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People don’t dance enough in public anymore

Saturday night on the porch swing, watching twenty-something neighbours trade waiter-blacks for crop tops and mom jeans. Post-shift, heading out to be seen. Bass vibrating the spinal column in the back seat. The age when you can be anything.

*

Dear self, when did I start wearing comfortable shoes and carrying Advil everywhere I go? I used to flick expectations like an S curve of dominoes.

It’s not the world that’s changed, it’s me.

*

The quadrille, the scotch reel, the cakewalk, the foxtrot, the tango, the waltz, the Charleston, the jitterbug, the cha-cha, the robot, the hustle, the Stanky Leg, the dab, Tik Tok, twerking—nobody puts baby in a corner.

At 61, Jennifer Grey no longer asks how do I look but how do I feel about myself?

*

In late-stage Alzheimer’s, dancing is the one thing my mother still loves to do. You can dance with any part of your body she once said: bobbing her head, wiggling her fingers back and forth.

Studies show that women who dance into old age are less likely to need help with other tasks, like washing hair or getting dressed. Dancing allows them to remain a subject, an individual able to express themselves. As they move, they experience their body as a record of time.

*

Suddenly middle-aged, I see older women everywhere. Wiry grey hairs like radio antennas on the top of their head. They broadcast crow’s feet and confidence; play whatever music they want.

*

My friend JoDee says let’s celebrate age spots. After all, this is our one body. At seventy, she knows not everyone gets this much airtime. Our lives pop songs, full of hope, but the verses sing the blues.

*

An old boss said he wouldn’t hire a woman in her 50s. Why buy an old horse when young ones are cheap? He also told a co-worker she looked like shit without her makeup. No wonder some women dye their hair, afraid to wear a grey cloak round their shoulders.

*

Calling all silver foxes, all women with salt and pepper eyebrows and laugh lines as deep as their lowest low to the dance floor. May you shake your widening asses and soft bellies for your own pleasure. May you be the moonlight on the water I swim towards.

*

At 25, I taped a picture of Frances McDormand (circa Laurel Canyon) to my fire finder. I both wanted her and wanted to be her—teal leather jacket, long wavy hair, fists stacked on luggage stickered with destinations. Experience a mirror ball, a thousand reflections shone in her face.

*

On long winter nights when I don’t want to go outside, I blast Taylor Swift’s Folklore, dance around the kitchen to elevate my heart rate, while outside frost on the railings grows horns and spikes. Like a geode split open, this life.

*

Googling the best dance songs of all time: bring sexy back, u can’t touch this minty breath. Circle dancing in packs to pump up the jam; slow numbers that pack washrooms stalls with all the single ladies, all that waiting to be picked—shake it off.

*

Dear self, define public, define enough.

*

Holding my mother’s hand in the New Balance store. She hasn’t been outside the care home in over a year and there’s so much stimulus: doorbell, tap and ding of cash, register the squeak of wet shoes on floor. We’re looking for runners to prevent a fall. Something that will slip over swollen and bandaged toes.

I ask the college-age clerk to measure her first. Feet flatten with age, sometimes grow a size bigger. She’s now a D-width. We line up the shoes like potential dance partners, try them on. I hum a made-up song as we shuffle-step a circle around the store. The clerk smiling as he rings in the pair. She’s still dancing.


Bren Simmers's head is tilted as she smiles at the camera. The background is blurred and contains abstract orange and purple shapes.

Bren Simmers is the author of four books, most recently If, When (Gaspereau Press, 2021). She is the winner of the CBC Poetry Prize and The Malahat Review Long Poem Prize. Her poetry collection Spell ‘World’ Backwards is forthcoming in 2024. She lives on Epekwitk (PEI).