By the time we reach adulthood, we have cultivated our own signature walk. Genes and environment collude to write a logistics program all our own. The unique way we transport our little me package from point A to point B is so singular, so us, that a good friend can identify us a mile away by our walk alone. We can tell whether a person is an athlete, a dancer, confident or self-conscious about their height; we can tell a person’s age without seeing their faces simply by their walk. We women, in particular, have discovered the power to influence an admirer with a simple movement. Fully in control of our youthful bodies, we emulate the panther, the gazelle, the vamp, the sophisticate. It’s part of our special powers over men.
Developing MS is a real game-changer. When I added foot drop to my choreography, I felt clumsy and unattractive. Augmenting my routine with a cane was the finishing blow; a cane did well by Fred Astaire and Judy Garland, but I don’t sing “Swanee” or tap dance on ceilings. I gave up on grace and worried about tripping or falling. My dance morphed from jazzy Gwen Verdon straight into Chevy Chase imitating Gerald R. Ford. Convinced that men observed this with either sympathy or disgust, I abandoned my desire to be desired.
One day, years ago–it was the year I started using a cane–I caught my then husband standing behind me beaming lasciviously.
“What are you looking at, you silly man,” I asked.
“You,” he said. “I love the way you walk.”
“Limp,” I corrected, “I don’t really just walk anymore.”
“It’s a geisha two-step,” he observed. “You take these feminine little mincing steps and then swing one hip. It makes your butt look great. You’re so hot.”
The geisha two-step. I do still have a dance! Not the one I was going for, but it’s something. Since then I’ve added some morning choreography. Some days, I get out of bed and my legs stiffen, I go up on my toes, twirl around and then crash into the bookcase. Other mornings I might get up and all the muscles in one leg contract, causing me to draw it up and stand on the other leg like a stork. After I recover from the stork stance, I lurch towards the bathroom like a giant palsied chicken. Definitely a barnyard theme going on there. Why I favor poultry, I can’t really say.
I can say that you don’t necessarily have to be on your feet to have a dance. Do you hang in a wheelchair these days, hang onto a walker? Are ya hanging onto walls, hanging around the house, hanging on for dear life, or just hangin’ in? It would be easy to think nobody’s paying attention. But they are. People that you wouldn’t think are sympathetic or aware at all, are watching, appreciating, even cataloging your moves and attitudes. Your health care team, loved ones and friends, of course. But there is another form of human that has your back in some pretty hilarious ways. Comic actors. But, look, mimics aren’t mocking you; they are taking up your cause. Here’s an example.
I’m sure you’ve all seen Mel Brooks’ “Young Frankenstein” (1974) by now, a send-up of the classic 1931 film “Frankenstein.” Remember that famous scene when Igor collects Dr. Frankenstein at the train station? Hunch-backed and using a walking stick, Igor beckons to the doctor to “walk this way.” He descends some steps and hands up his stick to the doctor, inviting him to hunch over and walk down the steps using the stick exactly as Igor had–and he does just that. On the surface, it’s whimsical, absurd, and delicious. Pure vaudeville. Peel back another layer, and it is Igor rolling his eyes at the mad doctor’s God complex, as if to say: “Walk in my shoes for a second, you superior, smug, arrogant, able-bodied nutcase. You want to create life from dead tissue? Here, take my stick and hunch over and walk like the freak that you really are.”
If you’d like to view this scene (and laugh your ass off) right now, click on this link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dNTToXKgwZc
Mel Brooks, my hero. You might not like his shtick, but he’s a mensch. He’s one of those humans that is watching us, understanding our challenges, and thinking of ways to do a shout out to all of us who struggle against the riptides of the smug, obtuse mainstream. In his 1968 film “The Producers,” there is a scene, a musical dance sequence, performed by a crack team of wheelchair-users. It’s marvelous. Think Busby Berkeley meets synchronized swimming, only it’s done on dry land and sitting down. I couldn’t find a video of this scene, darn it. But if you ever have a chance to see this movie, I hope you’ll watch it to the end.
The dance. It’s in all of us. We are hard-wired for it! It’s like fingerprints and snowflakes, no two are alike. So you get a few bruises and wind up on your tush from time to time. It’s all yours, nobody else falls quite like you do. Whenever I hit the ground, I usually wind up laughing my ass off. I think Mel would be proud.