I’ve noticed that there are as many different styles of walking as there are people who perform the function. So one sunny day, while relaxing at Dog Beach, I decided to jot down my observations.
With such a cornucopia of walkers passing in front of me, I tried to come up with as many alternatives to the verb walk as I could. A single word doesn’t always work. Sometimes it takes a few. A friend of mine used to describe folks as “walking with their heads,” or “walking with their chests.” I asked her to show me how that would look. She had no problem animating her descriptions for me, which caused me to laugh so hard I had to hold various parts of my anatomy intact.
The first specimen I was able to identify was the “sprinter.” The sprinters are the athletic types, or those aspiring to be athletic, who sprint everywhere; to the shore, back to their towels, in front of the opposite sex, and alongside of their dogs. The male sprinters are more interesting than the female especially if they are trying to keep their bellies in check. Sometimes they do the belly-suck-in sprint, which involves a bit of holding the breath to present a more flat tummy. I always hope they don’t faint from lack of oxygen.
The next category on my list is the “lumberers.” The lumberers are either old, infirmed, lazy, or just plain tired. Their gate is slow and sways from side to side with a heavy kind of pokiness. Everything is an effort. I saw an older dog that was lumbering. Unfortunately, he had a sprinter for an owner. No matter how much the man begged him, the dog would not move any faster. “I ain’t gonna run on no damn beach,” the dog seemed to be saying while lowering his head and rolling his eyes upward in disgust.
Next we come to the “strutters.” This is probably the most populated category. Actually, I think there needs to be some subcategories here. The main group of strutters moves like “wise guys” and pop their weight from one side to the other while including a bit of head action. Everyone in Philly struts. That’s why the Mummers are so popular there. To properly do the Mummers’ Strut takes talent. And guts. Even women strut with a certain “tough guy” bounce in their step. My brother is from Philly and used to strut, but then he moved to Texas and learned to swagger. So now he either swuts or straggers. A very weird combination matched by his Philly accent that has been influenced with a Texas twang.
Another kind of strut is more akin to that of a runway model. This particular type of walk is usually performed by females with great bodies wearing bikinis. They put one foot directly in front of the other, which causes their hips to jut up and down. It’s pretty close to what my older African-American friend used to call “switching” only with much less shoulder movement. I tried to switch when I was very young but couldn’t coordinate my hips with my shoulders and wound up looking as if I had an affliction. My father kept asking me, “What’s the matter with you? You got something wrong with your foot? Your leg? Your ass? What? What? Somebody beat you up? Huh? Tell me who it was, I’ll kill him! I’ll kill him!”
The “swagger” is at the top of my list of favorites. Not too many people on Dog Beach swagger. They saunter, promenade, trudge and stroll, but they don’t swagger. In Texas, swaggering is held to a very high standard. It is an art. If you have bowl legs, you can really get the swaggering going in the right direction. This form of walking is perfected only after much practice and perseverance. Everyone thinks George Bush has a swagger. He doesn’t. He has more of a toddle mixed in with a bit of a saunter. A true swagger can be seen coming over the horizon. It rocks with confidence as it leans from left to right and rivals the strut for arrogance. Thumbs pushed into a waistband with fingers hanging out the front adds a final touch to a perfect swagger.
Some folks “prance.” Owners of small dogs have a tendency to prance. Big burley men and women with pit bulls tend not to prance. They either lumber or strut depending upon their age. It is important beach etiquette and self-defense practice for prancers to leave plenty of room for strutters.
Of course there is still the “shuffle,” “slog” and “traipse.” Because of the sand and dog droppings, the shuffle is very popular at this spot. It is not at all uncommon to see a prancer suddenly break into an arm-flailing shuffle after stepping in a concealed pile of excrement. This event is usually followed by a traipsing to the water for a cleaning and a slogging back. Many times cursing accompanies the entire scenario.
The human body is capable of an unending repertoire of walking styles. Each one is an individual dance of personal expression. Each one is like a kinesthetic work of art, unique and beautiful. Each one is a joy to watch while sitting in the warm sand at Dog Beach.