The Dancing

Hey. Lately, I find myself thinking about

(the part of you that wants to have fun. What do you mean by that?)

And then I ran across this little ditty that I wrote last year, and I think: Yep. This expresses it. Okay.

So, drink & enjoy.

Remember dancing?

Flat out, till you were breathless, the dancing forming this connection between you and everyone dancing around you? Even if no one was around—if you were alone in your kitchen with a can opener and your suddenly very-freaked-out cat, remember how it felt like everyone you loved was there? You didn’t feel alone, and this was because of the dancing.


What I Don’t Want to Talk About When I Talk About Dancing

I don’t want to discuss the movement of the body in some cheesy fake-poetic way—about how you shake your hips or shimmy up and down. Not only does such talk make me cringe, thinking too hard about the dancing ruins it, because you can’t simultaneously be in the moment and worry about your technique of being in the moment. (Like writing. Like doin’ it. Like drawing. Like talking. Like living each day not-as-an-existential-crisis.) This is why photographs of real people dancing generally look terrible.

And this, Mr. Henshaw, may be why the introvert loves the dancing: When the music hits your deepest self and externalizes that self in movement, then you’re truly inside of it. It’s rare; it’s golden. There’s only this moment, this, this, and this.

And I had forgotten about it completely until a couple of Saturdays ago. And now I want my fix again.


When the Boom-Shack-a-Lack Hit, It Hit Like This

I went to an art museum Halloween party that was DJed by Kathleen Hanna of the now-defunct electro-pop group Le Tigre. I had thought beforehand that the music she played would probably be good, but instead, when she opened up those speakers, it felt essential: a moment I’d been anticipating for weeks, maybe years. I hadn’t even known I wanted it till it was happening. It seemed the same with everyone there; each song struck the crowd like a new, electrifying surprise. And maybe the coolest thing was the crowd itself: diverse like in the last scene of a movie that ends with a dance party[1]. There were nonprofit workers and music-scene hipsters and former Buckhead partiers and Castleberry Hill scenesters and young lesbian academics and older well-dressed museum patrons and Spelman college students and Decatur parents who’d left their kids at home to drive the Outback into Midtown.

For really good dancing to happen, there must be a quorum. A general willingness to be led down the path of dancing abandon must win out over the preference to be cerebral, especially when being cerebral means standing on the sidelines, arms folded, pausing every now and then for a mild, indulgent tilt of the head that telegraphs, Well, I know better. And when this happens in a group of people who lead dissimilar everyday lives, it’s even better. It feels like a microcosm of world peace. Which is, of course, gross Pollyanna-ish oversimplification.

But every now and then, it’s better to forget about everything you know.

Mamase, mamasa, mamakossa.

Here are a few things I know about dancing.

Dancing as Personality Decoder

Magic Personality Decoder!

It can be really scary dancing with people you worry about impressing at all. That’s because when people get down and really dance, they give themselves away completely. The more often you dance, the more of yourself you’re comfortable giving away, and, maybe, just maybe, the more healthy a person you’ll be.

Wanna disco? Wanna see me disco?

I think back to my MFA days in Beachtown: of the first grad school get-together that really broke into Dance Party. When it happened, there was a group of us who danced in a way that admitted that somewhere, deep down, we had just been waiting for this to happen all night. I remember my then-new friend, a poet. Watching her dance, you could tell certain things. You could tell she was artistic and really fucking funny, too, and, almost best of all, you could see her precise lack of fear of vulnerability. As we got to be better friends, I felt so fond of her every time I saw her dance, because, boom, there it was again, that specific, raw part of her personality that I so loved.

It’s the personality decoder component of dancing that makes it so terrible to dance with people who can’t laugh at the dancing as it’s happening, because who can like someone who takes herself that seriously?

[Okay. Two more memories and a point.]

The First Time

is a blur of memory: Inside a forest of grown-ups in a neighbor’s driveway after dark, and someone DJing the oldies.


Lord, a prayer won’t kill this bear.

O Little Richard, O Coasters, and O, oh, oh, Otis Redding, how they struck your gangly nine-year-old  body, and how it struck you to see it happening to everyone around you, too. Your parents eventually left you in the care of a friend’s mother who promised to walk you home later; you didn’t want to stop dancing.

In high school, the best moments of summer were all of us sneaking into an unoccupied house; someone’s parent was a realtor or developer. We’d set up a boombox and dance.  We didn’t aspire to be club kids or imagine ourselves leading a different life; we just enjoyed dancing. (Our top dancing choices: 1. Deeelite’s World Clique. 2. The Pixies’ Doolittle.) Sometimes we’d drive to an abandoned field somewhere and do the same. Dancing was one of the night’s unabashed goals, and this was when I realized that you could dance like this with smart friends and no one would laugh at you.

