71: Dancing from the Heart

71: Dancing from the Heart

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: My Amazing Mom

Dancing from the Heart

Great dancers are not great because of their technique, they are great because of their passion.

~Martha Graham

Now, I’m the first to admit that I’m not the greatest dancer in the world. In fact, the phrase “two left feet” might have been coined specifically for me. But I never miss a chance to dance when the music starts playing because of something I learned from my mom: If you’re going to dance, do it from your heart.

I’d always thought of my mom as a great person. She loved life and enjoyed every moment of it. She knew hard work and want for most of her life, but it never seemed to get in the way of her understanding that we’re also here to enjoy this life, and to do what we can to help others enjoy it, too. I just never realized how big that feeling was inside of her until I saw it come out one day.

We had gone to live with my grandpa shortly after my mom and dad divorced, and the transition was anything but smooth. My grandpa was a stoic man, and though he was kind enough to offer us a place to live, it was easy to see that having three grandchildren constantly underfoot wasn’t an easy thing for him. We were constantly disrupting the peace and quiet he was used to, and we thought of him as this stuffy old man whom we didn’t really know well. It was tough going at first.

Mom and Grandpa had a tense relationship following the divorce. Back then, people didn’t divorce without a lot of repercussion, and Grandpa didn’t think it was a good idea that she did it, but he took us in anyway. Mom took care of the house in exchange for Grandpa putting a roof over our heads, but I never saw them really comfortable around each other. Moving back in with a parent isn’t always an easy fit.

Music had always been a big part of Grandpa’s life. He had played the trumpet, trombone and accordion as a young man, and being Polish meant he was always playing polka music on the old phonograph in the den. The den was a large room with a beautiful chandelier that had once been used for parties and visits from family when my grandma was alive. But the room was largely unused the days we lived with Grandpa. He liked it quiet in the house, except for the polka music coming from the phonograph.

Mom used to do dance steps as she dusted and cleaned the house, but very quietly, so as not to disturb Grandpa. I knew she had gone to dances as a girl, and whenever any music played, her feet would start moving of their own accord. But I had never seen her really dance, and I admit I began to think she might become as quiet and withdrawn as Grandpa.

How wrong I was.

One afternoon, my brother, sister and I were put to work moving furniture in the large den. We moved chairs to the side, rolled up the big carpet, and made sure there was lots of space in the center of the room. Mom brought out Grandpa’s old accordion case and laid the accordion on the table next to a filled punch bowl. I had never seen the instrument before, and I was baffled at how it worked. I didn’t have to wait long to find out.

Mom told us it was Grandma’s birthday, and even though she had passed away a few years before, Grandpa had decided to throw a party in her honor. I thought maybe Mom had a hand in suggesting this, and in inviting all my uncles and aunts and cousins to attend the party. It felt like something she would do.

Soon, people I had never seen before filled the house, and instead of listening to the phonograph, several of our relatives brought their guitars, or fiddles, or whatever other instruments they could play. Grandpa took his accordion and fingered the many buttons on its side. I saw a smile break out on his face as music started to fill the room.

Then my mom began to dance. I watched as this often quiet, hard-working woman appeared in a flowing red dress and took the center of the floor. Grandpa and our other relatives began to play, and my mom began to twirl, dancing and laughing as I had never seen before. I saw her not just as my mother, but as a distinct person, a woman who danced with joy and talent I didn’t know she possessed.

Then she grabbed my hand and pulled me out onto the floor. I tried to pull away, to remind her I didn’t know how to dance, but her smile was infectious. She twirled me around, took my hands in hers, and whispered, “Don’t worry; just dance from your heart!”

Suddenly, my feet were moving. I danced around with my mom, then with my cousins and sister, laughing and whirling across the floor. I knew I must look silly, flailing and spinning without any idea of what to do, but I felt so free, wonderful, and full of joy. I saw that expression reflected in my mom’s eyes and knew she had given me something wonderful I would treasure for the rest of my life.

Now, whenever I get the chance, and the music starts to play, I remember the image of my mom—a young, vibrant woman dancing and whirling for the sheer joy of being alive. I get up and start my clumsy version of dancing. I move unafraid, free of inhibition, feeling alive and full of joy, because my mom taught me it’s all right to dance, and to always do it from the heart.

~John P. Buentello

You are currently enjoying a preview of this book.

Sign up here to get a Chicken Soup for the Soul story emailed to you every day for free!

Please note: Our premium story access has been discontinued (see more info).

view counter

More stories from our partners