At 70, writer and minister Robert Fulghum fears what will happen as he grows old. That’s why he’s learning to tango. Fulghum believes dancing will challenge his body, mind and spirit as he ages.
I believe in dancing.
I believe it is in my nature to dance by virtue of the beat of my heart, the pulse of my blood and the music in my mind. So I dance daily.
The seldom-used dining room of my house is now an often-used ballroom — an open space with a hardwood floor, stereo, and a disco ball. The CD-changer has six discs at the ready: waltz, swing, country, rock-and-roll, salsa, and tango.
Each morning when I walk through the house on the way to make coffee, I turn on the music, hit the “shuffle” button, and it’s Dance Time! I dance alone to whatever is playing. It’s a form of existential aerobics, a moving meditation.
Tango is a recent enthusiasm. It’s a complex and difficult dance, so I’m up to three lessons a week, three nights out dancing, and I’m off to Buenos Aires for three months of immersion in tango culture.
The first time I went tango dancing I was too intimidated to get out on the floor. I remembered another time I had stayed on the sidelines, when the dancing began after a village wedding on the Greek island of Crete. The fancy footwork confused me. “Don’t make a fool of yourself,” I thought. “Just watch.”
Reading my mind, an older woman dropped out of the dance, sat down beside me, and said, “If you join the dancing, you will feel foolish. If you do not, you will also feel foolish. So, why not dance?”
And, she said she had a secret for me. She whispered, “If you do not dance, we will know you are a fool. But if you dance, we will think well of you for trying.”
Recalling her wise words, I took up the challenge of tango.
A friend asked me if my tango-mania wasn’t a little ambitious. “Tango? At your age? You must be out of your mind!”
On the contrary: It’s a deeply pondered decision. My passion for tango disguises a fearfulness. I fear the shrinking of life that goes with aging. I fear the boredom that comes with not learning and not taking chances. I fear the dying that goes on inside you when you leave the game of life to wait in the final checkout line.
I seek the sharp, scary pleasure that comes from beginning something new — that calls on all my resources and challenges my mind, my body, and my spirit, all at once.
My goal now is to dance all the dances as long as I can, and then to sit down contented after the last elegant tango some sweet night and pass on because there wasn’t another dance left in me.
So, when people say, “Tango? At your age? Have lost your mind?” I answer, “No, and I don’t intend to.”
Robert Fulghum has written seven bestsellers including “All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten." A native of Waco, Texas, he was a Unitarian minister for 22 years and taught painting and philosophy. Fulghum lives in Seattle and Crete.
Independently produced for NPR by Jay Allison and Dan Gediman with John Gregory and Viki Merrick. Photo by Miro Svolik.
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