When you do dance, I wish you a wave o’ the sea

I don’t think of myself as odd; I don’t consider that by refusing to partake I am objecting to what others often do. And I certainly don’t wish to be considered rude, or antisocial; I simply find myself unable to enjoy the activity as much as everybody else… enjoy it at all for that matter.

But, lest your imaginations wander too far afield, perhaps I should clarify. I do not object to pleasure, per se, nor to the idea of pursuing it from time to time -only to one particular act in which it is supposedly embedded. It is an act which, for some and sundry, seems to require neither talent nor instruction. I, however, beg to differ. I do not dance and have long suspected an epigenetic cause: my father was once a dance-eschewing Baptist or something, and so I was never exposed to him or my mother two-stepping around the house.

Music was tolerated -encouraged even, in the form of piano lessons- but nothing more modern than Bach, or maybe Beethoven with whom I apparently share a birthday. Still, even with them, I struggle to remember anything other than staid finger-tapping should they happen to make a surprise visit to a daytime CBC radio program. I had to keep my Rachmaninoff and Tchaikovsky records hidden in my bedroom like the soft-porn magazines stashed in my sock drawer.

Only my grandfather seemed to enjoy the fullness of music; he insisted on listening to ‘Saturday Afternoon at the Opera’ on CBC, or the various disc jockeys on local radio stations while he tended to the canaries he bred in the basement. But he lived on the other side of the country, and I never saw him dance.

So any knowledge of meaningful footwork or, for that matter, bodily coordination with the rhythm of ambient music sentenced me to whatever seats were provided on the sidelines of the gym at high school dances. By that stage though, it wasn’t so much incompetence as dread -fear of the snickering or the amused stares of those I banged into while I struggled to match my movements with those of whichever partner was naïve enough to accompany me into the mêlée. I found it was better to pretend I was content to watch than to be humiliated for changing my mind.

Of course, trying to justify my danceless life to those who had grown up with modern music, only served to alienate me even further from the madding crowd. I decided I could live with that; I would find it difficult, however, if I were forced to be with someone whose happiness depended on it, and for that matter, constantly demanded it of me. But, rationalizations aside, I will admit that there have been times when my participation seemed necessary; times when, I was forced to throw caution to the wind; and times when I was tricked -although often not totally against my will.

Years ago, while I was still in the pride of my youth, I remember being at a conference in a small town in Central America. We had just finished a lavish meal sponsored by our hosts, the tropical night was warm, and the stars twinkled brightly above our heads as a small group of us walked slowly along the now quiet streets. Most of the stores were closed, but there was a flickering sign near what I assumed was the edge of town, and only a few of our group decided to head for it. Most, myself included, felt more inclined to listen to the wine with which we’d already been bribed at the dinner, and head for our nearby hotel. But the woman beside me in the group, and with whom I’d been having a conversation for most of the evening, grabbed my hand and headed for whatever the lights at the end of the street seemed to promise.

When I resisted, she rolled her eyes and smiled. “Aww, come on G,” she said, her voice suddenly soft and seductive. “I’ve heard about  this place…” She winked and then pulled me along beside her. “Some of the people from the dinner will be there; it’s quite famous around here, apparently.”

I couldn’t help shaking my head. “Famous for what, Linda?” It seemed like a totally appropriate question. I mean we were strangers in a strange Spanish-speaking town, and ripe for the plucking.

She turned her head and giggled as she dragged me slowly down the street. “Dancing, you cluck… dancing!”

It was my turn to roll my eyes. “I, uhmm…”

She squeezed my hand as she continued to pull me. “And don’t give me that ‘I don’t know how to dance’ stuff…”

“But it’s true,” I interrupted. “I just don’t seem to be able to match my movements with the beat. Never have -maybe it’s genetic,” I added, hoping to convince her she’d be embarrassed if she took me to a place like this.

She stopped and turned toward me on the cracked and fragmented sidewalk. “You’ve never been to a Rave, have you, G?”

I shook my head; I had no idea what a Rave was, and I certainly didn’t like the sound of it. “What’s that got to do with anything? It’s still music with which I won’t be able to coordinate…”

“The music is only secondary at this place, apparently. It’s all about moving in the group.”

“And I don’t do drugs, Linda,” I added, remembering in which country I found myself.

A big smile appeared on her face and she reached over and kissed my cheek. “Neither do I, G. It’s the experience of the crowd moving to whatever they’re playing that I’m looking forward to.” She stared intently at my face for a moment. “You won’t have to dance, just move like everybody else. Trust me.”

I didn’t, but by then she had dragged me through the door, and before I could object, had reached into her pocket and paid somebody behind a counter. Beyond the little foyer, was a haze of smoke slowly circulating in a room filled with dimly flashing coloured lights. The music -if that’s what it was trying to imitate- was more of a toneless electronic pulse timed to the flashing strobe lights, occasionally altering its pitch but following no melody that I could detect. It was just a beat, a pulse, a compression wave that pounded the floor and stirred the smoke in an endless cycle.

“See,” she said as she dragged me into a random space between two couples who were, I suppose, bravely attempting to copy the all-consuming rhythm with their bodies. “Nobody’s even listening; they’re just moving to the wave of sound…”

Actually, it was easy enough to move with the crowd, but I got the feeling that most of them were in their own worlds, and the music was merely a colour, a mood through which they moved. The insistent, meaningless non-musicality of the beat tired me, however; it began to feel like I was simply reacting to a pacemaker that insisted I follow suit -and anyway, Linda had pulsed off into the crowd somewhere. This was not a place that required a partner, only the presence of other slowly gyrating nameless forms who were either glued to each other as if they were mating, or bending and straightening in obeisance to the endless pounding rhythm.

I had danced enough for the night, and after a fruitless attempt to find and thank Linda, I pulsed my way out of the room, out of the smoke, out of the meaningless flashing lights and onto the street. The night was still warm and starry, and the streets even more empty than before. I let the silence engulf me for a few minutes as I wandered down the unevenly-cracked pavement, until I recognized the fancy door hiding in the plain stone wall of my hotel. Inside the door, I knew there was a courtyard full of plants and soft, non-flickering lights. People not yet in bed would be talking quietly to each other in the little seats ringed around the pond. It was a different world in there -a world with which I easily identified. I didn’t know what I’d say to Linda when I saw her at breakfast in the morning, except maybe to thank her for finally getting me to do something I had always dreaded.

I suppose everybody has to dance once in a while…


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