Mesa Musings: The dance floor beckons

I can't dance. Not a lick.

But that's not always been the case.

As a student at Lindbergh Elementary School in Costa Mesa from 1952-56, we received square dance and social dance lessons on rainy afternoons. I discovered that I enjoyed the sensation of holding a girl in my arms.

When I attended Everett A. Rea Junior High School from 1956-58, I took regular social dance lessons — and became rather adept. I learned all the popular moves from swing and waltz to foxtrot and cha-cha.

At Costa Mesa High School from 1958-62, I regularly attended the school's sock hops in the gym and its proms.

As a high school senior, I had a lead role in our spring musical, an original production about life on a 1960s high school campus. The show included a gymnasium dance scene.

I portrayed a somewhat flamboyant character and, during the dance scene, presented an outrageous (for the time) rendition of the Surfer Stomp. My antics elicited laughter and applause.

In the Army, I occasionally spent evenings at the post's nightclub. My buddies laughed at my limber, unorthodox dance moves.

Later, following my military service, I danced at galas and banquets associated with my profession. A longtime colleague referred to me, with no small measure of envy, as "The Poor Man's Michael Jackson."

I danced at the weddings of each of my three daughters. I was never shy about hoofing it in public.

Recently, my wife, Hedy, and I attended the wedding of our niece. I didn't dance. It wasn't that I didn't want to. Put simply, it's because I'm no longer able to.

I'm completely devoid of rhythm.

How, you ask, does one lose his rhythm?

More than five years ago I was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease. Parkinson's is a degenerative brain disorder that occurs when certain nerve cells die or become impaired. The cells produce a chemical — dopamine — that facilitates smooth, coordinated body movement.

Daily, my body subtly sheds dexterity.

The disease is progressive and has no cure. Patients exhibit such symptoms as tremors or shaking, slowness of movement, rigidity or stiffness, and balance difficulties. Other signs include a shuffling gate, cognitive problems or muffled speech.

My Parkinson's symptoms have conspired to rob me of my dancing ability. Oh, I can get out on the floor and perambulate a little, but I can't make a statement. Not like I used to!

At our niece's wedding, I realized just how much I miss being able to dance. It's not something that I routinely ruminate about, but my "lost ability" caused me considerable regret at the high-energy wedding reception.

I still experience within my soul the beat or pulsating rhythm of a musical piece, but am unable to adequately interpret it with my body.

I lack fluidity and ease of movement. My legs are mildly rigid.

My father, who suffered from Parkinson's for more than a decade and died shortly after I was diagnosed, reached a point in his later years when he was unable to walk without the assistance of an aide or a walker. I'm not there, but I could be on his glide path.

I relayed my wedding reception experience to my neurologist during a recent visit. She refused to join me in my pity party.

"What a great opportunity, Jim," she enthused (she's always enthusing — she's an ever-abiding enthusiast!). "I just happen to know of a new dance class being offered especially for Parkinson's patients. Let's get you signed up!"

My wife shared her zeal.

"Yeah, but will I get my fluidity back?" I stipulated. "I've lost my mojo!"

"No guarantees," was my neurologist's rejoinder. There never are with this vile disease. "But maybe you'll become a better dancer than you were at the reception. And that's something to shoot for."

Baby steps.

Life, I've learned, brings changes — not all of them welcome. Everything this side of eternity is provisional.

But one should never give up fighting for one's mojo!

JIM CARNETT lives in Costa Mesa. His column runs Tuesdays.

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