Last night I watched one of my favorite dance movies: Dirty Dancing Havana Nights. The Latin rhythms got my body going, and got me thinking about dancing.

If someone were to ask me where in my life I most reliably experience joy, I would say “dancing” without hesitation. Not ballroom dancing (alas, I am married to a man with two left feet), and not choreographed routines, just the free-form boogying we did when we were young.

But how much dancing is there in my life these days? Precious little.

It was not always thus. When I was in my late twenties living in the Boston area, I went almost every week to Dance Free, a hippie-esque event that took place at the Congregational Church on Wednesday nights. No food or alcohol were served (although in those days a certain unmistakable odor sometimes drifted out of the restroom), just a joyous barefoot boogie in a large, dimly lit room with a cluster of candles in the middle of the floor.

Being Cambridge, you saw every kind of odd dancing imaginable. In one corner there might be a scruffy MIT scientist wrestling alone with his demons via a lot of constrained jerky movements. In another corner a couple might be leaping and swooping around in ecstatic abandon.

You could dance alone (yet never feel alone), or with a partner, or you could dance around the room making contact for a few moments here and there and then moving on. You could regard the entire group, or even the entire universe, as your partner. It didn’t matter. It also didn’t matter whether your dancing was graceful or sexy or ugly or awkward. You were doing it for yourself. In fact, sometimes the most stirring-to-watch dancing was ugly and awkward, because it was so real.

Flash forward several decades, and here on the Cape there are few opportunities to dance like that. Occasionally I’ll go out to a bar with friends, but it’s hard to agree on the kind of music we like, and often the crowd is too young for comfort. Once in a while some dancing breaks out at a private party, but it’s usually late, late in the evening, when the crowd has thinned out and the remaining guests have gotten sufficiently juiced to cut loose.

I call it the White Person Problem – this need for a large amount of alcohol before dancing can occur. You go to hear a band, and all the white people are sitting in chairs, listening politely, with barely a toe tapping. And it’s not just us older folks. At the college where I work, they sometimes have live music in the cafeteria, and I swear that not one of the ultra-cool college kids moves a muscle.

What’s wrong with everyone? Don’t they want to move?

Okay to be honest, the urge to move has diminished for me in recent years. Maybe it’s because I’m out of practice, but maybe it’s a natural thing, one of the passions of youth that just naturally fades. And I’m not immune to age/weight considerations. In our culture, there is such a strong link between dancing and sexiness that it sometimes seems better to pack it in when the outer package starts to spread and sag. Best to stop before we start to look ridiculous and horrify the young’uns.

But no…I have to reject that thought. Not if we can still dance for ourselves.

You look at other cultures – in the Caribbean or parts of Africa, for instance – and you can see older (often large-bodied) women who still get a groove on. You can see that they still feel the beat and have no hesitation in moving to it. They aren’t doing it to look good for anyone else. They’re doing it simply to connect. To connect with the beat, with the spirit, with the earth, whatever. I want to connect like that, too, as long as I can. I want to be gyrating in my wheel chair when the nursing home staff puts on the Rolling Stones. I hope you’re there with me.

But first we have to get back to dancing now, while we still have bodies that can move.

Never trust spiritual leader who cannot dance. ~Mr. Miyagi, The Next Karate Kid, 1994

We’re fools whether we dance or not, so we might as well dance. ~Japanese Proverb