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  • Jan Flynn

The Serious Value of Silliness

Lessons from my inner five-year-old

You may have noticed that the world is kind of a mess lately.

Lately, as in the past five years, or the past 30, or the past 500. Climate change, pandemic, the disastrous end of a chronic war, the Texas legisature — those are a few of the lowlights from just the past year. I’d keep listing reasons to worry about the state of things, but I’m distracted. My inner five-year-old, her chubby cheeks flushed with excitement, is tugging on my sleeve.

“Never mind all that!” she lisps through her missing front teeth. “We have tap shoes!”

She speaks the truth. After decades (and decades) of tamping down one of her dearest, unfulfilled, Shirley Temple-inspired wishes, I have bought her, and myself, tap shoes. Yes, the ones in the accompanying photo. And no, they’re not little-girl sized. They’re eight-and-a-half medium, just right for my entirely grown-up, sometimes creaky, feet.

When things look grim, why not do something ridiculous?

I mean, there’s only so much I can do, which is not very much at all in the scheme of things. Once I’ve done my recycling and donating and carbon-offset buying and letter-writing and voting, well then, dwelling on the world’s ills has no other effect than to put me in a funk. How does that help anyone?

So when I received a catalog of community courses from our city, I dove in. It contained hundreds of courses, from the dreadfully practical (“All Things Funeral”) to the baffling (“Animals and Essential Oils”). I was just registering for “Asian Indian Vegetarian Cooking” when my eye fell upon — gasp — “Beginning Adult Tap Dance.”

No experience necessary! Only three lessons to start, extremely reasonably priced, conveniently located, at a time of day which will promote eating lightly and giving my liver a rest. Plus, an excuse to buy tap shoes! I signed up.

I resolved not to spend more on the shoes than on the lessons

I mean, just in case I don’t continue past the initial three sessions and progress to become a clickety-clacking phenom (“writer by day, fabulous tap dancer by night!”), it doesn’t make sense to spend the rent on my first pair. And I needed them pronto, because the first lesson is days away.

I have confessed elsewhere that online shoe shopping is one of my favorite guilty pleasures. It’s even more fun when searching for something as wildly impractical as shoes that make a lot of noise on purpose. Initially, I looked for a lace-up, regular leather pair, figuring they would be more sensible if that word even applies in this case. I found several such pairs, but none of them could be shipped out for a month — way too late.

And then, wonder of Amazon wonders, there they were: a pair of Capezios in the style of my kindergarten fever dreams. Patent-leather Mary Janes, tied with grosgrain ribbon bows, sporting TeleTone Taps. On sale! With Prime delivery!

I took this as a sign from the Universe. Things might be a mess, but they’ve always been a mess to one degree or another. At the same time, things are equally wondrous and amazing. And one way or another, it’s all going to be fine.

When the shoes arrived, I tore open the package, fueled by five-year-old fervor, and put on my Mary Janes immediately. What a glorious noise my TeleTones made on the hardwood floor, until my dog slunk out of the room and my husband covered his ears. I am so ready for Lesson One!

Do I expect tap-dancing success? No, and that’s the point

I’m pretty sure I’ll tap with the grace of a moose on roller skates. Luckily, I don’t know another soul in that class, and if I’m incredibly lucky the studio will lack mirrors. Not that I’d be embarrassed — one of the gifts of getting to my stage in life is a blithe disregard for the opinions of others when they get in the way of me enjoying myself.

But while I’m earnestly shuffling and clicking, I don’t want to focus on Grown-Up Me at all. I want to picture myself as Five-Year-Old Me does, which resembles my actual kindergarten self not at all. In her view, we will be fabulous. We will wow adoring crowds, our beribboned patent-leather feet becoming a mesmerizing blur, staccato brilliance sparkling with every eye-popping step as we smile and twirl our sparkly skirt.

And while we’re tapping, everything really will be fine. Except I probably should get a sparkly skirt. Don’t you think?

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