She danced her heart away.


Sometimes you stop short, perhaps because someone you know called you out, or maybe you realised you forgot something. And sometimes something in front of you, something so mundane and regular catches your eye, but what really catches your eye is the extraordinary in that mundane.

I was in Amsterdam on a weekend. I had finally made the trip to the city since I wanted to visit the Munch/Van Gogh exhibition at the Van Gogh Museum. Post witnessing the ‘Scream’ and ‘The Bedroom’, I made my way to the Stedelijk museum. Stedelijk is a renowned modern art museum in Amsterdam. I slowly meandered my way through the museum, and I must admit, much of modern art and its meaning still remains elusive to me. I read every description of the installation present, some made sense, some didn’t, and some I decided made sense because I conjured up a meaning behind it myself! I guess that is sometimes the beauty of modern art. After struggling with the mechanisms of the modern art, I stumbled out of the museum and straight into the floating tunes of a violinist. He was stationed right outside the Stedelijk museum, engrossed in playing his instrument.

The music was beautiful, but what caught my eye was this little girl, maybe 6-7 years old. She was wearing a pink jacket and pink shoes and hair tied in two plaits. Her body was moving according the violinist’s music. Her hands and legs moved gracefully, eyes closed, she appeared in meditation. Just a few feet away I could see her mother, who was dressed in sweatpants, a jacket and had short, rough hair. She was heavily pregnant and looked tired, and kept entreating her daughter through her eyes to leave the dancing and move on. But the daughter only smiled and went back to her dancing. People walking by smiled indulgently at the little girl, the violinist seeing the girl’s zeal changed his music slightly so that the girl could easily dance to the music.

I stood for quite a long time, enjoying the scene before me and wondering how often as adults we seem to become more and more inhibited. Would I ever be as free, break free of what’s acceptable and dance like that on the street? I remember once walking with a friend in Amsterdam I got reprimanded by the friend for behaving like a child, for expressing childlike excitement and enthusiasm. But the girl dancing there was more of an adult than I was, or any of us. She seemed oblivious to the fact that she was dancing in front of a museum, around milling tourists or disapproving adults. She was dancing her heart out, maybe in her imagination she was a ballet dancer in front of a huge audience and everyone was cheering for her. Or maybe she was just dancing in her bedroom to her favourite music. If only I could get a chance to have a peek inside her head and imagination at that point.

Before leaving I saw the mother exasperated, sat down on the floor cross-legged and kept an eye on the daughter. I was secretly glad, glad that the mother hadn’t taken her away, or reprimanded her for acting too presumptuous in a public space. That day, the girl, the dancing, the mother and the music outside made a lot more sense to me than the modern art inside the museum.

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