Tom Shillue: Dancing Alone
4 stars (out of 5)
Tom Shillue’s Dancing Alone contains two 15-minute segments exploring the past of an enthusiast and serial attender of high school proms. The listener enjoys the task of supposing what vital nutrient is extracted by the youthful protagonist in his dance formal obsession, a revelation that is never exposited forthright, but is a truth left untinkered, latent in the ambrosia of an old dancehall number that fades into the auditory mix at contemplative moments; the cause of such a distinct, amusing haven of habit as grand theft prom, as well as the “lessons” to be taken from the recounting of the era is in what this reviewer is beginning to notice as a trend in Shillue’s work, a subtly presented morality and virtue that the listener can draw from as their relatable narratives of their own past unroll simultaneously alongside Shillue’s.
Shillue is a former Daily Show correspondent, an effigy vouching for a large degree of ironic awareness and an ability to make the biggest point the one that is unsaid. In this fashion, the older Shillue poignantly but sparingly needs to project or suggest what is heroic in his younger self.
A tender hopefulness, care and safety enwraps the narrative; the segment begins as a revelry induced by the older Shillue’s unearthing of an after six dinner jacket (old people must know what that is.) Serious topics do emerge, and to see the naïve adolescent standing before these seemingly cosmic forces is a well-tuned refreshment. Decades of accrued irony pour as Shillue marvels at the obsessive determination, well-intentioned short-comings and over dramatic declarations that can only belong to youth.
A skeptical viewpoint might suggest Shillue’s former self is a tantalizingly unsustainable suggestion of an adolescent, a mostly smiling traverser of a mythical no-hit no-harm childhood diverting us from the “It’s A Small World After All” agita and wrenching suggestions of regret that can present itself when confronting the malaise of difficult stretches of childhood. It may be true that Shillue fortifies his former self in a non-negotiable courage where reality could have been more wavering. But, though in truth Shillue does not shy away from the piercing reality of the unfortunate situations related, the greater purpose may be to lend us again the undaunted energy of younger years and offer an exercise in rekindling such fearlessness, or if not fearlessness then courage.
With Shillue, it isn’t hard to embark on the phantom transport back to nervous nights dancing in gymnasiums, or at least to in some way to revisit the verve of when we were smaller people who knew less, and almost any task could be imbued with the importance of a world in the balance.