Dancer was a great bear friend who, other than being one of the most intelligent beings I know, had a great sense of humour.
As far as polar bears go Dancer was a near perfect specimen. He was a lump of a bear with muscle well defined even below a thick layer of fat. His ponderous behind, the true measure of a polar bears health and stature, I'm sure was eyed with envy and caution by other males and no doubt convinced more than a few ladies, come spring courting time out on the ice, that he was the one. If the polar bears hunting prowess is directly related to the size of his rear end then Dancer took a back seat to no others.
Although I could only offer an educated guess I would say he was around eight years old when he made the trek from the Cape to visit for the first time. The scars on his broad face from battling over the ladies or protecting a kill told me he was a warrior approaching his prime, already the respect shown by other bears was evident and the many challenges to his authority were quickly dealt with. It was how he dealt with these challenges that set him apart.
Polar bears are cautious by nature and never waltz into the unknown without a lengthily analysis of the situation, no chances are taken when approaching another bear of similar size. But caution is not enough to override the innate curiosity these animals have. If something is going on they want to know about it.
The usual procedure when one male bear approaches another is a type of slow tango that sees both animals delicately circle one another, head slung low to the ground, making sure all their assets are in full display by turning broadside to each other to show the true seat of power, their rear ends. Eye contact is never broken, huge yawns displaying a full set of teeth shows everything is in working order at that end. The dance varies in length but as an observer seems to go on and on. The dance ends when one bear figures his assets didn't match up to the others and trundles off. Size is a factor but not necessarily the rule, it is not uncommon to see a large bear give ground to another of less stature. I can only think the reason for this is the degree of intimidation seen in the eyes. In some cases during the dance the bears realise that they met before and settle down if not to enjoy each others company at least tolerate each others presence.
Dancer wouldn't tango, he had his own way of dealing with intruders. The first time I seen him in action I went from shock to amazement to spasms of laughter within seconds.
The window Dancer used to visit in the old camera buggy slid open wide enough so when standing on his back legs he could shove his head through to his ears. We were having one of our early morning get togethers over a cup of coffee, one of his favourite smells, when looking over the top of his head I noticed a big male bear making his way toward us. His cautious approach brought him within a hundred feet where he stopped to collect his thoughts. He was figuring out if it was in his best interest to check out whats going on or use prudence and alter his course leaving it all well enough alone. He couldn't let this go, something was going on.
Once his mind was made up the newcomer's approach changed. Like a sailing ship beating into the wind he started tacking, changing course every so often angling his way closer, giving careful thought to every step. His progress slowed even more by long pauses to watch for any reaction from Dancer. He had worked his way close enough that any other bear would have taken notice and either high tailed it out of here or turned to meet the challenge head on and begin the tango.
Not Dancer, he knew he was there but ignored him completely and the bear kept coming. It got to a point where I thought I should break our visit short and close the window so Dancer wouldn't be caught off guard but at that moment my friend let out a big snort that dampened the air inside the buggy then pushed his big body backwards away from the window to sort things out.
Like a reluctant ballerina Dancer balanced himself on one leg and did a wobbly pirouette to face his adversary, the momentum of such a manoeuvre caused him not to drop to all four legs but to plop down on his greatest asset with such force I'm sure I felt the buggy shake. There he sat, looking like a fuzzy white Buddha waiting to dish out a bit of enlightenment to the bear now frozen in mid stride not forty feet away.
The next move was left entirely up to the uninvited visitor who I could see was giving great thought as to how he should handle this unexpected and tenuous situation. The choice of backing away should have been given more consideration. The nervous bear give a great yawn and ever so slowly lowered his front paw to take his last step forward.
In a explosion of unimaginable power and fury Dancer drew his head in close to his massive shoulders and flew at the unfortunate beast ramming him broadside with such force it lifted him off his feet and sent him tumbling through the air in a slow arc landing in a confused heap. Recovery was quick and in a heartbeat the terrified bear was upright and running flat out for his life, his back legs reaching well past his front shoulders with every stride.
No, Dancer was no ordinary bear.