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Are You Dancing Yet? Part 1

Wednesday, February 22nd, 2012: Dance, Musings.

Do you dance? Does your family dance? Does your community dance?

Last year, when I was interviewed by a music industry marketing consultant, I mentioned that most of my music is dance music, and he laughed sarcastically. I knew exactly what he meant. In the contemporary youth-dominated music industry, dance music means club music, otherwise known as electronic dance music (EDM), and nothing else.

But I’ve grown up with dance music and I know better.

The stress of my adolescence was mitigated by social dancing at a teen canteen called The Peppermint Cave, where we danced to The Beach Boys and The Kingsmen, just like the kids in the Beach Party movies. Unbeknownst to us, all of our dances, like The Twist and The Watusi, had roots in West Africa. We also partner-danced to slow tunes with girls, but the important dances were detached movements that could be done individually, in partnership, or with a group. Those were the dances that physically manifested our social relationships and allowed us to actively negotiate our own roles.

After that, I was deprived of social dancing for more than a decade, and suffered without knowing I was suffering. This was the era of Joni Mitchell, The Eagles and Steely Dan. Dancing meant disco and was the culture of poor ethnic urbanites. It wasn’t until the advent of punk music that I had an opportunity to dance again with my friends, and it was like salvation on the brink of cultural death.

Dancing to punk music was largely a boy’s club, and looked like a riot. We bounced up and down and shoved and slammed into each other, and sometimes the lead singer or audience member took a dive from the stage into the crowd. But the girls could dance to the new wave and post-punk music that emerged shortly after punk. From then on, almost all the music we liked was dance music – Psychedelic Furs in the mix at CalArts parties, X live at LA’s Whisky-A-Go-Go (where a tiny butch dyke worked her way through the surging mass of guys, punching each of them in the groin), Jello Biafra shirtless and drenched in sweat shouting out a punk version of the Rawhide TV theme song to a throbbing packed crowd in San Francisco’s Valencia Tool & Die art space, the same Jello Biafra pogoing to the Sex Pistols’ God Save the Queen with me and friends afterward in the notorious after-hours club the A-Hole. Within a couple of years, post-punk and disco had merged in the club scene, where my girlfriend and I made up our own stylish moves to both Michael Jackson and Gang of Four, literally dancing ’til dawn in New York’s multi-level Danceteria.

  1. jb says:

    I’ve always wished I’d been born 5 years sooner. There’s so much that was just under my nose, but this pre-pube kid didn’t get a whiff of the awesome 80’s until they were half over. Lucky for me the 90’s were a time when there wasn’t much in the way of exceptional talent on offer and that made time for exploring what had got us to the present (early 90’s). From the Creatures to X to the Al Green, the Orb, NIN,and so much more – the ever expanding creation & expressive use of sounds and lyrics on offer make me feel most alive. Exploring new talent and discovering the aural artists past is pure pleasure that has no limits.

    Whoever first said:
    ~Give me Music or give me Death~
    said it just right.

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