I’ve always had a complicated relationship with dancing. I don’t think there is anything I’ve ever felt so embarrassed doing, so many times, yet still felt a compulsion to repeat. Not even skateboarding. But I’m writing about a hundred things that help me feel human, not a hundred things I’m really good at. And there are times that moving to the rhythm, has a power to lift me beyond troubles, over hurdles, and beyond the reach of apathy. But there are other times that I stand on the edge of the dance floor and something inside me won’t allow my soul release.
I think key to understanding my schizophrenic response to the tempo is to map my rhythm-enthusiasm against my self-confidence. On the courageous evenings when my assurance is firm, my rhythmic libido is freely exposed. On the darker nights of the soul, during those long hours in which I suspect I was placed on this earth as a lesson to others, there’s no way this fool should be on the d-floor. No one should have to bear witness to an uncommitted dancer.
I guess I should take time to understand how I came to this perplexing state. Maybe it is time for a little journey through my history with dance.
Ballroom dancing lessons. Who the feck decided the best way to prepare me for the real world was to force me into such a blush summoning, sweaty handed, gender-based Mexican stand-off? Thirty eight boys along one wall, thirty-nine girls along the other. Acne, quavering voices, levels of anxiety off the emotional Richter scale. Ok, ok, within all that terror and unrequited adrenaline there are slivers of excitement. The slow building drums of Fleetwood Mac’s “Tusk”, those few, thin moments in which a girl approaches me, just before hope gives way to suspicion she’s acting under the power of a dare.
But it was in these sessions that I learnt of the fragility of hope. And that my ego was equally delicate. And that people I barely knew had the ability to fracture either with a simple, uncaring rejection. Films and television had intimated that my first dance would a series of stuttering moments, mis-steps with a soundtrack of mutual giggles. My hand held gently against the fabric of the back of her dress, her eyes and mine sharing brief glances. Reality delivered a sweaty angst-fest that very nearly put me off The Dance forever. It is only in writing this that I realise hip hop might well have saved me.
This was it, the phenomenon that let me believe dancing might actually be a legit part of my existence. Break dancing had “cool” accessories: a slice of metre-square linoleum, an aunty-crafted set of purple MC Hammer pants, a hand decorated ghetto blaster. Practice sessions were held in friend’s garages, or their bedrooms, one of us trying to desperately to balance single-handed on a coke can, the other clapping encouragement. Encouragement!
Us white boys lived so far from the ghetto we get to dance to caterpillar to the Footloose soundtrack without fear of dance-related beatings. There were rumours that huge gangs of angry teens in New York settled issues with dance-offs, so in a distant-cousin kind of way we were by association gangster, fly, on the edge of something our parents couldn’t understand. Superhero moves, running up walls, flips, high-tops. And the robot. I’ll never forget the feeling of the clap circle as I twisted into the start of an epic windmill, only to collapse in giggles and be hauled to my feet by friends. The memories of enforced waltzes weren’t forgotten, but Grandmaster Flash gave dance a fighting chance.
The mosh pit
There’s dancing with partners, there’s dancing in the centre of the circle, and then there’s the mosh pit. It isn’t easy to describe the uneasy combination of high intensity thrashing and a pervasive awareness of each other’s well-being. As one person goes down, others draw them up. As I launch myself into a shoulder charge, I’m landing my shoulder into another, I’m inflicting only the gentlest of bruises as guitars wail and drums thunder.
The pit is an example of mob mentality with a positive modifier. As you’re drawn into the front-of-stage crowd you become a part of it. It exists as an outlet for expression through physicality, but for me it is also an opportunity to be physically one with others. The moves are barely articulate, pogoing, short runs, twists to free yourself of the centre, and ultimately stage dives. But for me it is a way to hold onto others amongst the music, to feel part of something that extends beyond my own body. And there is something unveiling in aiming to appear out of control, and yet being aware of every twisting spirit around me. Rebellion tempered with empathy. I think it’s that tension that I enjoy, and the feel of the arching floorboards throwing me higher than the beat.
The millennium, champagne, pills, lines, Vauxhall Bridge, Swedish twins DJing, my first crack at the turntables. My introduction to rave culture was a trial by toxicity, my guide an Australian chef. Within a few hours the music finds a place within me, rounds out my skull, trembles down my arms. The courtship of narcotics and tunes, the slow build, the breakbeat, the pause and release. Music that only makes sense when you dance it.
My relationship with drum and bass and garage and trance was brief and intense. Two, three years, chasing what in the dusk felt like humanity’s best chance for empathic union, and in the dawn felt like a plot to enslave a generation of addictive personalities. But there’s something about dancing towards the DJ, lasers lighting up smoke, water bottles in the air. Your focus is forward or inward. With no audience there’s less room for inhibition. Just you , the tunes and 5,000 megawatts of lasers.
Hmm, ok, there’s a lot of good times in there. If I also add in all the slow-foot reggae shuffles in the sun, the car seat boogies on long road trips, the Forbidden Dance, the silent discos, dance has given far more than it has taken. And I guess it has never really taken anything, rather I’ve just not been in a position to give.
In future I’ll try to use some of these other tools to ensure I’m more open to her charms. And to my own.