Folk Dances and the American Condition.

Yesterday we went to the Museum of Natural History for a Mexican folk dancing performance. It was great, there was a mariachi band playing and the dancing was fantastic.

I was thinking while we were there about the American middle class stigma and our bland reluctance to participate. It’s something that Barbara Ehrenrich talked about in “Nickeled and Dimed,” and something that I’ve thought about often as well. I feel that the middle class, is uncomfortable with people in general. In service positions, we don’t like to have people do messy tasks for us, and feel a certain guilt when we have someone into our homes to clean. Often, we’ll clean before the cleaning person arrives, out of embarrassment and awkwardness. It’s difficult to know how much to tip someone, and it’s easy to be uncomfortable discussing money or prices for services rendered. And culturally, there’s this fear of participation that we seem to suffer from. The museum was hosting a Mexican American cultural workshop, and looking at the primarily Mexican audience it was easy to see how comfortable they were, and how they weren’t afraid to join in. That’s something that my repressed middle class heritage lacks. We don’t have a casual give and take with the performer. It’s somehow low brow to make a scene, or to participate in a crowded audience. (But at the same time, there will always be self-assured middleclass people, usually men or older women, who feel that it is their right to participate, or even lead, the gathering. There will always be ‘those guys’ who talk out of place, who serve as the class clown and try to ingrate themselves with the audience, who look around them after every outburst, hoping to make eye contact and find the validation and admiration of their peers.) We’re missing out on a lot by not allowing ourselves to become engaged by a performer, to not allow ourselves to become part of the temporary community that is an audience. I hope that I can avoid that self-alienation.