This otherwise fairly normal news week in cyberspace was punctuated with a vibrant exclamation point in the form of the viral video currently circulating the globe from a young Los Angeles gymnast, singer, dancer, model, and choreographer by the name of Carson Dean (or, as he is known most this week, “that guy doing that awesome dance on the treadmill!"). His “freestyle dance” on a moving treadmill, to the tune of the Mark Ronson song, “UpTown Funk!” (with such prominent vocal contribution by Bruno Mars that others just call it “that Bruno Mars song”), was apparently inspired by Dean’s idea that “running gets boring”. Clad in a very loose, broadly-cut white tank top, dark warmup pants, baseball cap, and earbuds with wires to a presumed iPhone in his front pocket, Mr. Dean leaps from the floor onto the treadmill to the opening strains of “UpTown Funk!” and proceeds to groove into what looks like a largely improvisational dance (by the way, who can improvise like THAT??) for the next minute and a half of funky abandon, showing off impeccable dance moves (again, the treadmill was MOVING) from a flawless physique of lithe but muscular arms, nimble sneakered feet, and what can only be described as a bobbing head on a neck with an energy all its own. Dean can be forgiven for a quick move kissing his own left bicep, perfectly timed to a lyric of “I gotta kiss myself, I’m so pretty.” For many, this would be boasting and strain credulity; for Dean, it’s just stating the obvious.
So why is this obviously talented dancer a hero for our times?
First, I’m going to assume that Dean is gay. I might be incorrect about that, but if he’s like many of my friends in Los Angeles with great physiques and talent for dance, acrobatics, choreography, and smoldering Facebook photos, he is. So when a (presumably) gay man posts a home-made video that gets over 5 million views (yes, 5 million!), that is testament right there to “It Gets Better”, and it doesn’t get much better than the global adoration he’s receiving from anyone who’s seen the video and commented in awe, inspiration, flattering jealousy, or just plain lust (from all genders, ages, races, and nationalities). There are hit cable television shows that don’t get 5 million viewers. Not knowing Dean personally, I just wonder if he was ever bullied in his childhood for his interest in gymnastics, dance, or music – or even for having the steel-cut jawline men pay thousands of dollars to achieve in plastic surgeons’ offices around the world, which is probably natural for Dean, a present from the genetic lottery his parents obviously bought multiple tickets for. Now, all-grown-up, gorgeously handsome and extraordinarily talented, who has the last laugh now? With 5 million views, the bullies can suck it. Yes, gay kids, it DOES, indeed, get better. We can’t all have Carson Dean’s talent, but we can all adopt a certain “suck it, bullies, THIS is what I can do” about our own gifts and skills that we cultivate in life beyond suburban playgrounds and junior high locker rooms. I’m just hoping that out of 5 million views, at least one of them is one of Dean’s former critics, and that the crow they are eating right about now is baked, steamed, fried, but kid, it has been SERVED. Any gay man who can live another day to get revenge on bullies just by dancing on a treadmill and showing how it’s done, like no one ever has, is a hero for our times not only for gay boys, but for anyone who has endured ugly-duckling naysayers and lived to show our swan song.
Second, who are our heroes these days? OK, sure, the easy ones to cite right away are our returning veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan. Even as someone who virulently opposed those wars and the reasons they were fought (blood-for-oil), I still admire the bravery of the men and women who have come home not-quite-intact and still have inspired others with their tenacity and adaptive coping for when you're in a crisis, something we clinical social workers and other mental health professionals teach clients, but we learn it from inspiring examples like them. But beyond soldiers and first responders like EMT’s and ER physicians (and classroom teachers, I would add), we need everyday heroes. These are the people who believe in the beauty of their dreams, who, like the bumper sticker says, love like they’ve never been hurt, sing like no one’s listening, and dance like no one’s watching – except for 5 million of your closest friends, that is. Dean didn’t just hear a new hit song and tap his foot; he used the song to inspire himself to do what “Cassie” taught us in “A Chorus Line” – to do what a dancer does: dance. To move his feet (and the rest of that body) as the spirit moved him, all to amuse himself and distract himself from his usual (probably more modest, but still impressive) cardio routine, and inspire us all in the process.
When was the last time you let a song or something else inspire you to your greatest joy? What can you do better than anyone you know, and what inspires you to do it? For Dean, he dances. He may not always have that body and that ability; the one sad fact about dancers is that at the very highest professional levels, it is a gift to borrow; eventually, even the best literally “step” aside and transition to other careers. But for young Dean, probably not yet at what will surely be his prime, the energy is all there. The steps are all there. His body does exactly what he tells it to do, what he’s inspired to do, and we’re all the better for witnessing it. That’s Dean’s gift to the world of 5 million viewers, and counting. What’s yours? We may not all affect 5 million people in one week, but we can certainly affect quite a few people by striving to be at our best, inspired by what our hearts tell us to do.
In these times, when people lament that the world is heating up like a cookie and crumbling all around us, it’s nice to know that some things never change. The beauty of the male human body moving, like Gene Kelly, Fred Astaire, Mikhail Baryshnikov, Ray Bolger, and countless others who are outside my cultural frame-of-reference for my age and culture, will always be with us. We can’t all do what Dean does, which is why he’s special and gets 5 million views. But we can all do SOMETHING, if we just relax and let the inspiration find us.
So what have we learned this week from this latest Internet sensation?
We’ve learned that we can have an awfully good time in this world just by being ourselves, in our own world of music, movement, and spirit that brings out the best in all of us, at any age.
We’ve learned that if we follow our inner instincts, and just get into the groove of life as it comes, the energy flows and guides our feet exactly where we need to go in that moment – and we can trust it will lead us to a good place.
We’ve learned that a relative unknown young gymnast/model/dancer/choreographer can inspire a nation and, indeed, a world, just by indulging his own playful abandon.
We’ve learned that if we just let ourselves go once in a while, we can create something truly memorable and inspire those around us – sometimes, all around the globe.
Don’t believe me? Just watch:
Or, the extended version of the full song, here:
Ken Howard, LCSW, is a gay and HIV-positive (25 years) licensed psychotherapist (LCSW) and life/career coach who has specialized in working with gay men, as individuals and couples, for over 23 years. He helps many gay men (and others) resolve the issues that undermine your quality of life, and helps you to thrive.
For help improving your personal or professional life, whatever your current challenges are, consider sessions with Ken for counseling, coaching, or therapy sessions, at his office in Los Angeles/West Holllywood (near Beverly Center mall), or via phone, or via webcam, anywhere in the world. Call 310-726-4357 or email Ken@GayTherapyLA.com for more information.
Ken is also available for expert witness work on legal proceedings involving gay issues, all LGBT issues, HIV issues, and issues concerning psychiatric illness or disability, as well as organizational consulting for non-profit organizations, corporations, college campuses, and conferences.
To get your copy of his self-help book, Self-Empowerment: Have the Life You Want!,visit www.Amazon.com , or wwwLuLu.com. It's your "portable therapist" for the challenges you face today in your mental health, health, career, finances, family, spirituality, and community.