Monday, January 25, 2016

What Ever Happened To Dancing For Fun?

One of my favorite places in the whole city of Toronto is this seemingly ordinary spot in the bottom floor of the Eaton Centre -- a place just outside the Microsoft Store, where the store has set up a large Xbox display.

This spot is generally dark and drab. But occasionally it comes magically to life. And what brings it magically to life is the presence of groups of children dancing.

You see, often the display is showcasing whatever dance game the Xbox comes with. I know nothing about video games, but from what I can gather the game that involves a range of pop songs together with fun graphics and choreography that the player tries to dance along with.

You cannot imagine the awesomeness of the scene when children gather around, and play, and dance. They get really really really into this activity. The small ones are completely unselfconscious, jumping around, throwing their arms in the air, and making dramatic and showoffy gestures. The older ones are a bit shy, but they want to dance too -- and I think with the presence of so many small children being completely goofy they're sort of like, "Oh, what the hell." It's usually a mixed group, with boys and girls, people of various races, and kids dressed in all different ways.

When I encounter this scene I'm usually like "Oh My God, this is the nicest, cutest, most life-affirming thing I have seen in a long time." And I'm not the only one. When the dancing game is on, you can barely make your way past, because there are gangs of adults standing around watching the kids, smiling and laughing.

Often I pause for a few minutes, to steep my mind in the atmosphere of people enjoying themselves in a way that is so -- would "wholesome" be too ridiculous a word? Would "nice" be to insipid? I don't know -- there's just something so great about it, a kind of fun that makes more fun for more people the more there is of it.

Sometimes when I'm standing there watching, I start thinking about dancing and the peculiar modern state of dancing for fun.

I danced a lot as a young person. I danced in classes -- ballet and modern. As a kid I danced around the house, to whatever was on. As an adolescent and in college, I danced at parties, and, on one extremely memorable occasion, at a Violent Femmes concern in a small venue. It was really, really, really fun.

I would like to dance now. But as a person of a certain age, I find the dance landscape strange. Once you take "dance club at 2am with twenty-somethings" off your options-list, what is there, really?

Any kind of partner-dance has the whole Men-Lead-Women-Follow problem. Even setting aside the conceptual objections, I just can't see spending hours learning to be more attentive to a guy's every gesture so I can do what he decides we're going to do. Following means dealing with advice like this: "I tell women: 'you are a food cart, with steel arms and really good wheels.'" Sorry, no can do.

Then there's dancing where you learn a certain kind of craft. This is an idea I find appealing in the abstract, but when it comes down to it, I feel like it's just another thing I'd be trying, and failing, to be good at, another source of "fuck, why am I not better at this"? Got enough of those already, thank you. Even street dance, like hip-hop, once you're learning it in a class, becomes this sort of thing.

What ever happened to dancing just for fun? I feel like at some deep level, adults have become so massively self-conscious about dancing that they can only do it in these certain specific constrained sort of ways. There was this great moment on the WTF podcast when Marc Maron interviewed David Byrne and Marc asked something like, "You seem like a shy and nerdy person, so how did it come about that you became this guy who dances -- really dances like he means it?" And David Byrne said, very seriously: "The music healed me." By which I think he meant that the musicality and depth of funk and its cousins just changed him as a person.

That is an amazing thing. But how does it happen, exactly? Is there a way to package that, export it, extrapolate it, share it around? To create an actual Dance Dance Revolution? If we're going to invest in massive innovation projects, could we just drop the whole "self-driving cars" crap, and get to work on this instead?  

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