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A Conversation with "Dancin' Dave"

Most cities have at least one. That character that everyone recongnizes and waves to on occasion, but who almost always remains a complete enigma.

I spotted "Dancin' Dave" walking across a parking lot near highway 52 west, with his bearded face, in his familiar white clothing, and his ever present knapsack thrown over his shoulder. I had my camera, so I decided to ask if I could make a snapshot of hime. He consented, dropped his knapsack to the ground and posed.

Geneva Alabama African American LegacyHe walked over and leaned against my car and asked, "What's your name, ma'am?" I said, "My name is Claudia Williams." To that he said, "Pleased to meet you, Miss Claudia." Then he told me his name and his mother and father's name.

Almost instantly, I recognized that there was something about this man that was totally superior to the public image he protrayed. There was a kind demeanor in the way he spoke as well as his mannerisms. He was soft-spoken and very articulate. I told him that I was collecting photos and information of local blacks so that it could be compiled into a history of our culture later. He said that was good.

I had seen him often sitting on a bench outside the north K-Mart store, so I asked him if there was a reason for that. He told me that the place had a special meaning to him. His family had lived on a farm in that area over 60 years ago. He said he was a very young child then, but going there now gives him a special feeling of inner peace.

I asked him where he lives now. His answer reminded me of a lesson on giving descrete answers by grandparents when we were growing up. Some whites had a tendency to corner black children and get information from them about their parents. We were taught to give a truthful answer, but not an answer to the question.

One year when we were sharecroppers, the boll weevils destroyed our cotton crop. There was no money to pay debts that fall. The landowner took everything tangible we had to satisfy the debt. We only had a yearling calf left. I guess he was waiting for him to get fatter before he took him.

One night my dad and some friends butchered the calf and by sunrise he was on his way to a cold storage bin in Dothan. Whe the owner asked where he was, we said, "He's gone somewhere." "Where is that calf?" We answered, "He was in the field grazing yesterday. We haven't seen him this morning." We did what we were taught to do.

Perhaps "Dancin' Dave" felt that I did not need to know where he lived. He said, "I live in Geneva county." I respected his answer and did not press him further.

He told me that his parents bought him a radio when he was small and that he used to prance to the rhythm he listened to. When he was a teenager, he went with a group of boys to a dance in Florida and noticed that their dancing was completely different from what he had been doing by his radio at home. But then he got the notion to get out on that dance floor anyway and dance. Everyone was fascinated by his dance-steps and soon he had the dance floor all by himself. He has been dancing ever since.

He had been booked all over the tri-states for special performances as well as entertainment for school children. He especially enjoys performing for children. "They make you feel young." he said.

He added that he had lived a clean life. He had never drank anything stronger than a Coca-Cola and that his faith in God had kept him strong.

He reached over and picked up his knapsack and threw it over his shoulder and asked me if I would give him a quarter to buy a soda. I said, "You can't buy a soda for a quarter." He smiled and said, 'I can." I gave him a quarter and he said, "God Bless you, Miss Claudia." And I said, "God Bless you, Dancin' Dave." And he walked away down Highway 52 toward where ever he lives in Geneva County.

When I shared this information with my mother, she remembered his family and him as a small child. I've wanted to share that with him when I've seen him several times since then. But, he has always smiled and walked away. I don't know if he remembers me. maybe that is just his way of saying, "You've had your turn."

Submitted by: Claudia Williams
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