It may sound obvious, that fishing is nothing like dancing, but it wasn’t to me. Until yesterday, when a friend took me out on his boat for six hours just off the coast of Parris Island.
I’d practised, assuming that, like dance, this is what fishing takes. For the past few weeks I took my rod down to the end of our dock around noon, when my mind usually starts to wander away from whatever page I’m writing. Instead of checking Facebook, or even blogging, I practised casting. There was no sense wasting bait; it was just me, the sand gnats, a bobber and a hook on the end of a line that hadn’t been used for a long, long time.
There’s a grace to casting. Dancers are graceful. Ergo, dancers should be good at fishing. I thought it must surely be in the arm and all I’d have to do is learn the port-de-bras of fishing. The problem with learning the port-de-bras of fishing is that there is no mirror on a dock. I couldn’t see how consistent, or inconsistent, my release was or whether I was arching my back too much or too little. I just kept guessing and wondering why I couldn’t put the bait in the same place twice.
I thought perhaps when I got onboard a real boat, with a real fisherman, things would drastically improve. I would suddenly convert the coordination, flexibility and strength I have as a dancer into catching fish. I could not have been more wrong. The bow of a boat rocks beneath your feet. Mylar dance floors do not. So I spent much of the next six hours in a demi-plie just to avoid swimming with the fishes I was trying to catch. Score one for dance training – at least I have strong thighs.
The scenery when standing on the bow of a boat in the Port Royal Sound is quite distracting. Dolphins undulate in the currents. Pelicans fold themselves into descending projectiles. Oystercatchers emerge from rakes of mud and shell with only a flash of orange-red beak to break the camouflage. There is nothing in the environs of a dance class that can compare. It is much easier to concentrate within four walls of a studio, safe from natural splendor.
There are no lyrics in the music of the open ocean, no words to help you remember the steps or phrasing to set the rhythm of your movements. Your body creates the only sounds you hear and they are too loud – fish dart away when a cooler lid slams or when you step down into the center of the boat forgetting to go through the toes and then the ball of the foot.
And then there is the absence of yelling and corrections. Terry Stone, while an expert boater and fisherman, would not make a good dance teacher. He’s a good friend and much too gentlemanly. He cared more about whether I was okay with hooking a minnow through its jaw and out between its eyes. Whether I had enough water to drink, food to eat, sunblock on the back of my neck. When he saw me about to swing a baited hook in his direction, he simply adjusted his position to stay out of my way. A dance teacher would have made me start over. And over. Chin up. Shoulders down. Butt tucked. Stomach sucked.
So, if Terry wouldn’t correct me, I just had to try to copy him. This was daunting. In just over an hour he caught a Spanish Mackerel and four Red Drum – expertly casting to the one spot they all seemed to think invisible, behind a reach of oyster shells, in the ebb of the incoming tide. At least he didn’t make it look easy. There is grunting, sweating, swearing involved. In fact, it looked impossible to me – that degree of accuracy under such unrehearsable conditions. So I gave up. I let Terry cast for me, then took the rod from his hands. And almost instantly lost it. The fish that thought he was biting on a worthy opponent’s minnow drug the bobber underwater in a flash. How a fish only 15 inches long can twist my wrist almost off, in a second, is still beyond me. I wasn’t ready for it. For the fight of it. For the speed of it. For the thrill of it. Of course, the fish got away. But I brought something else home. The certainty that fishing is nothing like dancing. These creatures are not my partners in any sort of art form. Their job is not to teach me anything. It’s to get away from me. And by doing so, lure me back to where I know I’m never in control. Nothing like dance at all.