In a little neighborhood like mine, it's no secret who can moonwalk and who can't. Odd talents are common knowledge. If someone can juggle tire irons or sing like Snow White, people find it out. I'm no dancer, but when some sixth-graders at the local elementary school needed to learn how to moonwalk, they knew exactly where to come.
Unlike most skills, my ability to moonwalk is an all-natural gift. I never took dancing lessons as a child, perhaps because there were none to be had. Some of the older people in our town were pretty good at the foxtrot and waltz, but my generation thought those dances were stuffy and old-fashioned. We opted for aimless shuffling in dim high school gymnasiums, which we thought was much more self-expressive. It was also much easier.
Then one day, while standing in my kitchen peeling potatoes, a burst of enlightenment descended. With no warning and no conscious thought, I realized that I knew exactly how to moonwalk. I set down the potato I was working on, tipped one leg up onto my toes, and silently glided backward across my kitchen floor.
That was the start of many happy days. I began to do much of my traveling around the house by moonwalk. Carpets became a nuisance. I looked dreamily at home-improvement ads featuring hard, slippery floors. Visiting neighbors noticed my new mode of locomotion. Word got around.
After the novelty wore off, I went back to walking forward most of the time, unless an especially snappy piece of music came on the radio.
Then three sixth-grade girls came up with a dance number they wanted to perform for the school talent show. They wanted to begin by moonwalking onto the stage. None of them knew how, but they knew I did. I warned them that it wasn't easy. Only a few have such a talent dropped on them without warning. They would have to learn how to moonwalk the hard way.
Our first lesson, in my kitchen, didn't go very well. First I had to find slippery socks for them, explaining that they could never moonwalk in athletic shoes with their snow-tire tread. All three had a hard time learning to shift their weight from one leg to the other, so that the foot that was flat on the floor could slide back. They crashed into chairs and each other. They had fits of giggling. They began to waver about learning to moonwalk. Finally, I sent them home to practice.
As the days went by, my young apprentices tried harder to learn. I told them it was like riding a bike: Suddenly it would click, and they would know exactly how to do it. They kept working, slowly and awkwardly inching around my kitchen. By the time of the talent-show tryouts, the girls jerkily moonwalked onto the stage and right into the show's coveted finale spot.
The week between tryouts and the talent show was hectic. The girls got sidetracked into what I considered less-important details: homework, music lessons, basketball games, and chores. Every day we planned a practice, and every day it was canceled. I grew concerned. The girls could moonwalk, but just barely. They needed more time!
The talent show was in the elementary school auditorium. I arrived as children were filing in, giggling and bobbing. I found a bent metal chair in the back and sat down.
The show began with a piano solo, played by a short boy in a rumpled white shirt and tie. He had to repeat the opening bars several times while he tried to remember what came next, but he did pretty well after that. Then the sixth-grader emcee read some riddles out of a book. A couple of small girls played "The Tune of the Tuna Fish" on violins.
In his excitement, the fifth-grade boy operating the stage curtains ran them open and shut several times during their performance, much to the delight of the audience. But the little violinists either didn't notice or didn't care. They finished with a flourish and bowed in unison to a burst of applause.
Finally it was time for the last number. The crowd was getting fidgety. The curtains started to open, hesitated, and closed again. A long moment went by. Then the curtains opened on a blank, dark stage. The audience fell silent, expectant. A colored disco ball began to flash to music, the stage lights came up, and three little girls in slick socks floated smoothly backward from the wings. I stood up to watch, shaky and smiling in the dim auditorium, as their schoolmates clapped and cheered.
Somewhere in that hectic week something had clicked - they knew how to moonwalk! Maybe they'd been at home, peeling potatoes, and it had come to them.
We met in the hall afterward, all of us flushed, laughing, and talking at once. Before they dashed back to class, the girls told me they'd practiced the moonwalk all week, at recess. Before I left, I watched the three travel down the hallway together, sometimes forward, sometimes backward, but always going in the right direction.
(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Monitor