Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Tiny dancer

Chris Penn is dead at age 40. The other Penn brother who acts, Chris Penn has been on my mind of late, mostly thanks to his role as The Kid Who Can't Dance in Footloose.

Minus the odd polka frenzy I have never cared much for dancing, which probably has to do with the fact that as a child, I attended a school affiliated with a Christian ideology that forbids dancing. So I never danced when I was a kid and, all these years and much spiritual progress later, I still don't dance much.

But while I was attending that school Footloose came out, and I went to see it. And whenever I think about my disinclination to cut a rug (whenever, for example, someone asks me to dance, which happened as recently as Monday), I always flash back to the scenes in which Kevin Bacon, a pro-dancing rebel, is dance instructor to Chris Penn, an adolescent who is terrorized by his small town's anti-dancing religious hegemony -- and who, as it happens, can't dance a step anyway.

The film raises an interesting theological question. If, as my early religious instructors said, God doesn't want us to dance, does that mean God has preemptively bestowed grace upon people who are hopeless dancers, like the Penn character?

Regardless: Although Footloose is not a particularly good movie, it does have that exhilirating montage sequence, set to Deniece Williams' "Let's Hear It For the Boy," in which Bacon teaches Penn to dance. An important element of the pedagogy is a super-old-school Walkman into which two headsets can be plugged.

Adieu, Chris Penn, and thanks for reminding us that God won't strike us down if we dance. (Private to God: I do think the robot dancing has gotten out of control.)

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