Jan 18, 2008 - OF DRAGONS AND HORSES    No Comments

Counting in Chinese

Once upon a time, when filly was very young back in Sunset Meadow, her parents had taken her to see the great Austrian Lipizzaners Dancing Horses. They were so majestic and beautiful and exuberantly expressed life through dancing.Unfortunately, when Filly was caught back at home in Sunset Meadow imitating the Lipizzaners, immediately she was told that Sunset Meadow horses did not do that. It was not right to dance. Dancing horses were strictly forbidden in Sunset Meadow because it was evil.

But now, here she was in the Dragon’s Lair and dancing was expected. What would the Great White Mustang do if He were in her shoes?

When I was growing up, the church I grew up in was like the church in the movie Footloose. Dancing of any kind was taboo, forbidden. We heard many sermons on the evils of dancing and rock music and how it led to things in which we should not participate if we were to live for the Lord. For emphasis, we had Sundays dedicated to services wherein we brought our televisions to church and watched them shot out or sledge hammered by the church men, with their own guns. We burned rock albums and 8-tracks (yeah, I’m that old!) and we burned those wicked harlequin romance novels, too.

Since this church community was large within my life personally and within the little town in which we were located, this was nothing abnormal to me. And, after all, in the late 60’s and early 70’s in America, things were a LOT different than they are now. Back then, you were allowed to have opinions and express them freely. You were still allowed to choose your conformity and religious practice, rather than having politicians dictate how you could and couldn’t worship and whether or not your opinions constituted Hate Speech because of your choice of beliefs. Although my cultural revolution was relatively peaceful, it was a cultural revolution and did affect the lives of many both inside and outside of the movement to this day.

That being said, I had never danced in a social setting. I had not been exposed to dancing except through the Sound of Music (and that’s a little bit different kind of dancing). If someone had asked me what the Foxtrot was, I would have told them honestly that it was “a worldy beat setting on the organ my grandmother played at home” (and she quite enjoyed that beat, I might add.) She had a Wurlitzer organ with one of those little rhythm boxes added so that you could choose a button and out would come a whole layer of music to be added to the one you would play on the organ, making you a virtual one man band.

In China, dancing is a polite conversation between two people.  They are held at celebrations of events or to memorialize events or, in my case, to show off foreign guests. And just after I arrived, there was a dance held for me to be able to meet all the faculty and top administrators of the school.

Now I had been warned about dancing in China, that I would eventually be asked. To me, this was one of those ‘what if’ scenarios that we practice in our minds like “What if I were ever being robbed, how would I react?” The kind of scenario that you have the answer in your head and hope you never actually get asked to do it. And so it was when we went to this dance. As I was walking up the stairs to the floor where it would be held, Mrs. Barbara told me that I would be guest of honor at this dance and that I would be asked by the President of the University to dance, so I should be prepared.

By this time, I am sweating bullets. What am I supposed to do? And honestly, the music was Chinese folk music – nothing like the music played anywhere in America where dancing would be found. I climbed the stairs, I am sure, like a prisoner headed to the execution.

We were greeted by the faculty and then welcomed. We were seated in chairs situated in a way where everyone could see us. And then the dance began. And just as two trains racing down the tracks toward each other, the University President stood and headed over to where we were seated.

What to do, God, what to do? Suddenly the verses in Ecclesiastes started going through my head. You know, the verses that state that to everything there is a season and a purpose to everything under heaven (oh come now, that IS actually in the Bible…The Turtles didn’t just make up a song!) ….and as you go through the list…a time to love, a time to hate…a time to weep and a time to refrain from weeping…lo and behold, (and mind you, he’s almost standing next to me now) A TIME TO DANCE!

Ok, Lord. Whatever you say. Â

 

(Then through an interpreter, barely audible over the pounding of my anxious heart) Miss Pauline, may I have this dance?

I am sure that the entire room held its breath for what seemed an eternity to see what I would do. At least it seemed that way to me as I stood with resolute determination, having never danced a step in my life, to accept the invitation.

AND THAT’S HOW I LEARNED TO COUNT IN CHINESE!!!

I think the Chinese received a comedy show that evening. If you have never danced a ballroom dance, there are very specific steps required of you determined by your gender in the pairing. Now, remember how I stated it was more of a polite conversation than for anything else? In China, women dance with female partners and men dance with male partners and it has nothing to do with them being homosexual. The whole scenario is more like being in junior high again and the boys have cooties. That is because their idea of dating is much different than the way it comes about here. We would consider them very shy, but rather than stand by the wall, they choose same sex partners instead.

So there I was, my very two left feet, dancing with the University President, as he counted yi, er, san, siu and laughed. I don’t think I’ve ever seen or heard someone laugh so hard. I am also quite certain there were giggles as many Chinese raised their hands to their mouths to hide their teeth when they laughed and said to each other something like – “Crazy American girl…she got no rhythm!!”

There were to be a great many more laughs on a great many more evenings whenever the ritual prevailed…

Filly learned that day that it was not the idea of dance that was wrong, but the attitude of the dancer who danced.

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