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'Shall we Dance'? Perhaps ...

When I was in high school, I adored musicals. I watched so many, either on film or live, that there were few classic soundtracks I couldn’t sing by heart.

In the spring of my senior year, I was hit hard with mononucleosis. I was bedridden for the better part of the semester. There were only so many books I could read, so I did the next best thing: Watched musicals. The Music Man. Oklahoma. Cabaret. The Phantom of the Opera. My Fair Lady. The Sound of Music. South Pacific. Guys and Dolls. And, my favorite, The King and I.

I watched them a lot. Like, a few a day. Some of them multiple times a week, for several weeks.

In the months after I recovered, I noticed that my love of musicals was not what it was pre-mono. I began to see that my binge watching wasn’t just overkill: my brain had built associations between these snappy, Americana numbers, and feeling like I just received a roundhouse kick to the face. When I heard songs from The King and I, I began to feel inexplicably fatigued and overcome with guilt, like I should be in school or doing something other than what I was doing in that moment. These feelings lingered well into adulthood, to the point that it has been years since I even contemplated going to a musical, no matter how much people rave about it.

Tonight, however, the dinner conversation meandered to the subject of The King and I, particularly the “Shall We Dance” scene. (This is not typical.) I explained the scene’s context and, despite the indigestion I anticipated experiencing, I decided to show a YouTube video of the scene.

As I watched the clip, something … happened. I began singing the lyrics. I started to smile. I did impromptu choreography. I felt genuinely excited about watching Yul Brynner swing Deborah Kerr around the ballroom at a maddening, Flying Dutchman polka pace. And when it was done? No gross feeling, no guilt, no nausea. Just refreshment.

I’m not going to push my luck by, say, watching a whole musical any time soon. I am, however, going to be hopeful that a tide is turning.


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