Seat of Perception

Extra-cultural reviews by synaesthetes, symbolists, and strangers.

A long dance at O’Hare

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On Christmas Eve, in the late afternoon, having missed a connecting flight and awaiting a new departure, for three hours I was becalmed at O’Hare. I hadn’t slept in over thirty hours. I ate one of the best pepperoni pizzas I’ve ever had at a Wolfgang Puck’s off of B terminal’s main concourse, and spent the next two hours sitting on a bar stool at a raised counter that faced out onto the concourse, nursing coffees and cups of water by turns, watching the people go by, an amazing stream of humanity, or two streams rather, moving at cross-currents, rapids and freshets and eddies, calm stately progresses.

By this point I was practically hallucinating. The women walking by were among the most beautiful I had ever seen, all of them, every variety and age and color and carriage and body type; every mood and manner and move, every gesture. Beautiful! Soon enough I was almost as captivated by the men going by as by the women. And what struck me again and again and again was how people moved, no two of them alike – obvious enough, perhaps, but to sit and watch thousands of people walking through one of the world’s great international airports, how each one of them walked with a combination of movements and rhythms absolutely particular to them and not to be found duplicated in any of their thousands of fellows, was amazing to me, it felt like revelation, watching one after another after another absolutely idiosyncratic walker. The center of gravity, the lift, the carriage of the shoulders, the turn and bounce of the head, the suppleness or stiffness of the neck, the swing of the arms, the twist, the lope, the slouch or arch or reach, the gait, what a word for something never the same between given people, however often the same with one person, the expressions flowing into one another and endlessly transforming: whole bodies like faces, minutely, intimately, ceaselessly expressive faces.

My gaze danced delightedly from person to person, each one going by leading me to the next and the next, back and forth, astonished laughter and wonderment taking me again and again, but each time in a different mix. I thought that there must be a language to describe the particulars of this variety, that movement in the hips, that place where the moment of greatest lift comes in the stride, that particular movement of the hands, its brevity and how it’s grouped with the motions coming before and after, names for the types of galleries of motion that make up the gait, for indeed while each one was singular they all fell into types as well, many many types, if never reducible to them.

The greatest choreographer on earth could do far worse than to sit where I was sitting late on a Christmas Eve at O’Hare and spend a goodly two hours or more watching such a passing parade – because there were movements I was seeing that I felt certain had never been captured in formal dance, but should be. Whole seasons of dance, whole lifetimes. And though most of us would agree that transiting O’Hare on Christmas Eve was not an ideal time or place to be for anyone, the people I saw were mostly happy, or anyway lively and alert, engaged, though almost no one took note of me grinning and nodding happily at the parade, save one rotund woman in her late 60s with a gaze canted up into the converging geometries of O’Hare’s architecture – she saw me immediately, instantly saw what it was I was looking at and taking joy in, I’d swear to it, we locked gazes for a long moment as she walked by, our smiles widening, two travelers never again to exchange so much as a glance. But first she looked around at my looking around, and nodded sagely to me.

The sheer range of kinds of movements I saw was slightly but distinctly greater among the women than among the men. The couples were best of all, of course, especially those who walked hand in hand, because joined thusly they moved in ways quite different from how they walked alone. My favorite was a couple perhaps in their thirties: he was very tall, six and a half feet, she relatively short, less than five and a half. From the moment I caught sight of them, a hundred feet or more away from me down the concourse to my left, to the moment I lost sight of them amongst the crowds a hundred feet to my right, they held hands. His stride was long and loping, hers much shorter, but agile, graceful. They moved together beautifully, with a center of gravity common to them both in addition to their individual centers of gravity; there was a visual rhythm, a pattern to the synced out-of-syncness of their moving hips, their joined swinging hands, like two contrary waves meeting and raising a foamy ridge between them, subsiding and meeting and raising it again, and again. I wish I had the language! I wish the language existed. But it does! Here, in endless pivots of motion and recognition dancing together, rising and falling, casting traceries of remembrance and delight into the future, bowing to the next dance, and the next. Shall we?

Ron Drummond

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