The Dancing Bear

December 15, 2013


The day of the party, I flip through my Rolodex of excuses. They’re too well worn, the stomach ailments and the scratchy throats. Nobody buys them anyways.

I rub the steam from the mirror and squint.

The glass spits my face back, reminding me that I’ve left so much unattended, like a lazy gardener who lets the mint go unbridled.

Sloppy eyebrows. The forehead etched in sad calligraphy.

I pluck and smooth and rub scratchy exfoliator around with a dry washcloth; I riffle through drawers for creams and potions too precious for regular use.

All of these damn cosmetics–it’s sort of like warpaint, isn’t it?

I shake that thought loose because it’s so self-conscious it’s silly and I’m ashamed of myself.

Warpaint. Stupid girl. You’re not the Queen of Hearts.

What I am is the face of social anxiety, and getting ready for a holiday party is almost as torturous as attending the thing itself, because I can’t quit picking myself apart.

I put on the red dress my husband wants me to wear, even though it’s -2 degrees outside and squirm into the tourniquet of death–aka:pantyhose. The one pair of pantyhose I own and pull out maybe once a year. I’d actually thought I’d lost them and spent a few frantic minutes destroying my lingerie drawer in search of the suckers. I found them wadded up and dusty, proof of neglect.

Hey, when a girl never leaves her house, the pantyhose get lonely.

Apparently, so do her elbows, because they’re so red and raw that it looks like a guinea pig’s been gnawing on them. Sheeeit.

I smooth on emergency Aquaphor but it’s a moot gesture. Guinea Pig Girl’s going to the electric chair  a shindig.

Two shindigs, actually–this is the first of two parties this weekend.


I know.


My husband arrives with flowers in his hand–Stargazer lilies, my favorite. How he got them in this weather is beyond me. He tells me I’m beautiful.

I can feel his eyes on me as I putter around the kitchen, searching for a vase and cutting shears. We have a little conversation, but nobody says a word.

Hey, you okay?
Yeah, I’m okay.    Actually, I’m psycho and feeling like I want to crush steel bullets with my bare teeth, but it’s not superbad.
Translate “not superbad.”
Not at freak level. But don’t leave my side for too long, okay? I’m pretty sure I won’t embarrass you tonight but nothing’s a given.
I can do that.
But don’t stay too close beside me because then everyone will know you’re babysitting me and whatkindofidiotneedsbabysittingatadamnholidaypartyandthentheyllknowI
Okay, you’re kind of bad.
…Dancing Bear Bad?
I don’t think so.   I don’t think.


One North Dakota winter, the circus came to town. This was hoo-boy exciting, let me tell you, because nobody comes to North Dakota in the wintertime. Not anyone with more than a tin can for a brain, anyways.

Winter in North Dakota was relegated to UND hockey games and styrofoam cups of hot Dr. Pepper and building the fourth snow fort of the month, without much enthusiasm.

The circus? In January?


Turns out, the circus was from Russia, so they didn’t blink twice about coming to North Dakota in winter, and I remember sending a quiet shout out to Jesus, thanking him for not making us live in Russia.

Except maybe it wasn’t so bad in Russia because the circus had the most limber trapeze artists I’d ever laid eyes on and contortionists who fit into teeny boxes and ladies who floated on the tightrope, no bigger than a minute.

It had naughty clowns parading in bras that shot red lasers out of them, making my eyes water.

It had 2 unhappy-looking tigers who leaped through fire and a big stinky elephant who stopped mid-prance and took an enormous shit on the stage, showing us exactly what  he thought of North Dakota.

They had the Dancing Bear.

The Dancing Bear wore a silver cocktail dress (bear-sized) and a fancy feathered headband and when the ringmaster flicked his wrists, it danced around the stage, dipping and pirouetting and spinning with such grace that I wondered if it knew it was a bear.

I couldn’t take my eyes off it and it danced and danced until I was sure it would sit down and shit like the elephant, but it never did.

When we climbed into the orange Travelall after the show, Mama and Daddy asked us what we liked best.

“The clowns,” my sister said, sniggering.

My mother shot daddy a look. “The clowns, Ronald. Of course she would say the clowns.”

“Hey,” Daddy sputtered, trying to stifle a grin. “I didn’t know they had clowns in underpants! Jesus, Mary.”

“The Dancing Bear,” I piped up from the backseat. “The bear danced so pretty, and I thought she’d never stop. I never knew bears could dance like that.”

“Well, most bears can’t, you know,” Daddy said, turning on his blinker and merging into the queue of departing cars. “Bears aren’t supposed to dance any more than tigers are supposed to leap through rings of fire–that’s what makes it the circus.”

