Thirty-Something Woman Seeks Single Floor with a Good Beat for Dance and...Dance

Some people love to dance. Some people would love nothing more than to be eternally excluded from any invitation/expectation to dance.

I fall into the former category.

This hasn't been a my-whole-life thing. Yes, I begged to be signed up for ballet classes (an endeavor that lasted a total of probably 6 months, max). I also begged to be signed up for jazz dance classes at Freddie Finn Studio when I was in middle school, but that was mostly because of the awesome jacket the studio issued its students (at what I imagine was a hefty price), not because I had any particular talent in the dance arena. 

In reality, for 2/3 of my life, the idea of dancing in public was terrifying. I was a shy kid and most definitely not into performing. But extending beyond my lack of desire to entertain, I was loathe to do ANYthing that would attract attention to myself, even positive attention. As I got older, I lamented the fact that finding rocks large enough to crawl under and disappear proved an ever more difficult desire to fulfill.

But something magical happened on a crowded, dim lit basement dance floor in Cleveland, Ohio (of all places). It was there my then-coworkers from Mexico and Peru introduced me to Salsa, Cumbia, and Merengue music. It was there a couple of brave men, undeterred by my impossible tallness and spastic lack of comfort in my own skin, first showed me that dance could be a wonderful, wonderful thing.

Here's the thing I've maintained about dance ever since: Dance teachers should never, ever try to introduce students to a style of dance without first treating them to extensive exposure to the music of that dance.

Somebody could have talked to me all day about the steps associated with the dances (Step step step...pause...step step step) and drawn highly illustrative diagrams. They could have shown me countless YouTube tutorials and walked me through a hundred power point slides. But nothing made me understand the rhythms and the feel of those dances like standing in the midst of a sweaty, writhing dance floor entirely peopled with lovers, knowers of the music itself. Closing one's eyes to absorb a moment like that is highly advisable for the sinking-in, deep down staying power effect it has.

That is how and where I first came to make nice with dancing.

And I was comfortable with those Latin rhythms and the fixed nature of the dances' basic steps. I could master those and then, once in a while--with a seasoned and talented lead--be turned and twirled and whatever other level-up moves I may be able to not distaster-ize.

But what, then, to do about freestyle dance on club dance floors? What about the dreaded wedding reception dance floor?

These were places unfamiliar and/or uncomfortable. These were places where people were watching and evaluating. These were places where you may need to develop actual moves. Moves?

Moves, I could not boast.

I still felt like an awkward wallflower in these settings. I felt a-rhythmic and reluctant. But more than anything I felt a return-to-roots sense of shyness.

Maybe it was alcohol that stepped in a couple of times to help alleviate that feeling, initially. (Liquid courage isn't only good for greasing the hitting-on wheels.) It was probably that. It wasn't enough alcohol to get drunk on or throw all caution to the wind over. Just enough to turn down the critic's volume level a few notches. It was enough to quiet the voice in my brain enough that I could hear the voice in my rhythmically beating heart, as corny as that sounds.

And that. THAT is what it was all about.

It was about letting the joy of feeling my body in motion overpower any fear I may have had about how I was being judged. And, with some experience, it no longer incorporated any sort of fear over how I was being judged; rather, it was a complete lack of interest in whether or not I was being judged at all.

People want to judge? Fine. I can't stop them.

But also, this: they can't stop me.

Published in the Mercury News San Jose Jazz Festival program guide, 2005
And after time in that mode, nothing was needed to grease the wheels because I knew that if I stayed in the present with the music--allowing it to move through me--I would get to feeling intoxicated, even sober as a Quaker. And it was a better sort of intoxication, too. There was no suddenly sleepy side effect, no middle-of-the-night digestive issues. It was just pure adrenaline and joy and the absolute oneness of body and soul. Just writing about it right now makes me wanna jet out the front door and make for the nearest ANYwhere that music is playing.

Which brings me to the present.

Last weekend I went out with coworkers to celebrate a couple of their birthdays and ended up at a club in San Jose. I've been to this place a number of times and found the dancing scene to be okay-fine there. I was having fun for a while.

But twice during the night I had to bust out a move I had never in my life done before, this move having nothing to do with dancing. It was a finger wave in the direction of two separate men who brazenly walked up behind me and put their hands on me while I was dancing. I know a lot of people go dancing looking to hook up. But even if I were looking for that, I might expect even a momentary exchange of eye contact--some tiny signal that I were interested--before being groped. Not cool.

I found myself wishing there were some kind of place to dance where this is not an issue.

My friend Kate had told me about a weekly dance session she sometimes attends called 5 Rhythms. It's a loose, freestyle session where you can just go and do your thing to music, outside of a club setting. She met her boyfriend Maor there after they connected on the dance floor--without even having to exchange words (so cool). I found the nearest, equivalent-sounding thing (Ecstatic Dance in downtown Oakland) last Sunday and checked that out.

The setting was great--a big-windowed, sunlight-filled dance floor at a bona fide old club called Tropicana. It had a lot of promise at the outset: smiling, friendly looking people who danced freely and openly without a trace of judgement or predatory intent. Some did incredible yoga poses on the sidelines. Some danced in interesting and intimate exchanges with occasional lifts. Some took part in the donation-based massages being offered off to one side. There were children, which was wonderful to see.

But ultimately, I couldn't get into it. I wasn't connecting with the music and it was more crowded than I'd anticipated, especially for such a large space. Also, the vibe was a little toooo free flowy for me. I like a little edge, and I got the overwhelming sense that if I were to move in any of the beat-centric ways I might at a club, I'd be upsetting the superflow vibe.

Argh. What is a 30-something, not-looking-to-hook-up, flowy-but-not-suuuuuper-flowy woman to do to get her groove on these days? I wish I had an answer to that. I fear the best prospect may lie at a rave, which I am way too old and anti-Molly for. Maybe it's at Burning Man, but who's got the extra $500 bucks lying around for a ticket?

I truly don't know. All I know is that I hope to find an answer because nothing makes me feel as alive as a good, sweat-drenched evening of dancing.

Kevin's Sketch

So it's been a little while, but Kevin got back into the mix this week with a doodle/sketch he made while listening to a long safety training module in preparation for work at a Lawrence Livermore Lab site. Downside: I was in the room listening to this safety module as well. Upside: Sketch to post!

Q-Bert's Astral Body

1 comment:

  1. Kisa, I know EXACTLY what you're talking about! When I was 30 or so and studying down in Cuernavaca, our last night was a celebration at a local dance club. There was a guy called El Gallo--- 50 years old and scrawny as that name might have you guess--- and he would grab a hand and lead you out onto this crazy, pulsating dance floor. He danced like he was possessed, and he led like a dream, and there was something about the Latin rhythm, the being in a foreign land where no one knew you, and the warm summer night, that just let you LOSE it: all control and concern for outside approval or judgment was gone, and there was only the salsa beat and this skinny, short dude who looked like he was born dancing! What absolute, pure magic! ¡Andale!