If I was ever going to be able to uninhibitedly motivate, I would have to get clear of kids that I knew and go on an out-of-town date with Doug. A few weeks later, he took me to a bar mitzvah near Annapolis, Md. The party was scheduled from 6:30 p.m. to 10:30 p.m., but Doug always arrives an hour early for setup. Again there were three other dancers. Steven Golob, 29, a high-school science teacher who moonlights as a break dancer, and two college students, Rachael Topel, 18, who has been at this for two years, and Brittani Kaltman, 19, who was on her second bar mitzvah gig.
In the quiet before the guests arrived, we unpacked a crate of novelties: plastic necklaces and hats, costume sunglasses, fake guitars, light sticks. I came to think of it as the big box of dreck, D.J. Doug's piece of the trade deficit with China. When the party begins at 6:30, Doug sets a mood of what he calls "organized chaos" for the kids and allows the adults to forget their parental duties and have a few drinks.
We motivators handed out necklaces and sunglasses, then there were a series of quick games: a hula-hoop contest, a scavenger hunt. This was followed by the first line dance, "The Cupid Shuffle" by Cupid. I had heard of neither Cupid nor his shuffle, but I liked the song and appreciated that the lyrics were the dance instructions. I tried not to look too conspicuous as I led a dance the kids knew better than I did.
When I glanced over at the adults at the bar on the other side of the room, I felt a deep longing to stop being ridiculous, get a glass of cabernet, and join a discussion about how health care reform would affect the midterm elections. Suddenly I saw by the bar a friend of mine, Iris Krasnow, a journalism professor at American University who's had me speak to her classes for several years. Since I was trying to stay incognito, I wondered if I should avoid her or say hello. My dilemma was solved when she came up to me and said, "Wait until Doug starts playing Motown and the adults show the kids how to dance!"
After the cocktail hour, we motivators were on the sidelines for the video montage of the bar mitzvah boy's life, followed by dinner. At 8:30 p.m., Doug blessedly put on "Respect," the adults and kids poured onto the dance floor, and I joined the adults who jiggled with abandon. I danced with a 10-year-old girl whose parents encouraged her to copy my moves, and then boogied with two older women. Iris came over to me and we shimmied (yes!) to each other. Afterward I asked her how she knew the family, and she looked at me with her mouth hanging open. It turned out that my showing up as a fly girl fritzed out Iris' ability to recognize me. "Oh, my God, I knew your face was familiar, but I just thought I'd seen you dancing at other bar mitzvahs!" she said.
With the adults now on the dance floor, the kids responded defensively. In the book Millions of Monarchs, Bunches of Bees: How Bugs Find Strength in Numbers, entomologist Gilbert Waldbauer describes how leaf beetle larvae form a tight circle with their heads facing inward and their tails thrashing to scare off their primary enemy, the stinkbug. I knew I was a stinkbug, so I left it to Rachael and Brittani to try to interact with the little larvae. I ponied across the floor and acted as if the adult couples wanted me to dance with them. A few guests commented on my efforts. "You have such spirit," said one, which I took to mean, "You're embarrassing yourself." Another said, "You have so much energy," kindly leaving off "for someone your age."
At 10 p.m. Doug played the first slow dance, this generation's standard, "You're Beautiful"by James Blunt, which is far inferior to my generation's "Cherish" by the Association. One thing that hasn't changed in the past four decades is 13-year-old slow dancing. The brave couple comes onto the floor, he puts his hands on her waist, she puts hers on his shoulders, and they sway gingerly as if trying to steady a balance board. Looking at them, I remembered the time Alex Wirkerman asked me to dance to "Cherish." I was wearing a pink and orange striped dress, and when Alex put his hands on my waist a tingle went up my spine and I felt I had crossed some mysterious threshold.
My reverie was interrupted by the limbo. Then all the motivators helped Doug lead another line dance to "Thriller." And I have been to enough of D.J. Doug's bar mitzvah parties to know that when he puts on Journey's "Don't Stop Believing," the party's almost over.
Although I didn't get home until 1:15 a.m, I felt exhilarated. It was as if I'd been released from a bomb shelter I'd crawled into in 1968. Thanks to D.J. Doug I learned young person moves to young person songs—I love you, Taylor Swift! And even if I wear cashmere and pearls to the next bat mitzvah we're invited to, maybe my daughter will finally dance with me.
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