Saturday, April 25, 2015

A history of dance

It was the winter of 1984 and Ryde East Public School was in the grip of a severe outbreak of girls’ germs. Despite this, all of us boys were gathered in the hall and forced to make physical contact with the infected. We loudly protested that dancing with girls was gay, but were still made to learn something they called a barn dance. It was painful. Some overenthusiastic teacher called out “Heal and toe, heal and toe” and then something about a “dosey-doe” (which seemed like gibberish), while some awful country music crept its way out of the cassette deck.

We hated it. Dancing was for girls. They did ballet and spent playlunch composing intricate synchronised dance routines to Madonna, blissfully unaware of what the lyrics to Like a Virgin meant. We just invented various games which involved tackling, throwing balls at each other’s heads and anything else which would establish where we were on the physical pecking order.

I was pretty much able to avoid dancing until year 5 when a school dance was organised and an old weird looking man called Disco Joe was brought in to DJ. I am not saying Disco Joe was a paedophile; he was probably just a lovely kind old man; but it didn’t all feel quite right. Repeatedly doing the chicken dance at the urging of Disco Joe was certainly not as fun as playing bull rush with my mates.

In 1990 I made the mistake of going to a boys’ school, which meant the only real opportunity for contact with girls came at the school dance. The whole setup of the school dance immediately seemed weird to me. As a spotty, gangly, super-awkward 13 year old I was supposed to single out one pretty girl from a large group of girls. Despite the fact that this girl was already dancing I was then expected to ask “you wanna dance?” A far more apt question may have been “do you want me to invade your personal space, while I do the running man to MC Hammer, while your ten friends closely watch on and judge?”

Pretty much all the music at the school dance was house music and the video clips just involved a whole lot of busty black women shaking their body parts in a way which was completely foreign to a growing white lad with as much co-ordination as a two hour old giraffe. I tried to emulate what was up there on the screen but it all just seemed wrong. I wasn’t feeling the music.

My whole outlook on dancing was however about to change. One magic day I watched a Midnight Oil video and I saw a man dance like no other man had danced before. It wasn’t pretty. It wasn’t smooth. It wasn’t at all girly. It was actually more like he was convulsing following a severe electrical shock. As Peter Garrett twitched about singing the power and the passion, his dancing actually showed great power and passion. It was also extremely original.

I came to love dancing about like Peter Garrett. I felt the music surging through me and I let it be expressed in a series of movements which combined great fluidity with an epileptic seizure. Men understood my Peter Garrett dance and they loved it. Women were however universally unimpressed. No one likes to hear the words “get away from me you freak” but teenage girls are actually surprisingly cruel creatures and would use those words commonly.

Thankfully two things came along which made school dances more bearable – alcohol and grunge music. Grunge music was pretty much designed for awkward white boys so they wouldn’t really have to dance. You just had to behave like a football hooligan during the intense parts and then slowly nod your head with your eyes closed during the slow bits. It was perfect.

In year 9 I also discovered the benefits of alcohol. I swiftly chugged half a bottle of vodka before a school dance and had the best time ever. It suddenly didn’t matter that I hated all this dancing malarkey. I could flail about however I pleased. I could ask anyone to dance, including my science teacher. It didn’t even bother me when she said no. I had found a wonderful ally to help me conquer the evil of dance.

At around this time in history the era of the rave emerged. With it came techno. This was a style of music so hideously repetitive and awful that mere alcohol was no match for it. If you were to endure a rave you needed to take ecstasy. Ingesting pills of dubious origin, to participate in an activity I disliked, to music which I hated, all seemed like rather a lot of bother. I decided to give up on dancing, except when forced to at weddings.

The unfortunate thing about weddings is they play a standard bunch of songs which I find quite annoying. It is extremely difficult to get moving based on pure nostalgia for something I never cared about the first time around. Songs with prescribed moves are also baffling to me. When Blame it on the Boogie inevitably comes on I’m still doing the sunlight motion, while others are already up to the boogie bit. When Nutbush City Limits comes on I am stuck somewhere at a train station while everyone else is doing the bus stop.   

I understand why my wife likes dancing. She is a woman, which is a major advantage because women still look sexy no matter how freakily bad their dance moves actually are.  She hasn’t been traumatised by dancing, which makes repeating the whole experience far less traumatic. She also doesn’t weigh 100 kilos and have massive feet which can crush other people who dance near her, which is a definite plus.

Because I love my wife I will attempt to learn to wiggle my bits in a manner which is pleasing. If I am to enjoy it I may however need some therapy to go along with dance instruction. 

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