Dancer | Our Town | Chicago Reader

Dancer 

Sign up for our newsletters Subscribe

Roaming the neighborhood on a lonely, aimless Sunday, I stopped to buy a newspaper at the Loyola train station. Through the window I saw a small number of people standing transfixed, particularly a young woman who had covered her mouth with one hand and was pointing in wonder with the other. I turned and that's when I saw him, the man everyone was looking at, the man who was dancing, dancing, dancing, all by himself, spinning along Sheridan Road in slow, exuberant circles, his narrow face gleaming with sweat, and I swear to God I've never seen a human being dance like him. Not for a moment did his body stop its splendrous trembling, his head rolling in wide, urgent circles as if to stop dancing was to drown. With no music, no stage but the sidewalk, no audience or partners except those of us who were watching him in disbelief, pleasure, amazement, or suspicion, he was dancing and cars slowed to a crawl as they passed through his shuddering sphere. If they could have, the trees would have bent down to gaze longingly at his feet. It seemed impossible that his frighteningly thin arms and legs could be filled with so much dancing, and his shabby clothes looked like he'd spent his entire life trying to dance out of them. He would turn his weathered face to the sun, letting his body rock in the heat and wind. A wide, delirious smile filled the deep furrows of his forehead, filled all the lines of his aging face with complicated pleasures, and even his lips and tongue and the delicate scar on his throat became part of the dance.

A woman who was waiting for the bus was seized by the moment and began to grin, swaying back and forth ever so slightly with him, and he approached her, lifting his knees up in great, long, rhythmic strides. For several seconds they floated near each other, both of them nodding in unison like lovers, but suddenly she turned away in embarrassment, as if even her mild gestures of partnership had begun to undress her, revealing some essential nakedness. He quickly danced behind her in an exaggerated, mocking waltz of disappointment before spinning into the middle of the sidewalk with a liquid shrug of his shoulders.

A gentle rain began with the sound of falling needles and he twisted effortlessly along the cracks of the street as if looking for his own lost footsteps, the smile on his face slowly returning. With a long graceful wave to a passing little boy, the dancer began to joyfully fold and unfold himself like a tender new creature just discovering his body and wearing it for the first time. He seemed amazed at the wild directions his limbs could turn and the easy speed with which he could move through the impossible spaces of the city. One moment his body formed a shivering question mark, his hands floating blissfully up from his waist like shy birds, the tips of his fingers inscribing magnificent calligraphy in the air until they throbbed ferociously above his head as though pulling him up into the welcoming sky to float on slow waves of sun above the frozen rhythms of skyscrapers. That was one moment. But the next moment his dancing became mournful, became heavy with bloodstained shadows and ghosts, and agony leaked from his eyes, and his face was crumpled as if it had been pressed against prison bars for centuries, the deep erotic smile vanishing into bitterness on his lips. As he staggered to near stillness under the weight of his own somber, unheard music, I found myself wondering where he came from and where he could be going and whose arms he might be dancing toward and what it must be like to hold him. But just as quickly he began his graceful spinning and whirled slowly away, past the newspapers and trash, past the blind windows, down the street where I could no longer follow the turns of his spirit, of his strange, leaping heart. From far off, he was little more than a violent puff of smoke, and it wasn't much longer until he was completely out of sight, until there was nothing left of his dancing but the hypnotic rain and the wind and the exhausted street where all of us suddenly seemed as heavy and joyless as statues.

Comments

Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

More by Chris Petrakos

Agenda Teaser

Performing Arts
August 26
Music
Christina Aguilera, Big Boi Chicago Theatre
October 16

Tabbed Event Search

Popular Stories