To Dance Like No One Is Watching

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A brief moment on a San Francisco sidewalk reminds Richard Swerdlow the joy of dancing like no one is watching.

It was noon in San Francisco's financial district, and office workers were streaming out of skyscrapers for lunch. I stood on a corner waiting for the stoplight.

But not everyone on the corner was waiting to cross the street. There among the lunchtime crowd, a street musician was playing jazz on a saxophone. I was enjoying the sunny afternoon, jazzy music and urban vibe, when I noticed the lady next to me was also enjoying the music.

She sure didn't look like a jazz aficionado - plainly dressed woman in her 60's - not cool, young, or thin, gray hair in a bun. From the looks of her, she worked in an office, and didn't hang out in trendy music clubs. But don't judge a book by its cover - this cat could boogie.

She gave the sax player a delighted smile and burst into an impromptu dance, clapping her hands, swinging and swirling her office-appropriate brown skirt. The grinning busker picked up the tempo and she twirled and high-stepped all over the sidewalk. The light turned green, and she crossed with the crowd and disappeared.


I stood transfixed, so caught up watching her, I almost forgot to walk. Then, I remembered and hurried on my way. But that cool jazz and impromptu dance had me smiling all day long. It's one of the things I love about San Francisco, the anything-can-happen magic that infuses our city's streets of absurd crayon-colored houses and foggy hills, the ludicrous juxtaposition of futuristic skyscrapers with hundred-year-old cable cars unexpectedly rattling by.

I don't know what my dancing office worker's rest of the day was - probably, like most of us, sitting staring at a screen until quitting time. But for one moment, she was not a 9-to-5 cubicle dweller in a dull wool skirt, but dancing for the sheer happiness of the sunny day, the beautiful city, the music. On that crowded sidewalk, she danced like no one was watching. I walked with a bounce in my step for days afterwards, thinking of her.

I once read "Life may not be a party, but while we're here we should dance." I'm not much of a dancer. But watching that lady on the street corner, I realized all of us can find one minute in our busy days to dance - literally or figuratively - just for the joy of being alive.

With a Perspective, I'm Richard Swerdlow.

Richard Swerdlow works for the San Francisco Unified School District.