Monday, December 1, 2008

What’s So Funny?

Christy Rogers, Senior Research Associate at the Kirwan Institute

I’ve been laughing a lot more lately. We all have our ways of coping with a world-wide economic meltdown, and if mine is TIVO’ing 30 Rock so that I can rewind Steve Martin pouring a glass of scotch down his shirt and wailing, “I’m having a severe case of the Mondays,” then no harm, no foul. I find it interesting that 30 Rock, a comedy, is one of the few prime-time shows that takes on race. It’s like when we’re serious about race, we trip ourselves up, but comedy eases us in.

I’ve also been laughing a lot in my dance class. I take Hip-Hop. Maybe I should mention I’m white, 5’ 8”, 40 years old, and losing a battle with the infamous (holiday exacerbated) muffin top. I’m not a bad dancer—I took Hip-Hop for several years in Chicago with a back-up dancer for R. Kelly. I took my first class with Viola and was hooked, and when I came back for my second class, she talked about how much she loved teaching kids. “What I love the best,” she confided, “is that on the second class, they all come back dressed like me.” I think I actually blushed and tried not to look at my new pants. Viola was 90 pounds soaking wet, had a fantastic sense of humor, and was one of the best dancers I’ve ever seen. She even got on reality TV! Trying to match my gangly moves to hers, I nicknamed my dance style “The Unbearable Whiteness of Being.”

Five years after having a baby, I figured it was time to get back to some top rocks, so I signed up for Hip-Hop, Level 2, at Ballet Met. I got a card back saying I’d be in Level 1, thank you. And good thing—my instructor makes us spin on the floor. Viola never made me spin on the floor. She knew it was best for everyone. Now this person, he makes us try to do things with terrifying names, like The Typewriter. I missed one class and a lady leaned over and said, “you’re lucky…you missed something called The Coffee Grinder.” This past Tuesday I was tired—I tried to slide in and stand in the back. However, it turned out I was the only student that night. So I had an hour-long, 1-on-1, hip-hop tutorial with a professional dancer. And the funny thing was, laugh as I did, he never laughed. At the end, we talked about the difference between Hip-Hop instructors and styles. “Viola went on the 1s and 3s,” I said. He looked truly shocked. “But street dance is about hitting the 2s and 4s…when you’re challenged, you move in like this…” We worked a little on meeting street dance challengers. And I thought, maybe if an Asian guy 20 years younger than me who learned an African American art as a street fight is earnestly walking me through how to win, it’s not funny—it’s even better. It’s serious.

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