One of my all-time favorite movies (in fact, I confess to watching it at least a dozen times) is Dirty Dancing, written by Eleanor Bergstein, directed by Emile Ardolino, and starring Jennifer Grey as Francis “Baby” Houseman and hunky Patrick Swayze as Johnny Castle.
There are so many reasons to like this movie (besides Swayze), but the primary reason I love it is because of the dancing.
It’s the summer of 1963, and a doctor, his wife and two daughters arrive at Kellerman’s, a summer resort in the Catskills. The heroine of the story is Baby, the younger daughter, who expects to attend college to study economics and then go work for the Peace Corps. The hero, Johnny, is the dance instructor who teaches the adults at the resort how to do ballroom and Latin dancing. Despite the disparity between Johnny and Baby, the two fall in love.
The dancing is important as it serves as a wonderful metaphor throughout the movie. Johnny teaches the older folks classical ballroom dancing, but later, at the secret parties for the younger staff, he teaches Baby how to dirty dance. The contrast between the two styles of dance is notable.
Ballroom dancing has forms and steps and rules. At one point, when trying to teach Baby a ballroom dance, Johnny tells her, “Look, spaghetti arms. This is my dance space. This is your dance space. I don’t go into yours, you don’t go into mine. You gotta hold the frame.”
Contrast that with the formless, erotic, sensual style of dirty dancing that involves full-body contact. Dirty dancing has been described as having sex with clothes on while standing up.
Both types of dancing have their places, even though the eroticism of the dirty dancers might rattle the cages of the ballroom-dancing oldsters.
When you watch the movie, you realize that dancing as a couple involves nonverbal communication—the press of a hand, the twist of the body, the direction of the head, and sometimes movements so subtle only a well-practiced couple is aware of them. All that movement and communication is in response to the rhythm of the music.
Dancing with the Muse definitely involves a lot of nonverbal communication, sometimes frustratingly so.
Sometimes you lead, sometimes your Muse leads, and there is a flow and harmony.
Until there isn’t. You lose the rhythm, miss a step. Maybe the frame and the form have become too formal for the dance you want to do. Maybe that strong bass line demands an earthier, more passionate approach to the work.
Maybe you need to break the frame and dirty dance with your Muse.
How else will you meld with your Muse? Feel the heat of her, even the sweat?
You have to get sensual with her. Get up close and personal.
Get passionate and rapturous.
Because, there…there is where the power and glory of your creation, your story may lie.
In the sensual and passionate connection between you and your work, between you and your Muse.
No distance, no proper forms or steps or ways of doing it.
Just the closest connection. Moving to the rhythms of the music of creation.