Let the rhythm move you

 There is something particularly gratifying about watching and encouraging my 1-year-old grandson, Theo, to play drums. He is, of course, a virtuoso. He was sitting on my lap after dinner, well fed and fidgeting, setting out to explore new things: my watch, my glasses, my glass of water, the steak knife, the dirty plates. I pushed everything out of reach, and he was squirming because this was stuff he clearly wanted to touch.

Then I remembered my Grandpa Pell teaching us all to play drums using my Grandma Mary’s wooden spoons on her spaghetti pots and sauce pans and driving my parents nuts, while Grandma winced with each piercing drum beat through her strained smile. Grandpa, of course, was squealing with delight as he taught us rather crude songs in Italian that should not be translated for these pages (and we only learned later what they meant). When I taught this same thing (absent the Italian songs) to my grandson, he pounded with gusto, and it was a sweet sort of feeling that his uncle, aunt and parents were bothered by the racket, since they had spent many a Sunday morning 26 years ago destroying my wife's and my peaceful slumber by playing drums and sounding horns when they were mischievous little kids.

Theo got his own drum and drum sticks, but it was some lame, parent-friendly version, and when you hit the drum, there was a muffled, unexciting thud. Infuriated by the wimpy sound, I got out the wooden spoons, the pans for the snare drum, the pots for the base drum, and the macaroni strainer for the cymbals. Oh, Theo was a natural drummer and performer. In addition to banging out some great rhythm, he quickly learned the trick of turning all of the adults watching him into his trained monkeys by playing a few beats, dropping his sticks, and clapping so that we would dutifully all clap with him. He liked us clapping as much, or more, than he liked playing the drums.

Children have a rhythm that many adults seemed to have suppressed and eventually lost long ago. Just turn on some music, any music, while Theo — or any toddler — is standing at a little table, playing with his toys, and suddenly he starts to smile and his whole body starts jiggling and giggling and he’s got the dance moves that would make Fred Astaire jealous.

I think I used to have rhythm long ago, but then somewhere in puberty I got embarrassed and decided I couldn’t or shouldn’t dance. I forgot how to move, and when forced to dance, it looked more like a train wreck than "Soul Train." So that when, after a glass of champagne at my son’s wedding, I found myself dancing like a madman, the subsequent video of it was just not pretty at all. But, I gotta say, it sure was fun.

How does this all relate to cardiology?

Well, old people get heart disease, and old people tend to feel inhibited about dancing. It’s a fairly scientific observation of facts, I’d say. Perhaps there is even causality. Dancing is, after all, another wonderful activity you don’t have to be good at to enjoy and get a good workout.

The more serious and adult we get, the more we suppress that natural instinct, buy adult-friendly drums for our grandkids, and feel that the only exercise we can get is dragging our sorry butts to the local health club to walk on some lame treadmill and count the minutes till we are done. Bo-oring.

Ah, but when you are dancing, the calories are getting burned off, and you are just enjoying the rhythm like you were born to do.


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