La Joie de Danse

Okay, folks, laissez-moi expliquer. I was reading the story "Everyday Use" by Alice Walker, and I found myself wondering whether Rémy has as little confidence in his brother Emile as Dee had in her sister Maggie. (Then I found myself chagrined that I was thinking about a Pixar movie while reading classic literature.) And then this story came about. Not-so-subtle-hint: If you haven't read "Everyday Use," go read it. Not necessary to understand this story, but a great story in its own right. Must shut up before this note gets longer than the story.


It never fails – on my days off, Emile comes over. It's always intended to be a quick visit, but half the time he just stays the whole night. I appreciate his visits even more now that his life has gotten so busy – he's got a mate and a litter to look after, but like clockwork, he reports to our apartment Thursday and Saturday nights just for our company.

The highlight of the evening is when Linguini puts on a CD while he washes the dishes or dusts the living room – chores that he and Colette alternate daily.

Emile loves to dance. He can't dance, but he loves to try. Actually, he doesn't even try – he just does. He hears one or two seconds of the music – usually 10 Rue D'La Madeleine or Nirvana, when Colette's not around to plead headache – and away he goes, flailing his limbs in any physically possible direction, skittering and teetering around from one corner of the coffee table to the other. There's no rhythm and no coordination – only a lot of energy and flailing.

In the technical sense, Emile's not dancing; he's doing anything but dancing.

But tonight, I tried dancing, too. I couldn't stop tripping over my own paws. I think I know why, too – because the technical sense that I mentioned keeps getting in the way. I can't dance because I get lost in how each step, each movement, should be executed and at exactly which moment. Then I get out of breath. Dancing is a chore for me.

Not for Emile. He completely ignores what the rules say, what he looks like, and whether he's going to throw his back out. There are no dance steps for him – he has himself and the music, and that's enough. He has the time of his life.

And it looks more like a dance than my methodical, robotic sequence of steps.

So I just sat on the sofa to catch my breath and watched the little party. Linguini stopped doing dishes long enough for an air guitar solo. Emile kept careening around the coffee table, getting paw prints all over it, laughing and squealing like a kid at a carnival – and I suddenly realized that I have grossly undervalued Emile.

Maybe it's because I couldn't view him through anything but the lens of a chef. He never could understand the exquisite joy that cooking gives me; therefore, he had no imagination. Of course, I have never passed off Linguini as an uncreative dolt because he couldn't understand…

Mon Dieu, I've been such a hypocrite.

We all have our passions. For me it's cooking, for Linguini it's skating…and for Emile, dancing. And they're all equal – the reckless abandon of restraint to the whims of rhythm and melody is no different than the thrill of gliding at a barely controlled speed from point A to point B; or finding that one combination of flavors that you would never in a million years have predicted, but makes every delectable flavor you've ever experienced bitter in comparison.

Whatever it is, it ends in joy. And Emile has found a wild, almost mystical joy in something that only exhausts me. Now we're even – we probably have been even all along.

Things are going to be different between me and Emile.