I Dance and Dance and Smile and Smile

The performances we go through in order to try and feel that we are loved

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I often find myself thinking about one particular song when I am working with certain clients. The song is called “I Dance and Dance and Smile and Smile”, by the American singer-songwriter Dory Previn. Previn had a breakdown and was hospitalised after her marriage ended in the late 1960s, and following this, began to write about her experiences, her anxieties and neuroses, in searingly honest songs. Like many other people, I heard my own anxieties – as an unsure adolescent, in my case – in her songs; I feel that I survived my teenage years the way I did because I knew there were other people who thought and felt like me.

In “I Dance and Dance and Smile and Smile”, Previn records her need to do anything to get some “small attention” from her father and mother (who were themselves caught up in their own problems), just to win one glance. And how this need got acted out with anyone she loved: “I’m always loving someone more than he loves me, Lord I wish, just this once, that’s not how it would be”.

We can often get caught up in this behaviour when our parents – for whatever reason – were emotionally unavailable; we take on the fantasy that we are unlovable and must do anything to win – or buy – love. As Previn says, “my books and bikes I bartered, to try to buy a friend; now I’m grown, this heart I own is the currency I spend and spend… in the end, I’ll give you everything I own, sure you’d never want me for myself alone”.

Previn recognises the hopelessness of this behaviour, how it will always fail – because of that certainty that in ourselves we are unlovable. Once we start to realise that the problem did not lie with us, but with our parents’ own issues, issues which made them unable to respond to us, however much they may have wanted, once we do that, we can see that it wasn’t us. We weren’t unlovable.

It depends on being able to challenge that fantasy, and in doing so, start to love ourselves more. As Previn says, “If I could love me more, I could love you less. And if I could love you less, I would not confuse you, dancing, dancing, smiling, smiling, till of course, I lose you”.