I spent New Year’s Eve dancing to house and techno music. Well, that’s not entirely true, because the music right up until almost midnight was “Classics from the 60s to the Present!” which is fine for listening, but not exactly exciting for dancing. Fortunately, I got there close to 2330hrs, so I only had to spend half an hour texting my friends (“Happy Almost New Year!”) and looking up dog pictures on Instagram.
A few minutes after midnight—once Auld Lang Syne was over—the good music started. Dave Rad was DJing, and when his set was done, Alexander Krygsveld was up; his set was amazing. Lots of bass, no cutesy bullshit, a steady beat with just enough beatless “build-up” segments to let me catch my breath once in a while (but not so long that I got bored and wanted to wander off the dance floor).
I was by myself. I love being by myself. I can drive there on my own, get there when I like, am not dependent on anyone else for a ride home, don’t have to consider whether others in my group want to dance or not, and don’t have to pay attention to anyone on the dance floor. Sure, it’s fun to go out with friends, but that’s a different sort of evening; that’s social. This is dancing.
The first time I went dancing was in 1984, a week before my fourteenth birthday. I was hanging out with some young (but older than me—17-ish) men I’d met in my auntie’s neighbourhood. One of them—the one I’d had a crush on for a while—had recently come out of the closet, and he spent a lot of time at a members-only dance club called simply (as far as I ever heard) The Club. He was a pushy, controlling kind of guy who found it entertaining to try to fashion me into a doll and take me out places and use me as bait for straight guys. I was young and used to being controlled and just discovering that others found me attractive, so I pretty willingly (albeit naively) went along with the games. He decided to teach me how to go clubbing, and so he and his friends dressed me and did my hair and makeup and took me out to The Club. After that, we went there a lot. He would pose me with cigarettes and drinks and other accessories and told me how to pout and how to toss my hair and how to laugh and how to wear my lipstick to emphasise the sharp points of my Cupid’s bow and how to dance. It turned out I really loved to dance, and that’s the only lesson that really stayed with me (well, that and the lipstick).
I heard music there I didn’t hear on the radio at the time. Snap and OMD and Depeche Mode and Frankie Goes To Hollywood and Erasure and Pet Shop Boys and Wang Chung and Bronski Beat and Dead or Alive and New Order and Ultravox and so many more. It was thrilling! I felt like I was being shown a whole different world.
You could only go to The Club as the guest of a member for a certain amount of times before you had to get your own membership, so my friend arranged to borrow the ID of someone named Joanne and we signed me up. Joanne’s middle name was the same as my first name so we figured we had a good cover. The staff totally knew it was fake, but it was the eighties and it didn’t seem to matter. After that, I would even go on my own sometimes, telling whichever parent I was staying with that I was babysitting, or sleeping over at a friend’s, or going to the other parent’s house.
Sometimes we got trapped at The Club because the other bars were closing, and the homophobes were on the move. The rumour would spread that there were gay-bashers out on the street, and we would be trapped in there until they gave up and went away, or until someone called the police.
The Club is where I kissed a woman for the first time, and where I had my first away-from-my-family real drink. But what I remember the most about it is that the music was always good, and nobody cared if I was up and dancing an hour before anyone else got their groove on.
The first time I ever got drunk was at a house party. I’ve very seldom ever been drunk in a club. My friend who dressed me up and paraded me around also tried to get me to do acid, cocaine, mushrooms, and mysterious pills, but that’s where I said no. I learned early to watch my drinks after he made a joke about slipping drugs into my gingerale. I learned that whoever he had set up as our ride home was likely to be drunk by the end of the night. I learned that the closer it got to the end of the night, the more likely I was to be groped, cornered, propositioned, and indeed proposed to. But it was all worth it, all so very worth it to be out there dancing.
