Dancing at the White House

I KNEW a tap-dancer once who felt quite sure that if Richard Nixon had known how to dance - any kind of vigorous, sustained dancing - Watergate would not have happened. His premise was that a lifetime spent exercising only political power warps judgment. He asserted that the rhythms involved in dancing spring from a harmonious, elementary source. If presidents or anyone else would participate in those pure rhythms, they would be less likely to be intractable, insular, and arrogant. After all, it was not the Watergate break-in that brought Mr. Nixon down. It was the singularity of his arrogance.

And the man didn't dance.

Frankly, I like the idea that sweaty participation in dance is not only therapeutic but broadens judgment. This conclusion is a sort of affirmation that the more activities any person enjoys in life, the greater the possibility that he or she will become a little wiser. Educators have been saying this for years about a liberal arts education. Maybe Introduction to Dance should be a required course for all presidential aspirants.

How, then, should we regard a president who continues publicly to defend indicted men who organized a secret, illegal, and harebrained scheme of selling arms to Iran to provide cash for the contras? Can we conclude that here is a president who desperately needs to dance?

I'm serious about this.

It does not seem illogical that at least a danceless president, with evidence of Nixon's blighted arrogance before him, would venture cautiously in public statements now that criminal indictments have been issued. But lead-footed and stolid, disregarding even the appearance of arrogance, this President acts as if crimes were not possible by these men, as if accountability is not important to the nation.

Silence would better serve him and the republic at the moment, as if he were a disciplined dancer waiting in the wings, to emerge only on cue. But these days politicians are undisciplined and a bit more foolish. Our last few Presidents have not been exempt or particularly deft. Historical imperatives, like cues, are often disregarded by President Reagan and many in his administration.

Here is where a dancer has an edge, a background of experience that could help leaven a president out of a position of singular arrogance. Is it by engaging the rhythms of movement fashioned by the dancer. All this and practice.

Something wonderful happens when people dance. Nobody is being defended in a dance, outmaneuvered, ridiculed, or proselytized.

Dance is respect and love for the laws of movement. Politics is movement through laws - with strings attached. As non-dancing politicians are conditioned over years to attach strings to decisions and legislation, the result is puppetry - which is an anathema to the dancer.

Conclusion? Politicians should dance, regularly. Aerobic, ballroom, folk - any kind of dancing - to depoliticize themselves.

During the height of the Watergate investigation, when President Nixon was still in office and denying the moral crisis swirling around him, the poet William Meredith wrote a poem titled ``A Mild-Spoken Citizen Finally Writes to the White House.''

Halfway through the poem, Mr. Meredith quotes Henry David Thoreau: ``I never met a worse man than myself,'' and concludes that ``when we're our best, we can all afford to say that.''

Then Meredith goes on: ``...And if I were also a pray-er, a man given to praying,/ (I'm often in fact careless about great things, like you)/ and I wanted to pray for your office, as in fact I do,/ the words that would come to me would more likely be/ God change you than God bless the presidency./ I would pray, God cause the President to change.''

In addition to divine intervention, perhaps there should be a little vigorous dancing now and then by the man in the Oval Office.

David Holmstrom is the Monitor's features editor.

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