Even as I harangue poor Steven to stay on his farm (*), I exploit the advantages of city living. The Lurkville LBGTQ+ community centre put on a 70s themed dance, and I decided to go.
I bought the ticket last week, but that was as much for financial support (a whopping $3) as anything else. I was not sure I wanted to attend. First of all, a wise doctor once advised me to beware loose women and social dancing, and by attending this function I would put that in jeopardy. Also, the music at dances is too loud and hurts my ears. Also, I never went to dances as a youngster. I avoided going on certain field trips because I knew dances would be involved. I worried about proximity to alcohol and I worried about how dancing is linked to mating rituals and sex. Also, I don’t know how to dance and I have no sense of rhythm and the best I can do is the white-guy two-step.
I think the first time I tried dancing was at a workplace party five years ago. I did not want to go up, but my co-workers encouraged me to try. I tried, and it was not awful, but I felt very self-conscious.
Thus I have always felt awkward about dances, and about dancing. On the other hand I unironically love 70s disco, and have been deeply ashamed of my own self-consciousness around dance. I have been at outdoor events where others were dancing. I admired those people. I especially admired when people who were not typical dancers got up and moved their bodies. But I would always feel self-consicous, and would not join in.
So the afternoon of the dance I asked myself a question. Did I really want to go? I decided that I did. But even as I said it I knew my motives were not pure. I had read enough literature about the 1970s and 1980s party scene to know that others went to dances in order to hook up. I knew that this dance was put on as a throwback to dances held in the 1970s and 1980s in Lurkville, before there were gay bars in the area. I knew some of my motivations were predatory, and that I was hoping I would spy some luscious manflesh to be my prey.
As it turns out there was some luscious manflesh on display, and some luscious womanflesh too. But — surprise, surprise — none of it had any interest in me. The crowd definitely skewed older; I may be old but I was probably in the youngest quintile there. As it turns out this wasn’t really a dance but more of a dinner — the organizers had catered a LOT of food: sandwiches and pulled pork and salads and desserts. When I arrived, people were eating and not dancing, even though the DJ was spinning tunes. Naturally I ate too, because I am a gluttonous pig who has no self-control.
I did not know many people there. But one of the people I did know is quite the free spirit. He said he wanted to dance, but that he would wait until some others were out dancing already. I pointed out that if everybody thought the way he did nobody would dance all night, and I challenged him to get on the dance floor. Then he challenged me to get on the dance floor. So I did. The free spirit started waving his arms and legs around, and I kept my arms to my sides and did the white-guy two-step, bobbing my head occasionally. And like magic, other people followed the free spirit’s lead. The dance floor began to fill up.
I felt self-conscious but this was stupid. I eat out of garbage cans; what right do I have to feel self-conscious about anything? So I closed my eyes. I let the banal lyrics and grooving basslines wash over me. I tried to let go and let the music move my body. And my body started to move.
There was no dramatic transformation. Mostly I stuck to the white-guy two-step, with a few side-steps for flair. I tried to use my arms more during choruses, which sort of worked. The important part was that I was letting the music tell my body what to do.
Meanwhile, other people were dancing and enjoying themselves. That was magic. Oddly, it was mostly the older people who got up, and mostly for the classics everybody recognised. Gloria Gaynor’s “I Am What I Am” brought the crowds, with many people mouthing the lyrics as they danced. A group of bluehairs (literally — one of them had a blue hair rinse) shook their heads no no no, and then got up to shake their septuagenerian booties for a couple of numbers. There was a man in his eighties wearing a suit and tie, whom (I think) was there with his wife. They sat and watched for a long time, and eventually they came up for a dance as well.
Most of the youngsters stayed glued to their chairs. There was one young woman whose head was bobbing. I sensed that she wanted to dance, but also didn’t want to. That could have been me. That was me at all those other events where I felt too self-conscious to move my body. I felt so bad for her. But by the end of the evening she had gotten up too, dancing in a circle with a trio of youngsters who had arrived in amazing 70s vintagewear.
I kept moving my body. I probably danced (or should I say, “danced”) for three out of the four hours the dance floor was active. For some unfathomable reason, the dance floor cleared when Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition” was spinning, but as a wannabe rationalist I love that song (and its amazing video) so I kept going. I could sense that I looked like an idiot, and that people were staring, and I didn’t care.
The wise doctor was not wrong. Social dancing is strong magic. I have read many accounts of the 70s pre-AIDS nightlife, of people going to dance clubs and dancing and dancing. I thought all those metaphors of freedom and energy were proxies for lust. But no. Independent of the mating rituals and the sex, dancing itself feels like a form of freedom. It feels like the essence of embodiment. As I moved my body I tried to appreciate that despite my increasing aches and pains, my joints still work and my body is still capable of movement. I thought of the ticket collector at the dance, who was barely able to walk today because her hip was giving her too much trouble, and I gave thanks (to whom?) that I am not yet dealing with chronic pain.
Like other strong magic, I can sense how dangerous social dancing is. I can easily see how it could lead to loose women or worse. I got lucky. Although alcohol was consumed at the event it did not seem to be the focus. Similarly, there was little danger of sex at the event (at least not for me). If I had been braver a few decades earlier, I could be in real trouble now. But I got lucky.
Would it be wise for me to go to future dances? Am I going to become a circuit party devotee? I don’t know. I could see this becoming an expensive habit, and I could also see myself being a coward the next time I am faced with the challenge of dancing in front of others. There is talk about this dance becoming a regular event; that could be very bad for me.
I think part of the reason I was able to overcome my inhibitions was because this was an LBGTQ+ dance. I don’t know how I feel about that.
There were other disconcerting aspects to the event. One thought is quite off-topic, but as it is heavy on my mind I will write it down. Earlier in the day I ran into a former co-worker who was really struggling. He was dealing with a lot of wrist pain and despite this was recently kicked off of disability (yay bureaucracy). He was broke, and talked me into giving him $10 so he could buy meat. Meanwhile, during the event I was horrified to see many of the catering leftovers go into the trash. Forget starving children in Africa; the disparities between those who have too much and those who have too little are readily apparent right here in Lurkville. (Of course, who am I to talk? I am a gluttonous pig who has no self-control around food.)
(*) I am pretty sure that everybody who follows my blog also follows his, but if not then read this: http://sooo-this-is-me.blogspot.ca/2018/03/my-little-girl.html