In 1943, famed music lover and singer Florence Foster Jenkins was involved in a car accident while in the back of a taxi. Frightened, Jenkins let out a scream so shrill, she retrospectively identified it as the first time she’d ever managed to hit an F above high C. It was, however, unlikely the seventy-some-year-old correctly identified the note when she later checked her memory against a piano, since according to Stephen Pile, author of The Book of Heroic Failures, she was the “world’s worst opera singer.”
From a young age, Jenkins loved music, was a talented pianist, and longed for the stage. But when it came time to pursue a formal musical education, her father denied her the opportunity, possibly because he knew she wasn’t very good. Rumor has it she wasn’t great with rhythm. Or pitch.
It wasn’t until her father’s death that Jenkins, then in her early forties, began to seriously pursue a music career. By then she’d survived a short-lived marriage that resulted in a lifelong battle with syphilis, but she also had both plenty of money to become a celebrated patron of the arts in New York, and a champion in her new love, St. Clair Bayfield.
Known by her friends as Lady Florence, she began giving concerts to highly selective audiences, some of them celebrities like Cole Porter and opera singers Enrico Caruso, Geraldine Farrar, and Lily Pons, and all of them gracious. Music critics were never invited. That would have spoiled the fun.
Because making music should produce joy, no matter the caliber of one’s talent. It should be an emotional experience, one that should often produce dancing. Again, no matter the caliber of one’s talent. And I don’t know about you, but I’m feeling like right now, the world could use as much singing and as much dancing as it can get.
One of the wonderful side effects of this otherwise difficult time of social distancing is that our family has spent more unhurried time together. Yes, more togetherness often produces some irritation, but for the most part our little family of four has handled it all fairly well. We’ve played games and watched movies together. We’ve cranked up the tunes and sung, badly, at the top of our lungs together. And we’ve danced.
Or at least my husband and I have. Now, I should preface this next bit with the acknowledgement that my husband is really a very good dancer. He’s smooth and graceful, expressive and confident. His dance partner, on the other hand, just tries to keep up.
I am not a great dancer. I do have rhythm and oh how I love to dance, but for the most part I’m stiff and awkward, clumsy and embarrassing. Or at least my children seem to think I’m embarrassing.
There was a day when that didn’t bother them. Mom danced and they did, too, jumping and spinning until we were all sweaty and dizzy and giggling. Now when the dancing begins, they are much more likely to shake their heads and seek out some alone time in another part of the house.
Still, I think that even if they don’t want to join in, it’s important that my children see their parents dance. Because someday, when Covid-19 is as much a part of the past as are their carefree days of childhood, there will still be dark days and it will do them good to remember that they can crank up the music, sing badly at the top of their lungs, and dance and jump and spin until they are sweaty and dizzy and giggling.
Florence Foster Jenkins had it right as far as I’m concerned. She loved to sing and so she did. She finally held a public concert not terribly long after her car accident, and as it turned out, not long before her death. Lady Florence sold out Carnegie Hall faster than anyone before her had done and at least two thousand people were turned away. The critics, now impossible to keep out, were not kind. But as she once said, “People may say I can’t sing, but no one can ever say I didn’t sing.”
My friends, no one, least of all my children, can ever say I didn’t dance.
11 thoughts on “No One Can Say I Didn’t Dance”
What a great post! I love to sing and to dance. I can’t do either well, so the only one who has to suffer through my feeble attempts is my husband. Sad, he refuses to dance. Thanks for making my day.
Aw. You go ahead and do both! Even if he doesn’t join in, I’m sure your joy is contagious.
Thanks for introducing me to Lady Florence. I thoroughly enjoyed listening to her – although once was enough! Glad you are dancing today and into tomorrow. I only ever dance with the door shut when no one’s watching.
That’s ok, too! And yes, I also only listened once. It was an experience.
I remember my parents dancing when I was a kid and them singing along to the radio, but that (except when I’m home alone) is just something I cannot do in front of another living human….even the one I’m married to. I’m not sure the vows would hold up if he heard my singing voice :))
Maybe alone in the car? I remember one time when I was a teenager, my parents started waltzing to the Muzak in line at a Subway sandwich shop. At the time I was basically mortified. Now I just feel lucky that I had parents who would dance together in public.
I would have been ducking under a table in embarrassment! At least my parents kept their shenanigans inside the home 😆. Yes, singing alone in the car is okay, but the seat belt makes the dancing part difficult.
Well, I must agree with the critics, although undoubtedly I could not do any better!
It’s not exactly pleasant, but I appreciate her spunk.