My earliest memories of dance involve ballet – or at least my sloppy stab at it. More than actual dancing, I remember the shined and scuffed Marley flooring; that pleated, boiled-wool skirt flopping over Ms. Burgwin’s sad calves; and most of all, the utter confusion as to why the hell my fellow ballerinas and I weren’t wearing tutus and tiaras at all times. Was ballet not princess training after all? Was I in the wrong room?
Ballet class was a rigid environment that, even at five, I failed to see the point of. I thought I wanted to learn ballet…but what I actually wanted was something far less dignified: to simply prance around while wearing a fluffy pink outfit. Why an overbearing septuagenarian was constantly shouting at us about prancing around in fluffy pink outfits, I never understood. So when my older sister decided to leave the hobby behind, I followed in her pointy pink footsteps. It was only after abandoning ballet that my first memory of enjoying dancing surfaced, featuring my older siblings and I bouncing around in the kitchen to the entirety of Cake’s Fashion Nugget and Prince’s “Raspberry Beret.” I realized from an early age that kitchen dancing was a lot more fun than ballet, and required a sense of humor, to boot.
Perhaps my conflicted relationship with dancing was born of those two polarities: the super-structured, formal lessons vs. the more primal movin’ and shakin’. The former must be rehearsed and perfected, while the latter demands almost nothing of the body. Simply acquiesce to the music, and the rhythm will move your limbs for you.
Somewhere between the ages of 10 and 22 (with the exception of a brief foray into swing dancing) I became a kind of non-dancer. This could largely be blamed on my punk rock leanings, which forbade any attempt at social normality like, say, school dances. Not only had I embargoed myself from musical genres outside of punk music, I had slow-cured and hardened into a person that no one in his or her right mind would invite to a school dance; and no one did… until I moved to a new high school.
Woodinville High School’s Homecoming soiree of 2006 would be the first and last school dance for me. Some of the evening’s most memorable factors were countless Black Eyed Peas hits, dinner at Olive Garden, and my date Kevin’s parents, who chauffeured us around in their totally dope Kia Sedona. While at the dance itself, I almost incited a riot after approaching the DJ and requesting that he play “some swing music,” which prompted a six-minute electro-swing mash up only I boogied to. People were shouting angrily, looking around for the culprit (me) as if someone had let out an acrid fart and its creator had to be identified for purposes of justice.
I didn’t dance in public again for years. You could say I forgot how to dance. This amnesia was a result of a few things. 1) The aforementioned investment in punk music that only allowed for “slam dancing,” in which the word “dancing” is used very loosely. 2) Lack of venues. Where was I supposed to dance as an underage kid in a small town? 3) Music choice. Had I been a tween, teen or young adult in the ‘60s, I could have done the twist. I would have warmly welcomed the discotheques of the 1970s, or the techno clubs of the 1990s. But no, it was the mid 2000s. What was I supposed to think of dance music in a time of The Pussycat Dolls and Paris Hilton’s cover of “Do Ya Think I’m Sexy?”? I had to become a “Private Dancer,” but not in the way Tina Turner meant it.
I began to dance in secret. In high school, I’d do it before my parents got home from work. In college, I’d wait for all three of my roommates to vacate the apartment, before putting on “Face To Face” by Daft Punk, or “Suspended In Gaffa” by Kate Bush. Those two artists were particularly helpful in getting my body to move, especially Bush, whose sweeping, avant garde pop music lends itself to wild and unstructured flailing quite nicely. I would play entire albums by these artists and dance around my kitchen and living room in the midst of doing dishes, rolling on the dining room table, leaping past the confused cat, and only occasionally breaking something.
It was cathartic, this silly thrashing of limbs. But where could I find this perfect cocktail of adequate space and music I actually liked? Certainly not in da clubs of the Meatpacking District. Where does one go to, as Jamiroquai’s Jay Kay once sang, “just dance”? Not a place to be seen, not a place to meet dudes – a place to just dance.
In an attempt to quench this new thirst of mine, I started trying out a couple of different dance classes – mostly because dancing is the best way to trick myself into exercising. Unfortunately, I found that even amateur classes at the YMCA run on the same, overly disciplined air as my old ballet lessons, and on top of that, they are filled with dancers. Or, as I should say, !!!DANCERS!!!. You know, the chick wrapping her feet at the afternoon Zumba class. She wants you to know, she is no mere Zumba dabbler, but a !!!DANCER!!!. These classes always reveal themselves as a special circle of hell, in which I am not the graceful interpretive genius sashaying across the kitchen while holding a rose whisk betwixt my teeth, but a clumsy lump of flesh that doesn’t know left from right.
So I ask you: is there a secret Kate Bush dance night I don’t know about? Can someone please start one?
There is one place I have found that meets my criteria of good music + people I don’t hate + ample space, however: the wedding. About two years ago, one of my best friends got married, and was gracious enough to make sure her guests were plied with ample booze and good tunes. It was perhaps one of the first times this group of pals had seen me dance, despite the fact that I met them in 2009. Though dateless, I did everything I could to make up for the last decade or so of burying my need to boogie. Half of my friends were horrified and confused (or as I like to think, totally jealous of my moves), but one of them got it. She leaned in, looked me in the eye and said, “You are a dance machine.”