This concert featured the appearance of a Dancin’ Girl, a development that threatened the very fabric of existence and your cherished way of life. It’s better that you never realized the peril your family and loved ones faced. We bravely carried the burden alone and held the threads of civilization together. You’re welcome.
Any decent show will feature at least one Dancin’ Girl, but which variety will appear at your location? The most common version remains, of course, Drunk Dancin’ Girl. The volatility level here can lead the spectator through a gamut of emotions including bemusement, amazement, and then finally mortification. Ditto for Drunk Dancin’ Girl who can begin a song as a whirling dervish and by the final chorus collapse into a heap of tears and regret. Every circle of friends contains at least one Drunk Dancin’ Girl whose legendary exploits you always seem to miss. We have not one but two friends famed throughout the Midwest as the Martha Grahams of table-top choreography. How have I never witnessed this? I need to get out more.
Duane plays in a band and his wife’s Drunk Dancin’ Girl extravaganza contains a show-stopping finale of making out with another woman, always a stranger. Being an axe man isn’t all beer and skittles my friends. Still his guitar gently weeps.
You would think every Drunk Dancin’ Girl would have her Drunk Dancin’ Guy for DDWTS (which would be appointment television) but alas such is not the case. Drunk Guy merely yells Woooooo!!!!!!!!!!! and Yeahhhh!!!!!! at inappropriate moments and belligerently demands songs not in the band’s catalog. Also, fights. An utter disappointment with all too frequent appearances.
The Dancin’ Girl in question that began our story was none other than the dreaded Deluded Dancin’ Girl. Deluded in an Elaine-Benes-Sweet-Fancy-Moses deluded kind of way. The featured move of our heroine involved hopping on one leg while circling her boyfriend like a Maypole. Fine, that constituted the totality of her repertoire. Her boyfriend stood stock still, unblinking, perhaps believing he could render himself invisible, and she would wander off and circle another.
During a break between sets I moved in for a closer look. This couple had way-above-average looks and appeared perfectly normal otherwise. But like a spell in a barroom fairy-tale, the music immediately turned him back into Obelisk Boy and her into Pogo Girl, doomed to orbit her lover forever. Like all natural disasters, it proved hypnotic and hard to turn away. I can only assume the band considered retirement midway through every song for the good of society and their psychological well-being.
The only Dancin’ Girl you want at your concert is the enchanting Mighty Fine Dancin’ Girl. The appearance of Mighty Fine Dancin’ Girl causes you to sigh, produces feelings of wonder, tempts you to break a chair over the guy she’s with and run away together into the night. Everyone would understand; no one would judge; this is bigger than all of us.
The greatest manifestation of Mighty Fine Dancin’ Girl occurred at the 1956 Newport Jazz Festival. When Duke Ellington arrived at the festival, his band and career were running on fumes. He held the band together by playing any gig available, including ice rinks, and paying the band from his royalties. No record label would sign them to a deal. The new festival, begun in 1954, booked Elllington to open and close the show as both jazz royalty and nostalgia act of the big band era.
After a forgettable opening set, the band took the stage to close the show. The Duke announced they would be playing two old blues, “Diminuendo in Blue” and “Crescendo in Blue”. The astounding ability to keep the band together across decades had allowed Ellington to reimagine his previous work, and here he sought to fuse two prior works with a saxophone solo by Paul Gonsalves.
Supposedly Ellington had told Gonsalves to solo as long as he wanted before diving into “Crescendo.” And solo he did. Gonsalves, like all the band, had impeccable skills, but he had never been known as a great or imaginative soloist. And that’s when Mighty Fine Dancin’ girl entered the scene. A dazzling woman in a black dress, caught up in the music, stood and began dancing near the front of the stage. The crowd stood to watch and began dancing themselves. Ellington, delighted, began driving Gonsalves on and on. Gonsalves played like he had never played before, whipping the crowd into a frenzy as the band yelled for him to keep the music moving forward.
Gonsalves played for 27 choruses, the crowd demanded four encores, Ellington at Newport would become the band’s biggest selling album, and Ellington entered a remarkable final phase of productivity and popularity until his death in 1974. That’s the power of Mighty Fine Dancin’ Girl (Her name was Elaine Anderson, and she would have a distinguished final phase of life herself as the beloved director of the Neighborhood Association of the Back Bay in Boston).
My sister-in-law, a Mighty Fine Dancin’ Girl herself, always made it clear you had to earn her moves. Her rising to dance was the ultimate imprimatur of excellence. Play on, she would signal to the band; greatness wants to shake your hand and lead you to the rarefied air of the sublime. I’m not afraid to go there with you and bring everyone else along. Because who knows when the music will prove worthy of dancing again?