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  • Writer's pictureTroy Kinney

The Politics of Dancing

Updated: Jun 8, 2019

So here are the facts:

My Papa’s Waltz by Theodore Roethke

The whiskey on your breath

Could make a small boy dizzy;

But I hung on like death:

Such waltzing was not easy.

We romped until the pans

Slid from the kitchen shelf;

My mother’s countenance

Could not unfrown itself.

The hand that held my wrist

Was battered on one knuckle;

At every step you missed

My right ear scraped a buckle.

You beat time on my head

With a palm caked hard by dirt,

Then waltzed me off to bed

Still clinging to your shirt. (Roethke)

But now some of us seem to have a problem. Maybe there is some confusion. Perhaps there was a misstep. Is this a poem about love or about abuse? We all read the same poem the same four stanzas. The words are all there and as far as I know they haven’t changed since 1942 when Roethke published them. And yet the conundrum remains.

It’s the way an opinion can stew in our media saturated politics or is it our politics saturated with media?

It sort of reminds me of Frost’s great and misunderstood poem about paths diverging in the woods. The key phrase in that poem comes in the final and fourth stanza. In fact, I think I could say it is really all about one key word, a small one too; the word “by”. It has multiple possible meanings. Did the pedestrian travel past as in, I went by your house today or did the pedestrian travel on as in, I got there by highway 5? We find ourselves pondering about Frost’s “The Road Not Taken”. Maybe it is not taken because it can’t be taken. That path rides along the razor’s edge splitting our opinions and blocking our view. All the while the media and the pundits keep sharpening.

This is our world of politics. The band Re-Flex (kind of a one hit wonder from the 80’s) said it in their 1983 hit, The Politics of Dancing.

The politicians Are now DJs The broadcast was spreading Station to station Like an infection Across the nation Though you know you can't stop it When they start to play You're gonna get out the way (Re-Flex)

We listen to a politician’s “music” through the broadcast of the main stream media and dance to his or her tune but do we really know what everyone’s else’s party is all about? Do we know what our own party is about? Whichever party one chooses has their own games, and favors, its own lights and entertainment, oftentimes it’s loud and we react. We each think understand what is going on at the party but the house is big, we hear what we hear, we watch what we see, we trust our hearts and make up our minds…

Like what you say Is what you do It's in the papers It's on your tv news Oh, the application Is just a point of view Well you know you can't stop it When they start to play… (Re-Flex)

Phone’s out and fingers fluttering. Then everyone starts flipping their lids and birds start flying, tweeting this and tweeting that. Occasionally however, one bird can be heard above the rest of the jungle. I heard one once that made a lot of sense. It was on May 31, 2017, “If you turn off the news and just talk to your neighbors you’ll find that our great country is far more harmonious than you’re being told.” Rob Schneider @RobSchneider.


Re-Flex. "The Politics of Dancing." Flex-It. By Paul Fishman. EMI, 1983. 12" Album.

Roethke, Theodore. "My Papa's Waltz". 1942. Magazine.

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