Saturday, May 23, 2009

They Don't Dance No Mo'

It was Friday night at Beauty Bar. The lighting was dark and moody. The live music, provided by post-punk revivalists MoTel Aviv, was high-energy and very danceable. But something was wrong. There were a few kids up front nodding their heads shyly and occasionally throwing their hands in the air, hoping that no one around them would care. But other than three or four brave souls, everyone else stood around with their arms crossed and expressions blank, occasionally taking sips off Lone Star tallboys.

Now, correct me if I'm wrong, but there's an age-old mathematical equation that goes something like this:

alcohol + music + Friday night = dancing

But no one was. Why not? And it's not a slight against the band. Because I see this pattern at every local show I go to. The fact is, the kids don't dance.

I recently watched a webisode of the Dell video series Dead Venues Live that featured local band Ume talking with Jesse Sublett of '80s punk legends The Skunks. Show-goers used to dance enthusiastically back in the '80s, Sublett said. The members of Ume, understandably, were surprised. Ume rocks as hard as any band in town. Lauren Larson's fierce stage presence has been chronicled on many local blogs. Yet with Ume, as with all local bands, no one dances. Bands will play their hearts out on any given night, and a group of 20-50 people will just stand there looking stiff.

Now, I don't mean this blog post to sound negative or judgmental. I'm not trying to tell anyone else how to enjoy music. And I'm certainly not bragging, because I'm not a dance-machine or anything like that myself; I'm one of those shy head-nodding kids on a good day, and an arm-crosser on a bad day. But when I watch other kids looking similarly reserved, my suspicion is that somewhere under that blasé veneer is a music-lover who wants to let loose and spend a 30-minute rock 'n roll set getting sweaty to loud music under moody lighting. But we don't.

In my case, and it might be the same for others, there is a kind of reverse-peer-pressure. It's hard to get into the music and dance when there's 20 people around you standing there like zombies. It's intimidating. But every once in a while I'm brave enough to just say screw it and let loose. Anyone who has been to a Haunting Oboe Music or Bankrupt and the Borrowers show in the past year has probably seen me rockin' out (I crowd surfed at Hole In The Wall last Sunday with assistance from photographer/super-fan Marcos Molina). I wish I had that kind of free-spirited nature at all shows I go to, because I know that when I look back on these impossibly fun Austin nights 20 years from now, I'm not going to regret headbanging and crowd surfing and singing along to "Holden Caulfield at Age 35" with my arm around a fellow drunkard. But I will regret the many nights that I just stood there wanting to move, but being too self-conscious or insecure to do so. Maybe it's just me, but that's how I feel.

So back to Beauty Bar. MoTel Aviv have two more songs left, Rodney the lead singer says. "Anyone here a fan of The Smiths?" he asks as the band launches into a cover by the '80s UK post-punkers. And some switch just flips in my head. I suddenly stopped caring and just started moving. I'm sliding and waving my arms and three minutes later my shirt is stuck to my back with sweat. And I'm smiling.

The reason for this post, like I said, is not to judge. I know some will probably take it that way, but that's not my intent. My intent is to say this: If you feel like dancing, but you're stopping yourself because no one around you is dancing, just remind yourself of one simple phrase... "Fuck it." Life is short. If you want to dance, dance. Fuck it. Don't let the group around you dictate your actions when it comes to having a good time.

Tonight, you'll probably see fireworks shooting from the middle of the UT campus. It's commencement weekend. Thousands of students are graduating into an uncertain economy in an uncertain point in our history. But the one thing they, and we music-lovers have, is youth and health. Take advantage of those two things while you've got 'em, because some day you won't. It's in that spirit of commencement that I write this post. It's time for us all to graduate -- graduate from shy head-nodders (or worse, arm-crossers) into adults who aren't insecure about their lack of rhythm but actually embrace it. Because the endorphins you release while sweating to loud music are more important than the handful of judgmental glares you might receive from kids in the back who aren't as brave as you.

bankrupt and others
On stage with Bankrupt and the Borrowers (SXSW '09/Photo by Anna Berken)

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3 comments:

The Peen Scene said...

psssst. i hear the peen scene can find some good dance parties! haha

Anonymous said...

First, people just don't know how to dance. They were never taught the social graces. Dancing is really an acquired skill and back in the 80's and before there were TV shows where people would dance to the Top 10 songs of the time. If you were lucky enough to have an older sister or a girl friend, maybe they showed you the current steps or behind closed doors, you would mimic the dancers on TV and learn how to dance on your own.
Today all you have is music videos?
Second, there seems to be a "coolness" factor involved. The people who are on the dance floor are the "cool" people and you envy them because you wish you could do what they do. But, you don't know how to dance and you don't want to embarrass yourself and be "uncool." So you bob your head in semi-coolness. (Note to the dudes, chics like guys that know how to dance!)

Ajay Miranda said...

All valid points, Anonymous! Although with Youtube I think there's just as much potential to learn and mimic dance moves today. But you're right, dance shows are not a cultural phenomenon anymore. Hell, even in the 90s we had The Grind on MTV. Anyone remember that?

Also, my definition of dance is very broad in this blog. For instance if you're at a punk show, dancing can mean moshing or crowd surfing. It doesn't necessarily mean having "steps" but it just means showing the most energy you can. The MoTel Aviv show was a good show for having steps or moves. If you watch the lead singer Rodney or Misti the bass player, you know what I mean. Misti pretty much doesn't stay still at all during the set, and I totally appreciate that kind of energy and rhythm.

But I think the "coolness" or "hip" factor is overrated. Nobody likes to feel embarrassed, period. I don't think it's about maintaining a mystique of "cool" but rather an attempt to avoid embarrassment of any kind. There's a difference there.

Thanks for participating in the dialog. Cheers!