“I know,” I said, mentally rolling my eyes. “But still. I liked her. The Bear.”

“Poor thing,” Mama said tsked softly, looking out the window. “Dressing a wild animal like that, making it twirl around for applause.”

“Jesus, Mary,” Daddy said, shaking his head. “It’s a circus, for God’s sakes. It’s not like those animals know they’re in the circus. They’re animals.”


“I still say the clowns,” my sister said.

“You know what?” Daddy said. “You know what I liked the best? I liked the elephant. How ’bout that elephant, girls? Heh.”


Tonight,  I’ll try not to dance.





{ 15 comments… read them below or add one }

Katybeth December 16, 2013 at 9:41 am

I’m with you. Parties are just not my thang. I would much rather stay home in my sweats and hoody. The best thing about the circus is cotton candy!!


Dana Talusani December 16, 2013 at 11:34 am


Cotton candy is so gross! I can’t stand the gritty texture. It’s actually one of the few foods I refuse to let my kids eat, because sticky hands + dirty circus makes me feel like throwing up!


Abby December 16, 2013 at 9:46 am

I’m usually okay once I get somewhere–and am usually quite fun once I’m there–but I also have about a 1-2 hour max before I get twitchy and want to get home. It’s leaving my house that’s the issue…


Tinne from Tantrums and Tomatoes December 16, 2013 at 10:01 am

Glad to hear/read I’m not the only one who thinks of pantyhose as the ‘tourniquet of death’. Evil bastardly things…


Robin December 16, 2013 at 11:07 am

I’ve been invited to casual family Christmas Eve party – no pantyhose involved. Yay! Thankfully, I will know everyone there except for one person. It helps with the anxiety.

I like the Dancing Bear metaphor; sad as it is. I think your mother is right about the circus animals. Poor thing…


Nikki December 16, 2013 at 12:17 pm

For me the worse time is after the party where I replay it in my head. “Oh God. Why did I say that?” “Why didn’t I ask about this?” “I can’t believe I talked so much/so little/so stupidly…” “They probably think I’m an idiot.”

And I’m married to a nan who is friendly & funny & who naturally (and effortlessly) connects with people. I’m always amazed at how easily it comes to him & how much I struggle with it.


Dana Talusani December 16, 2013 at 3:10 pm


My husband is the same way. He could make friends with a fire hydrant.


Anonymous December 16, 2013 at 1:07 pm

I’m pretty sure my roommate and entire veterinary class think I’m antisocial, but who cares? Books and hot tea and quilts and beanbags are better than people. :-) But, really, I’m commenting about the Guinea Pig elbows. My mother once took a look at mine and told me, “you could grate cheese with those elbows!”


Dana Talusani December 16, 2013 at 3:11 pm


I bet my elbows could beat your elbows any day! #GuineaGirls


TIFF December 16, 2013 at 7:19 pm

I hope it wasn’t Superbad!!


Mary Lee December 16, 2013 at 8:11 pm

Once again, you amaze me with your writing.

I remember a photo of you and Handsome Husband where you were wearing a red dress. That one was certainly beautiful.

Red doesn’t work on me, unless I’m wanting to complement my rosacea for some reason.

Dance, Girlfriend. Just make sure HH is dancing with you.


Naptimewriting December 16, 2013 at 10:34 pm

You know how I’m always ruining the punchline and focusing on the dumbest stuff, but…hot Dr. Pepper? Whuck? Mind blown.


Contemporary Troubadour December 17, 2013 at 11:34 am

How * about * that elephant? Still giggling at your dad’s remark.

I am sure there are lonely pantyhose in the back of my lingerie drawer. I’m impressed, with my roughed-up heels (which are receiving emergency Aquaphor daily), that they haven’t been destroyed in previous uses …

How were the parties???


Debbie December 21, 2013 at 12:28 am

I’m happily single, but if a man like yours came to my door I’d let him in.

I offered up my house for a good friend’s holiday party this year, because she doesn’t have enough space. Much as I tried, there was pretty much no excuse to not be at my own home for the party. I even considered telling everyone I had vicious pets and would have to stay in the garage with them all night for insurance purposes.

Last night friends came by for my birthday. I was sitting on the arm of the sofa, enjoying a nice visit, and then fell off, landing on a tub of Polly Pockets that the kids had been playing with. How the hell do you fall off a sofa? Sometimes I’m just amazed that anyone still likes me.

Great post Dana.


Dana Talusani December 21, 2013 at 7:36 am


That fall off the sofa would have seals the deal for me–we’re sisters! I bet you were adorable. :)


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