It happened at a Thursdays on First this summer. Maybe you saw it, too. Under a blackening sky, Joe Johnson danced. Raindrops smacked pavement and puddles pooled. Joe kept twisting up his Twisting Tornado Genie. Other dancers cowered under the Dooley’s parking awning. Maybe you were huddled up with them. Maybe you laughed at him, but Joe danced. The music cut out. Joe danced. The rain stopped, the music cut back on. Joe danced. People crept back onto 1st street and the party resumed. Joe just kept it going.
It stayed with me through the weekend, that image of one man dancing in the face of everything that doesn’t matter. Ridicule, self-consciousness, societal approval, getting wet. Joe’s dancing was a lesson, he wanted us to forget that stuff, to go for ours.
I expressed gratitude for the good example the next time I saw him. He said that he’d been exploring the potential of dancing as it pertained to his mission of spreading goodwill. It had been a lifelong interest, but he’d only recently begun to let it run wild.
“It’s like my parents told me a long time ago. Everybody used to dance. And I don’t hear that anymore. I think it’s been taken away, in a way. In a different way. I’m trying to hope I can bring it back and get more people to step up and say, let’s go, try, what have you got to lose?” said Joe.
He told me he dreamed of getting a real dance lesson to help him broaden his moves. My next move was a call to Winston Howard, Suite frontman and professional dance instructor. I wanted to play my part.
A few weeks later, Joe and I pulled up outside the Blue Moon Ballroom for his one-on-one with Winston. He admitted he’d never seen Winston dance.
“He plays in a funk band called Suite,” I told him.
“Oh, well then I’m right up his road,” said Joe.
Winston, familiar with Joe’s dancing, had predetermined their lesson. He would try to impart the grape-vine and cha-cha steps – elements that would help Joe mobilize his moves across a dance floor. Joe was pumped. My certainty wavered. What if proper technique infringed on Joe’s innate rhythm? Can a natural artist be taught? Un-learning is harder than learning, and more frustrating, too.
Joe’s natural grace did seem flummoxed by Winston’s instruction, at first. He stumbled through some initial steps. Soon, though, as he got comfier with Winston’s count, his personality shone through. I felt relief. Soon, laughs echoed off hardwood and into rafters.
After roughly half an hour of instruction from Winston, it was Joe’s turn to show off his original moves.
“That’s my twisting tornado genie,” explained Joe, “It’s beautiful, because I’m twisting the whole body and walking it, too, a little bit. Try to twist your whole body? Can you do that? Can you rev up your body like I can and then BOOM, I just go, I just let everything flow. That’s the beauty of the dance.”
The teacher was being taught. That’s kind of the deal with adult education.
“It was just extremely motivating. It was a breath of fresh air,” said Winston, “I teach adults on a daily basis, dance, and I see how stubborn they can be. It’s so easy to make it easy for yourself. He just does it.”
“I get fulfilled off of teaching dance lessons to people, but that was one of the most fulfilling moments,” said Winston, Joe, he said, “Takes the drama out of dance.”
“Don’t be afraid, don’t be embarrassed of other people, they just don’t understand that you love dancing, so you’re trying to come out and see what you can show them, what they’re going to love. If they see it, they might be so admired by it, impressed that they’ll just sit there and say, well, maybe we should start doing it,” said Joe, “What do you got to lose? Ask yourself that one. That’s what I ask myself all the time.”