I’m not the world’s greatest dancer, although I’m completely uninhibited. It’s not that I’m a bad dancer, but I lack a certain “wow” that you often see on a dance floor, like when an otherwise unremarkable cousin busts a move at a family wedding.
I’m a dance enthusiast. Sometimes I’m the first person on the floor or the one who turns a backyard BBQ into a dance party, but I know my limits. I don’t dance in non-dancing places, like the aisle of the supermarket, or go crazy in my car, or groove in the music store with headphones on. No offense to people who do those things.
There are exceptions. At age 5, I was in a car in Palm Springs with my mother and a guy in the car in front of us got out at a red light and in nothing but tiny white shorts danced an amazingly good samba with music blaring. People in surrounding cars clapped. That was inspiring.
I love watching really good dancers, and shamelessly try to copy their moves. Couples who dance together with pizzazz are thrilling in their intimacy — maybe because dancing well together is so sensual, even if it’s a complete stranger who has asked you to dance (or maybe because of that).
On the other hand, I grow bored if people are not relating to one another or other dancers on a dance floor; dancing as if they are long-time couples who have nothing to say to one another over a meal.
I used to go to early evening “tea” dances but the more often I went, the more I developed a fixation on watching a few regulars with strange repetitive dance moves, and the more I became aware of them, the more annoyed I got, as if their weird dancing was a personal affront to me (I know, my problem). I would even practice their moves at home just to annoy myself. There was the boxer ready to throw a punch; the shuffling head-bobbing air-guitarist; the hit-someone-in-the-face wild galumpher; the hip-wiggler with the frozen upper body, like a hula girl in the back window of a car; and the astronaut for whom jumping as high as possible was a goal. Who was I to judge? Dancing takes all forms, even gracelessness.
Tea dances are great because you can still go out to dinner afterward and be in bed at a reasonable hour (a concern once I hit my 50s). The best tea dance is the one in Provincetown at the Boatslip. Young buff men, just off the beach, packed on the dance floor like wet shimmery seals, and everyone is happy and high and dances well, and the DJ is good. And I’m relaxed from too much sun and one Cape Codder with cheap vodka and a skimpy outfit I wouldn’t be caught dead in if I weren’t at a gay beach resort.
My earliest memory of dancing is with my mother and her friend, Roberta, in our small apartment. I was 3 years old and they were 20 with beehives and capri pants and a thick swoop of eyeliner across their lids, which made Roberta look like Dionne Warwick. When a good song came on — that was the year Chubby Checkers' “The Twist,” hit the charts — they stopped whatever they were doing, my mother called me over and we all danced in the crowded living room. I copied their moves, much to their amusement.
As a pre-teen, I honed my moves from "Where the Action Is," "Groovy," "The Real Don Steele Show" and later "Soul Train." I was even on "Soul Train" because I knew Don Cornelius through my job. Was I embarrassed that I was white and a mediocre dancer? Hell no! I also danced in an audience scene in Prince’s first video (“Dirty Mind” — I worked for his booking agent) and with Charlie, the Gap Band’s lead singer, in the video “Party Train” (I dated the video director).
But the first time I danced in public was at 12 years old in Mrs. Sullivan’s chorus class. We had a talent contest in which the students sang solos for the class, but I was an awful singer, so I danced. My choice was “Get Ready” by Rare Earth. I was doing a lot of hip thrusts and shimmying, when old Mrs. Sullivan, blustering and red-faced, took the needle off the record and told me to sit down. I got a D in chorus.
That same year, I went to a Jewish sleepover camp and got into Israeli dancing. I wanted to be a professional dancer of Israeli dances until a few years later when I was into glam rock and danced — or posed as groupie dancing was — at Rodney Bingenheimer’s English Disco. Then I aged out of groupiedom and became a disco diva, until I went to London in the beginning of the punk revolution and slam-danced.
I returned to a watered-down U.S. punk scene and got a job at I.R.S. Records doing Dance Club Promotion. I spent most nights in clubs, skanking (dancing to ska) or doing that robotic New Wave dance, until Island Records slowed down my groove with a little reggae dancehall and early hip-hop (though I was a failure at pop-locking).
I’ve always loved R&B. And these days R&B-tinged hip-hop or electronic music really gets me moving, whether I’m cooking or dancing at a club.
Just last month around my birthday, I had two friends join me in front of the computer, learning hip-hop two-step, while my daughter, when she could stop laughing, filmed us. I don’t care. I have no shame.
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