky. I get up. Shuffle my feet. Return, like the bees, to the place where work and play knit themselves together into the spaciousness of joy.

I have a little bit of Charlie Brown in me, a little bit of stumble. I have Lucy’s bossy swagger, Linus’s blanket held aloft. Sometimes, I am a messy Pig-Pen, a musical Schroeder, a brazen Peppermint Patty, even, once in a great, great while, a little girl with “naturally curly hair.”

In my best moments, though, I dance like Snoopy, like my kids. My dancing, twirling children preserve the wildness of the bees. Like the bees, I see the survival in the dance, the joy of it, the pleasure in the necessary, the simple grace of being a mom, a writer, in an awkward, bumbling and less-than-cool but glorious bit of dance.

Now, tell me, do you have a bit of Charlie Brown in you? Have you ever held back because you were afraid of falling? What made you move forward, and what’s your best necessary dance move?

10 thoughts on “Charlie Brown Can’t Dance

  1. (First of all… very cool picture of the bees!) Second, I love your descriptions of your daughters’ dancing — I love the little kids dancing with happy abandon!! Third, I love your description of yourself as a mix of the Charlie Brown gang. Finally, I think almost everything I do has a little bit of the Charlie Brown in it. I used to be fairly confident, but these days I feel a little bit unsure of a lot of stuff…. I try to make up for it with hard work and determination. Nice post!

    • Julia,
      I love what you write here about hard work and determination. Oh, how I doubt myself lately. But, as you say, it helps to just keep on pushing through. You’ve proved that with your recently finished WIP — Congratulations once again!! That definitely merits a Snoopy dance. 🙂

  2. I definitely have quite a bit of Charlie Brown in me – the sidelines are where I am comfortable – watching and observing the dance. Always afraid to appear the fool. Thanks for the beautiful reminder that life should be a dance of joy.

    I am amazed at how you were able to pull together Charlie Brown, bees and a life lesson into a single post! Such grace and joy in your writing – as always, I am speechless.

    (And even now, on occasion, wishing to be a little girl with “naturally curly hair.”)

    • Hi Brenda,
      I agree that it is tough to get off those sidelines. Plus, I think there is value in watching — for a photographer or a writer. Maybe that is part of the composition process, as long as we go out and dance/create at some point.
      Thanks too for the lovely compliment. I suppose I always try to jumble random ideas together to see what happens. This is why I am a terrible cook.
      And don’t we all wish for a little bit of the curly hair magic?

  3. Oh goodness–as a mother. As a writer. As a blogger. I always feel like I’m just throwing myself out there. And then for days afterwards I’m worried that I look like an a**.

    • Oh yes, I know that sinking stomach “did I just make a total fool out of myself” feeling very well. Isn’t it fun how it lingers? (ugh!)
      Thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment, Nina. 🙂

  4. I think when I was a kid, I was a lot like Charlie Brown sitting on the sidelines watching life go by (at least in many social settings). As a young adult, I think I busted out of my shell and didn’t care as much what people thought. As I entered teaching, I found myself being much more reserved once again, trying to give off the right “image”. However, as Lisa says, once our children were born, I think I became more of a goofball again which has carried over somewhat to my teaching. I love the line “Dancing is a child’s play and play is a child’s work, his or her way of discovering and navigating the world.” This is so true after our 7-yr old spent the afternoon listening to Offenbach’s song “Can, Can” and teaching herself how to can-can dance!

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