Booty rockin’/show stoppin’/everybody back poppin’

Dancing was never about getting it on; it was never a coded language for doin’ it except in our burlesque send-ups of such MTV video moments. (This was the days of Downtown Julie Brown and Club MTV. We were obstinately not that.) Unsurprisingly, the dancers in my life’s scenarios are groups of mostly girls and women. The college guys, or later, the guys at the old Lenny’s who wove their way between you and your lady friends with overwrought come-hither pantomime were just distracting hassles we all laughed at until they slinked away.


It has been so long since I’ve thought of any of this.

I thought dancing was utterly tied to adolescence and its jittery, consuming desire to stay out late and make something, anything happen—Of course high-schoolers are going to find empty houses to dance in, and grad school was the last burst of youth before you moved back here to Buckle Down and Be Responsible This Time. As we left the museum, my make-up running and sweat steaming, I kept hopping up into the air, elated out of my head. “I needed that! God, I really needed that!” I kept saying to Marshall.

And now.

The Weird, Secret Hope That Distracts You

I mean, can you plan that kind of thing? Can you plan the sort of get-down dance party with that ferocious sense of fellow feeling that takes everyone there by surprise? How do you, when most (but not all) of the best ones in history took place by accident? (See also: A: the Great Street Pizza Incident of 2008, B: the time you and your boyfriend danced to an entire Blackalicious album in the kitchen instead of making dinner). So that means that all that remains is this weird secret hope that distracts you. When you’re at a Grown-Up Party you hope will turn into a dance party, your toes tap like an impatient child to the song on the stereo while the person you’re talking with talks about Whatever—and when she pauses, all you can think to say is, “You know? I really love this song.”

Which can come across as awfully childish.


This is, of course, the second implied question here. Should you not be over this?

B-b-baby, I-I-I can’t wait.

Does your pure joy at the Halloween party indicate something immature inside of you that should have grown the hell up by now? The answer is: Wow. You sound like that guy, the one you dated for a couple of weeks. You knew it was definitely and truly Not Happening the night of that party: When everyone started dancing, he just sat there in his chair, scowling and hostile.

This cabeza of mine has occupied a largely cerebral place for the past couple of years, one of problem-solving and planning and talking, talking, talking like a grown-up. I like doing all these things.

But you know what? During my MFA program, that intense era of dance party’ness, I wrote every day instead of worrying about writing every day. Or, to be more accurate, I wrote every day AND worried every day and then blew off that steam through dancing. And every time, spinning around my friends inside that old manse with the solid old wooden floors built by some Beachtown Robber Baron of long ago—I marveled that this was free, free, free. (Well. Not the MFA itself, of course.)

Recently, I found a stack of old photos I had thought were gone forever—of a group of us at a couple of these dance parties. Photos of dancing are, of course, ridiculous photos, but finding these made my throat constrict. There we all were, alternately [click] egging one another on in silly dance poses, and [click] feeling it for real. In the years since scattering, we’ve had phone conversations about the comparative quietness of life post-MFA—about plans and relationships, the economy and money, of which there’s still and always never enough—and, of course, about How’s-the-writing-going? But something in me longs to contact them now, those comrades whose friendship was cemented while shaking our butts in that crumbling old mansion—and ask them about that writer’s block again, ask them if they’ve danced.

And then to do it. Could we use computer video chatting? I think so. I think each of us could train the camera on ourselves, find the same song on our stereos, and then hit play at precisely the same moment. Then crank it up loud.

It’s what you’re doin’ when you’re doin’ what you look like you’re doin’.


(For Ashley, Alison, Corinne, Janie, Kat, Miriam, Joel, Melissa R, Erin, Laurin, and Courtney. Also for Melissa C and Sirquita. Also for Janice, Gino, Nicole, Liz, Terry, Mark and Luke, wherever you all are today.)

[1] (Not MJQ-ten-years-ago diverse, but diverse.)

2 thoughts on “The Dancing”

  1. Yay, Kate! I LOVE LOVE this, of course. I feel like I understand the need for dancing as well as anyone out there. It’s why I still spend all my free time and all my money going to shows. I can’t imagine another thing to focus on when nothing else makes me a tenth as happy. Nothing else washes my entire mind/body/soul clean. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Oh, Kate, this is so wonderful. I agree with Melissa’s comment– that kind of wild dancing that just turns you out and has no rules and just happens makes you clean, clean, clean. This is what we’ll do in June. I’m into a skype dance party any day.

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