reprinted from The Portsmouth Herald
Finding Her Feet
By Emily Wiggin

I’m a bad dancer. Not horrible, but not particularly rhythmic or inspired. When forced into it, I opt for the more-is-less school of movement. A little head-nodding, some swaying, a bit of arm movement. That’s all you’ll get from me.

The problem stems from a basic lack of grace. Combine that with self-consciousness and you get dancing that isn’t quite Elaine Bennis-bad, but I have nowhere near the skills of, say ... my dog.

On Saturday, a funny thing happened at the VFW: I had a good time while dancing.

Until last week, I was uninitiated in the Jumbo Circus Peanuts phenomenon. I’m told that for a Seacoast resident of a certain age (somewhere between 21 and 75) and social inclination (you leave your house once in awhile), that is unacceptable.

So, after never having been at one their famed affairs, it was coincidental that I saw the Peanuts perform twice in three days last week. The first was a short set at last Thursday’s Spotlight Awards at The Music Hall. Then on Saturday at the event in question, the annua* Spring Schwing."

The Peanuts publicity machine calls this "an annual extravaganza of love, music and fashion ... produced by the Jumbo Circus Peanuts, a Legendary Superband and Pleasure Society."

Being someone who is a bad dancer and also self-aware (a horrid combination) seems to guarantee a bad time at any function that actually centers on dancing. Not being a masochist, I usually opt for a more sedentary event.

Maybe it was the springtime, maybe it was the fact that I’d never been to a VFW. But, whatever the reason, I wanted to go. So I dragged my friend, her husband and his visiting friend with me after dinner at the Blue Mermaid.

We walked in, surveyed the scene and bellied up to the bar. After procuring drinks, my companions immediately started to feel better about the evening. Where else but at the VFW can you get three cocktails for $9? My friend’s husband - a thrifty sort - practically hopped up and down in glee. (Have you ever seen a Libertarian hop? It’s funny.)

Plastic cups in hand, we migrated toward the music, and I got that old familiar feeling. That dumb, klutzy feeling. I hoped no one would suggest we actually take to the dance floor.Then, spurred on by one of the biggest motivators known to woman (the primeval need to avoid a pesky and persistent man), my friend pulled my arm and, in my haste to extricate myself, I followed.

We found ourselves in the midst of the dancing throng and looked up to the stage (well, platform, really) to see what seemed like 27 extremely tall musicians dressed in varying combinations of sparkles, tassels, plaid, polka dots, multicolored wigs and platform shoes.

The music was loud, with lots of horns. I can’t even remember specifically what song they played at that moment, but it made me feel momentarily like Pam Grier (perhaps a ‘70s tune?). Anyway, before I started to awkwardly shuffle, one of my friends began to dance.

I watched for a moment while he sort of skipped around while cutting a swath back and forth through the group and I couldn’t stop laughing. So I imitated him and, while trying not to pee my pants from laughing too hard, I forgot how awful we were.

Inspired by the music and my own plaid pants, I think I may have swung my red leather coat around my head once or twice, and I definitely remember channeling Travolta circa "Saturday Night Fever" and even doing the wave (the one-person wave). I also pulled out my favorite move - outside of "Baby Got Back," rap music’s most important contribution to my life - the old "raise-the-roof" technique.

That night, I learned it’s impossible to be self-conscious when next to you is a very tall man in an aqua and white polka-dotted dress with white Jackie O. sunglasses getting his groove on.

After a time, we tired and moved on to another downtown destination where my old self returned. I got the spiky heel of my boot stuck in the cuff of my pant leg, which caused me to fall over in a bathroom. So it goes.

But, for a bit, I had grace. I had style. I was good.

Thank you, Peanuts. Thank you, VFW. I didn’t know what I was missing.

Emily Wiggin is community editor of the Portsmouth Herald. She can be reached at

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