Like nobody's watching

| August 09, 2006

If you've spent any time at Weaver Street Market in the past four years, you've seen the dancer of Carrboro. His name is Bruce Thomas, and he often dances on the market's lawn with the children, usually in costume and sometimes trailing long, brightly colored cloths behind him. Sometimes he dances alone to the music in his headphones--leaping, bending and twirling with surprising agility. Other days, he sits silently in meditation, quiet and still as cars buzz by in a cloud of exhaust and shoppers click their carts back and forth over the pavement.

Perhaps you find his dancing inspiring, entertaining or ridiculous. Whatever you think of him, one thing is clear: He embodies a rare freedom of body and spirit. He's not dancing for you or anyone else. His spirit is moved, and his body is telling the story. And this type of freedom can stir some surprising reactions among those of us whose lifestyle does not include spontaneous expressions of creativity or unbridled joy. Maybe you think he's an exhibitionist, or that he's crazy. Perhaps he annoys you for reasons you can't explain.

Or maybe you think he is intolerable and must be banned, which is what Carr Mill Mall Manager Nathan Milian decided last week. Thomas was dancing under the large pecan tree on the Weaver Street lawn when he noticed a security guard beckoning to him. When Thomas walked over, the security guard told him his dancing must stop immediately. Then he was told he was forbidden from dancing on the lawn ever again.

"Our property is commercial," said Milian, by way of explanation. In other words: That shady spot under the pecan tree is for consumers, not dancers. Unless you are spending money, consuming what you just purchased or transporting your purchases back to the car, you may not be welcome on the Weaver Street lawn. Which might explain why Milian plans to go after another flagrant group of non-consumers: the hoop dancers who twirl on the same ground.

Weaver Street Market is in an uproar. But while many in Carrboro are outraged at such an arbitrary decree, Thomas is not one of them. In fact, it would be hard to get Thomas outraged about anything, because he refuses to let someone seize control of his thoughts and emotions that way. He says he learned this lesson the hard way, when he fell into the wrong crowd as a young man and committed a crime that landed him in prison.

"The last time I let someone else control my direction, it cost me 19 years of my life," he says. Thomas began to meditate in prison, and made a vow to make the very best of the life that he had. "My job is to control my own state of mind, not anyone else's. When I discovered that, I was able to find joy in the darkest dungeon," Thomas says. "So no one can take that joy from me now."

Thomas has been told the Carr Mill manager is like the Grinch who stole Christmas. But at the end of that story, the Grinch was transformed--and when his heart suddenly expanded, he returned everything he had taken from the children of Whoville.

"I wish that kind of transformation for Mr. Milian," Thomas says.

Instead of arguing with the security officer who intercepted him, Thomas simply blessed him and walked away. He has not danced on the lawn since--though he does still have a suspicious spring in his step.

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