Until recently, dancing was not a big part of my family's life. There was the occasional wedding reception or a living-room dance party to get the sillies out. Other times we'd roll the windows down and throw our hands up for a radio anthem while running errands. But that was the extent of it.
Now that the kids are older (first and second grades) they're regularly exposed to more pop culture, including pop music. I mentioned last month that my son's resourceful teacher has been employing dance breaks in the classroom to get the kids moving. To my surprise, Liam loves these dance breaks - and often the accompanying pop songs - and he doesn't want the dancing to stop at school.
At home, he told me to search "just dance" on YouTube. Lo and behold, there are dozens of videos taken from the Just Dance series of video games, in which cartoonish characters demonstrate dance moves to pop songs. Some of the videos have 25 million views. (This was the first instance in what is probably a decades-long trend of my kids teaching me about technology instead of the other way around.)
So we set up my laptop in the kitchen and had some family dance parties. Liam is partial to the song/dance combos in That Power by will.i.am (featuring Justin Bieber) while Maggie prefers Timber by Pitbull (who we all agree is pretty terrible) featuring Ke$ha (who we like more than we thought we would).
All this dancing prompted Liam to request additions of Clear Channel's best and brightest alongside Bob Dylan on his iPod. So I agreed. I'm doing my best to swallow my music-geek pride and become more of a poptimist. After all, the kids need something saccharine to rebel against in a few years.
In the middle of all this, Liam's grandpa was scheduled to attend a Michael Jackson tribute concert at the Newport Music Hall, but his wife had to cancel. So Grandpa asked if he could bring Liam. At first, my wife and I had some qualms.
A few months back, Kate and I snagged tickets to see Taylor Swift. We initially planned to go together (I'm a fan; I admit it), but T-Swift is Maggie's favorite artist, and I felt too guilty going without her. So I gave her my ticket as a super-special surprise treat.
This was a terrible idea. She was a mess the entire night. It was too much too soon, and we didn't want to make the same mistake with Liam. But after some discussion we decided to go for it, and while neither Grandpa nor Liam was too impressed with the tribute band's singer, the dancing made an impression. The next day, we were back on YouTube to watch the real MJ doing the moonwalk.
Amid the dancing, Liam had questions, so we picked up biographies of Jackson and other performers at the library. This should have been obvious, but the Jackson bio is … complicated. We had the expected conversations about songwriting and rhythm, but these biographies also took us on deep dives into adult relationships, death and child abuse.
Just as I never expected my son to request a will.i.am song, I never thought dance-pop would lead to such heavy topics. It exposed something else that was previously unknown to my kids, too: Daddy does not measure up to those Just Dance dudes. In fact, he's kind of embarrassing. But that won't stop me. Nobody puts Daddy in a corner.
Joel Oliphint is a freelance writer whose signature dance moves include "shelve the books" and "start the mower."