I’m picky about the music I dance to. But when it is good, it is perfect. I get in the zone. There’s the warm-up, getting into the groove. Then after a while, a light sweat. Then, maybe an hour into it, I can feel it in my breathing. Meanwhile, the time slips by and either my mind is blank and completely connected to the music, or my thoughts and worries are just drifting through me like that background tickertape on news channels: there, but totally ignorable. The best is when the bass is so heavy and unrelenting that my body actually feels contained and compressed by the sound waves, as if the music itself is what is holding me up.
My joints are a mess. Ever since puberty, all my joints have been on-and-off painful, from the littlest knuckles to the shoulders and hips. So over time, I’ve figured out that I have to take anti-inflammatories before going dancing, and again when I get home. I’ve also figured out that no matter how good it feels at the time, a full evening of stomping is going to ensure days of post-dancing joint pain, so I try to be mindful of that. I don’t know how much longer my body will let me keep doing this, but I’m 45 now so I’m grateful for the time I’ve already had to enjoy dancing.
Of course, safety is an issue. I am a woman alone on the streets at night walking between my car and the venue. When I go dancing by myself, I don’t drink at all; I buy bottled water with screw-tops, and I never put it down. I wear my favourite dancing shoes—my heavy black Caterpillar shoes—shoes in which I can run, with which I can kick, in which I am still safe if someone accidentally stomps on my foot. I take a small purse with a solid strap (a strap also solidly connected to the purse itself) and sling it across my body, so I don’t have to put it down and it can’t easily be cut or pulled off me. Now that I have a cellphone, I always charge it up and take it along. I take charge of my own transportation, whether I drive myself or take enough cash for a cab—and if I’m with others, I don’t make cab-sharing a part of the plan.
The older I get, the less unwanted attention I get, which is a perk. But I still get the gropers, and I still get the sloppy drunks at the end of the evening (apparently I look better once you’ve had a few drinks!). But I am not shy about slapping a hand off me, or kicking a shin, or using my formidable and snotty BRF as a weapon. I’m the one who shoves the gropers off my cute friends, and intervenes when I see other women in trouble or discomfort. I’m tall, I’m strong, and I don’t give a shit. So in some ways, that also makes me safer. But I am also aware that as time passes, I will not be as strong anymore, and my age will make me more vulnerable. So I think I’m kind of in the “sweet spot” right now of less unwanted attention / more capacity to deal with it.
I’m an introvert and I don’t like crowds. But somehow dancing is usually an exception. I’m a pretty compact dancer. I stake out my spot and hold on to it. I like to be at the back of the front third of the dancers, an imaginary line that keeps me close enough to the stage and the speakers, but just far enough back to be out of range of the wild jumpers or show-offs or desperate fans. I don’t care if people bump into me while dancing, but as soon as I feel a palm or fingers, or a “bump” in an unusual place, I’m on alert. I don’t talk to people when I’m out dancing, although they will often talk to me, especially women. Back when I was seventeen or so, I went to a bar with a school friend, Suzie, to go dancing. When we got there, she led me through the bar to her favourite table, and when we got there, she was supremely irritated with me: “You gotta get your nose out of the air. If you have that kind of attitude, nobody’s gonna want to talk to us!” I was genuinely taken aback. It had never occurred to me that I should want someone at the bar to talk to me!
When I get home from dancing, I am always so hungry. Last night when I got home I saw a little quiche from Le Croissant in the fridge and knew my bromate had been shopping. I didn’t know if he was saving it for himself or if it was for me, but my post-dance-hunger overruled roommate etiquette, and I scarfed that baby down at 3 a.m. like nobody’s business! The dogs are always happy to see me and I wished them a Happy New Year while they tried to lick the sweat off my arms and thwacked me with their tails.
I don’t go dancing every New Year’s Eve. Sometimes I spend it at home or with friends at their homes. Sometimes I am in bed before midnight. New Year’s Eve wasn’t the point. The point was dancing.
I hope all of you had the chance to do something you enjoyed for New Year’s Eve and I wish you all a happy, healthy 2016 filled with laughter and friendship.
PS: My bromate mentioned this morning that there was a quiche for me in the fridge, so I’m safe!