I discovered a love of EDM in the basement of a local concert hall. The side door entry club was cleverly called “The BASSment”. It was an all ages club that booked electronic dance music DJs. This was the early 2000’s and the term “EDM” wasn’t as popular as it is today. Club goers were drawn to a very specific type of electronic dance music i.e. techno, drum and bass, trance, house, and the like. The sounds would get even more specific from there – psychedelic trance, future bass, booty house, etc. I was a trance lover. I didn’t know what it was when I first heard it but I knew that whatever that beautiful descending melody followed by an explosion of heartbeats was what I wanted to hear when I was on the dance floor.
My love of dance started early. I’m pretty sure dancing is in my genetic makeup. My parents met at a disco, my mom will always be found on the floor when Salt N Pepa starts to play, and my dad was constantly dancing in the living room pulling me into his mid day dance parties when I was growing up.
I started dance classes at age 3. I continued until 12 or 13 when I started to think it was uncool. Throughout childhood, my siblings and I would grab our Hi8 camcorder and recreate music videos. I believed I was a miniature version of Janet Jackson. You could often catch me with my black ball cap with my curly ponytail hanging out the back asking “What have you done for me lately?”.
When I left dance class, I lost a place to indulge in the movement my body so craved. The opportunity was gone but the desire to move remained. I attended an arts high school and when one of the dance majors told me about a place to go to dance, I was eager to check it out. I had been to other underage clubs but they were goth clubs. Dancing at those places was more of just a sway with a little kick of your feet. I needed more.
Pushing through the cloak on the door at The BASSment, the pulse of the bass immediately took charge. My heart raced to match the hurried beat permeating the air. Laser beams of light raced around the darkened low ceilinged room. A small stage was set in the center where the DJ was barely visible through the fog. Bodies were moving along the melody, slow deliberate movements as if they were painting large long paint strokes on a wall sized canvas. Other bodies followed the bass beat, excited and staccato. Many had lights attached to their hands and arms in the forms of rings and glow sticks. Light masterpieces were conjured in every corner.
I pushed my way through the crowd, following my dance major friend. She hugged and kissed those we passed by. They squeezed my shoulders and kissed my cheeks too. They were strangers but I felt safe and loved by their touch.
By the end of the night I was in the middle of a circle of people in a dance battle with my friend. Sweat clung to every surface of my body. I made lifelong friends with people I would never see again. I did it again every weekend for months on end.
There would be few times in my life I would feel the peace I felt in that basement in The BASSment. Everyone took care of everyone, even if you didn’t know them. One night, the friends I arrived with had to leave and asked if I wanted to go with them or stay and get a ride with a group of guys they kinda sorta knew. I wasn’t done dancing and opted for the stranger danger ride. My friend introduced me to four football player sized guys and left. When the lights came up and it was time to leave, I found the football players waiting for me at the exit. They led me to a tiny car two of them would be lucky to fit into but we all somehow found a way to cram in. I sat in the middle of the back seat, sandwiched by two giant strangers.
The ride home was maybe 15 minutes. As the comfort of the club became a distant memory in the rearview mirror, the realization that maybe leaving with these four large men was not in my best interest. The driver turned the track on the CD player and asked if I knew the song. I didn’t. It was “Whoa!” by Black Rob. If you don’t know it, most lines in the song end with the words “like whoa”. The strange men started taking turns replacing the word “whoa” with other words like “damn” or “hey”. They invited me to join them. The tiny car swayed back and forth as we all moved to the music creating our remix. The comfort came back. They dropped me off at home and made sure I made it in the house before driving off.
Right before I became of age to legally enter a 21+ dance club, I befriended a girl who seemed to be friends with all the bouncers in the club district. We would enter through back doors and spend the night on the dance floor, taking turns eliminating the men who wanted to crash our dance party. Every so often we would encounter men who just wanted to dance – like the one pictured in the feature photo of this post. He had been dancing outside of the building during a booty house show. Towards the end, a bouncer let him in. The beat took him. His joy was contagious and we caught it.
I moved around the country after high school and evolved to fit each new city’s culture on a dance floor several nights a week. I was in super mega clubs in Vegas with world renowned DJs. I meandered down dark hallways into unmarked clubs with gogo boys in tighty whities dancing on tables not meant to hold them in New York City. I found the sweetest of men to dance with at clubs in which I’m sure the median age of the clubgoers was 50 in Chicago. Then I had children.
My oldest and closest friend got married recently. I grew up around her family and I hadn’t seen a lot of them in a while. Her brother-in-law approached me at the bridal shower and asked, “You still dance?” I thought it was a strange question to ask. I traveled down a Willy Wonka Tunnel of memories to the years on the dance floor and understood how someone who knew me in my teens and 20’s would ask such a question.
“Nope.” I finally answered.
Instantly, I was reminded of the joy dance had brought to my life. It wasn’t like I hadn’t had the opportunity to dance in the last 8 years. There were weddings and vacations and Russian birthday parties – all very appropriate places to shake it like a polaroid picture. But I hadn’t.
Could it be that I thought a “Mom” didn’t dance like I used to dance?
Could it be that I thought my body was too large to move like I used to move?
Could it be that I wanted to be in bed by 9pm?
Could it be that I thought I always needed control and dancing was letting go of it?
Yeah. All of that stuff.
I’ve tried to dance alone by myself since I was asked if I still danced. I haven’t been able to do it. Yeah, I can move a little to the music but I haven’t found the magic switch to just let go and be free. I can’t “Dance Like Nobody’s Watching.” What’s with that phrase, anyway? Dancing is pure vulnerability and freedom. Why should we only have the ability to dance without reserve when no one is watching? I don’t know about you, but I love watching people dance. Their joy is infectious. My favorite part of a wedding is the dancing. Liquid courage turns up a dance floor. My favorite workout instructor has what I call “half time shows” in his class where he just lets the music take him over. My children dancing makes any situation better. I can’t help but smile. But I can’t manage anything more than a seated shoulder shimmy.
So here I am manifesting dance into my life again. My taste in music has expanded from EDM, encompassing just about everything. I’m creating playlists. I’m asking for them. I’m looking for opportunities to dance. I’m reminiscing about all the joy I was infected with on dance floors across the country. I’m not sure what it’s going to take to get me back dancing but I’m going to do all that I can to find it. It’s a freedom and a love and a comfort that supersedes culture, age, politics, and preference. We could all use a little more freedom, love, and comfort. More dance. And the rest will come.
2 responses to “Dance Like Nobody’s Watching”
Life rarely takes us where we think we’re going but I hope you find how to dance again
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You’ve always put these experiences to words so well. Thank you for sharing some of these experiences with me. I’m pretty sure dancing is also in my DNA.
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