You can be a king or a street sweeper, but everybody dances with the grim reaper.
Rolf Alton Harris
I was worried that this blog was becoming a bit girly, so I decided to use this image of a dancing superhero (notice the absence of nipples?) to lure both lads and ladettes into a brief and confused digression on dancing.
It was Saturday night last night and I didn’t go out dancing. I didn’t go out, full stop. I made that decision and I stand by it. But it I did want to go dancing, where would I start? How to tear oneself away from pjyamas and book?
As I write this my better half lies in a stupor after spending the night out on the Londontown. He stumbled in at 8.30 this morning. “Never again. Never again.” This does little to persuade me.
Yet dancing used to be very important to me. How did it happen that it now seems so strange and difficult to go dancing?
Ages 5-12, my living-room dancing music of choice was The Travelling Wilburys, Tom Petty (he was a core Wilbury too), The Mamas and the Papas, Elton John, Led Zeppelin, and Queen. All pretty bombastic stuff – stadium-rock, back-up-dancer dancing. Ages 12-17, my dancing music was primarily the Beatles, but also, because I listened to whatever my brothers were listening to, the Smashing Pumpkins (Siamese Dream is surprisingly danceable, but Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness is contortionate), the Pixies and the Breeders, Radiohead, and Beck, whose Midnite Vultures, though critically spurned, was a bloody good dancing album – especially the falsetto track “Debra”. Anyway, in Wellington, the few times I braved the “town” on a weekend, people would say things afterwards. “You’re a crazy dancer,” they said. “A real crazy dancer.” When we were nodding along in the circle formation – as was the fashion at the time – apparently I would disrupt the circle. Apparently I moved around too much.
But once you’re a “crazy dancer” how do you go back? You can’t. You can’t change once you’ve tasted the crazy.
More importantly, being a bit older now, how do reconcile your wish to dance with your reluctance to de-pyjamafy and go out into the world? These are hard questions. As Oliver Burkeman notes in this excellent wee piece Routines to disrupt your routines, habit is so much more powerful than conscious decision-making. You might strenuously resolve to do something (for example, I make a firm but vague resolution every year to dance more, and every year I fail) but unless you turn it into a habit – paradoxically, a habit of stepping out of the habitual stream – it probably won’t happen.
The other thing is that there’s a lot of worry to survive before you get to the really good bit, the dancing. The sitting around a bit awkwardly in a bar. The need to get a few drinks down. The etiquette: it’s not really cool to dance on your own, unless you’re Robyn – but you can’t gatecrash a circle either; that’s not cool.
The very best dance I went to was a rock ‘n roll-themed night at Bar Bodega. Everyone looked like they’d walked off the set of Grease and/or Happy Days. The band came on, four dudes with “Mother” tattoos and uber-tight pants, and everyone lurking at the edges just strolled on to the dance floor and got down to business.