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May 23, 2014

STAWAR: Dancing with the Stawars

— I have never been much of a reality television fan. If I wanted to see reality, all I’d have to do is look out the window at my lawn that needs mowing.

For me, those shows are sort of like sushi — I know a lot of people enjoy it, but it’s just not for me. In any event, my wife Diane and I recently broke down and watched a couple of episodes of the 18th season of “Dancing with the Stars.”

Even before we started watching, I was disappointed by the way “The Tonight Show” kept making fun of Billy Dee Williams’ “Star Wars” dance number. It was an unpleasant intergenerational slur, and I thought they were awfully unkind to Williams. Give the guy a break — after all he’s 77 years old. Williams, who will always be the suave Lando Calrissian to fans, still survived the first round, but then had to leave the show due to medical problems.

We actually started watching “DWTS” after we heard that Drew Carey and Danica McKellar, the actress who played Winnie Cooper on the television show “The Wonder Years,” were eliminated. I was surprised how competitive the show was. I can now understand the attraction it holds — it has all the fascination of an impending train wreck.

The so-called stars all claim it is great fun, but it seemed like they all had something to prove, and winning would provide redemption from an unsatisfactory personal or professional life.

It was much more athletic and glitzy than I imagined. I mistakenly thought it was going to be more or less a ballroom dancing contest.

Evidently, Drew Carey saw the show as an irresistible challenge, after losing a lot of weight and recovering from Type II diabetes. For some odd reason, he dedicated his desperate dance efforts to an ex-girlfriend’s child to whom he is closely attached and calls his “son.”

It all didn’t make much sense, but I have been sort of interested in Carey, probably because with his trademark crew-cut and dark-framed glasses, he looks a lot like my older brother Norman did back in the 1960s. Carey lacks the charismatic slickness of most other show-business types and exudes a Midwestern rawness and uncomfortableness that is sometimes painful to watch. Although I’m a poor judge, I thought Carey danced pretty well, although he didn’t have that fluid motion that many comedians seem to naturally possess.

“DWTS” had a lot of plot twists and turns, including a Paralympic snowboard champion with prosthetic feet, two Olympic gold medal ice dancers and the woman, who as a girl, played D.J. Tanner on the TV series “Full House.” I expect two episodes is probably enough “DWTS” to last us another 18 years, although the show did make me start thinking about my own pathetic dancing experiences.

I’ve always been a terrible dancer. As a child, I never learned about dancing. I wasn’t invited and would have been too shy to attend the ersatz cotillion held in our small town for upper-crust sixth graders. As a child, my older sisters talked about jitterbugging and I watched a lot of relatives dance at Polish weddings, although I never learned to polka myself.

As it is, my dancing repertoire only included three selections: 1. The Limbo, which I learned in fifth grade at the first boy-girl party I ever attended; 2. The Twist, thanks to Chubby Checker’s 1960 performance on Dick Clark’s American Bandstand. According to Chubby, “The gist of the Twist is chiefly in the hips;” and 3. “Slow dancing,” which is mostly clutching and shuffling along.

This is the only sort of dance that Diane and I are likely to do these days. In a pinch, I might also have a few additional moves culled from the “Mashed Potato” (stomping) or “The Swim” (holding my nose). Any actual performance of any of these, however, would require a generous dose of alcohol, preferably rum.

On Mother’s Day we went with our daughter and her children on the Belle of Louisville’s brunch cruise. On the return trip, a disc jockey played music, and a few of the passengers danced. There wasn’t enough time for the DJ to play all the classic fare, such as we’ve heard on the Belle before.

At the last couple of weddings that Diane and I attended, the DJs were still playing the “Chicken Dance,” a Swiss drinking song that was introduced in the United States at the 1981 Tulsa Oktoberfest. It was originally called the “Duck Dance,” but at the time, there were no duck costumes in Tulsa. An unknown benefactor, however, donated a chicken suit, and the rest is history.

The 1950s “Hokey Pokey” group-participation dance and, of course, the Village People’s “YMCA” song, with its distinctive choreography, round out the usual wedding dance mix. The popularity of these songs seems to cut across the generations.

I was disappointed that the grandchildren didn’t get to make all those classic beak, wing and tailfeather motions or put their right foot in and take their right foot out.

Still, there’s always next year, and until then I will be rooting for D.J. — that would be D.J. Tanner, not the disc jockey.

— Terry L. Stawar, Ed.D., lives in Georgetown and is the CEO of LifeSpring the local community mental health center in Jeffersonville. He can be reached at tstawar@lifespr.com. Checkout his Welcome to Planet-Terry blog and podcast at www.planetterry.wordpress.com

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