Freestyle

1970s High School Dance (4)

“Freestyle,” now there’s a vocab jack in the box bursting with “what the hell!”  The term Freestyle can be ascribed to a variant version of almost anything we humans do. Let’s say for the purposes of this rant that “freestyle” means “acting in the absence of rules or generally accepted protocol.” Now that’s a relief unless one happens to be a rule hugger, in which case it would, of course, be disconcerting.

In a valiant effort to save my marriage, I agreed to sign up for ballroom dance lessons. For context, up to that point in my life dancing had not been numbered among my strong suits. Relying on a glaring weakness to change the course of a dissolving marriage may not have been putting my best foot forward, ha, but I donned those creepy felt soled dance slipper shoe things and gave it my best.

Ballroom dance presented me with a calculus problem that, as it turns out I was ill-suited to solve, graphing calculator, youtube videos and hours of practice notwithstanding. I guess I’m a freestyle guy. I put in the effort though. I really did. However, the combination of regimented movement and rules left me shaking my head. Apparently, the head is not the right part of the body to be shaking in the genre. All that effort and money bore a shallow harvest, and that’s putting it politely.

Freestyle dancing is a natural gift that all humans, and many pets (see youtube) have at their disposal for the purpose of celebration. Freestyle skiing emerged when lovers of the sport found that the sanctioned practices of those “judging” the events did not fit their natural outpouring of self-expression while rocketing downhill on two snow supported slabs of glass/metal composite. Freestyle poetry, and then rap found the stage when traditional structure could not contain the expression of writers who needed undefined space to share their ideas. So it is that many of the constructs we as a culture use to define excellence have been bent or broken by a new wave of creators who have stretched a newly expanding canvas for the work of self-expression.

Let’s break it down.

Free: definition
Not under the control or in the power of another; able to act or be done as one wishes.

style: definition
A manner of doing something.

According to the combined definition: Freestyling is basically the outcome of deciding to do one’s own thing, regardless of the established norm. Freestyle expression in the aforementioned genres has survived and thrived long enough that they are now considered “established.” Once accepted, they too are subject to judgment. People enter “freestyle competitions!” Oxymoron?

I can distinctly remember “freestyle dancing” in the basement of St. Paul’s Catholic Church at an 8th-grade dance. I was dressed like an ass thanks to my complete lack of fashion sense. I was all in, having a blast. It wasn’t until the girl I was dancing with; I had used all my human courage credits to ask her, commented that I had a very “unique” style that I realized I was a pioneer. This 14-year-old Betty was making fun of me. She danced away to the next song with a football player, and that was that. Oh, judgment! For years I thought about it every time I danced sober, but unlike the dances that came soon after that incident, now I smile.

These days I freestyle in my living room, first thing in the morning. The scent of brewing coffee wafting through the house, glass of salt water and lemon in hand, tribal drums blasting over the Spotify airwaves, I dance, white boy freestyle. Sure, Beyonce won’t be tapping me for her next tour, but fuck it, why not let my awkward dance flag fly? I’m free!

Social Decorum And The Horse It Rode In On

Table manners bwThis random thought began as a journal note in 2014. 

Table manners.  Ah yes!  A tiny window view into the vast array of merit badge earning opportunities awaiting on the shoulder-sash of parenthood.

My youngest son is hyperactive…seriously!  I’ve been told that during his toddler years, when he was scheduled to attend mother’s day out the staff added an extra person just to handle him.  Ha, that’s my boy.  Nowadays he can often be seen orbiting the table while we enjoy family dinner, which at my choosing we share every night.  It appears he came into this world with a wicked case of the “can’t-be-stills!”  I could force him to sit…but why?  Will he turn out to be a better citizen if I make him do so?  Will he feel it’s okay to be him if I force him to “not be him?”  Will any of us digest our meal more healthfully, or feel the world has been made a better place if I declare martial law at the dinner table?  Probably not.  However, at times, while chewing my food, seated within the gyroscopic whirl of his dining room orbit I do hear distant murmurs of a disapproving throng.

“Can’t you control that kid?”

“That walking about is not proper dinner time behavior!”

“Have the decency to teach the boy some manners!”

As though having trouble staying seated while masticating will lead directly to the unraveling of the social fabric of our entire culture.

As a nod to Emily Post and her followers,  I have explained to my son that some people will expect the use of traditional, “proper” manners and that table-orbiting may not be considered acceptable in the homes of his friends.  He gets it.  He has managed to avoid becoming “that kid in the principal’s office” at school, etc.  When required, he’s capable of masterful-ish self-control.  Perhaps the best way to look at manners is in context.   Are our opinions about the matter based on childhood experience?  If so they are traditional, possibly passed down through multiple generations.  Yes, these specific rules of behavior have been taught, but are they still supremely relevant?  The doctrine of a flat Earth was too once widely taught.  Do these lessons still hold their weight in the face of scientific, or in this case cultural evolution?

With that view in mind, one has to decide the goal, and more importantly the ultimate impact of one’s parental decisions.  I find that after deconstructing most etiquette protocol and running it through the, “Does this rule truly make the world a better place” test, flexibility and acceptance usually win the day.  Because really, are we here to “control” children, or help them flourish?  I know which answer sits, or doesn’t sit (pardon the pun) best with me.  I’m not advocating mannerlessness.  I’ve taught my boys every social rule and regulation that I’ve ever learned.  They are aware of and able to adhere to social decorum protocol at will.  Afterall, knowing the rules is a perfect starting point on the road to doing the right thing, staying out of trouble, and for those of you who remember high school, avoiding embarrassment.

Long after we are gone, our children will unconsciously run their lives on the operating systems we’ve implanted in them.  Our decisions about how to handle their youthful “behavior issues” will have shaped more than those teaching “moments.”  That is why I let the kid orbit the table at dinner time.  And no, I don’t let him do laps at Thanksgiving with the extended family.  Even I have my limits.  There are times and places for rules to be followed, and at least in my universe, times and places for their bending.  Most adults unconsciously carry childhood memories of being brought to heel over issues of manners or rules.  How the lessons were “taught” matters, even decades later.  The cumulative effect of an upbringing may leave one with a deep-seated sense of self-acceptance, ambivalence or shame.  I know which perspective I’d like to see shaping the future of this world.  I bet you do too.

 

Do you have a similar experience to relate?  Please comment.  Life is bigger and better with shared experience!