I was at my kitchen sink one night a few months ago, innocently washing asparagus, when a distinctive guitar riff suddenly throbbed from my countertop speakers. It was a sonic blast from my long-ago past (and the deep archives of my iPod library): the twangy opening cadence of the B-52s’ retro-rock anthem, “Hero Worship.”
This wasn’t cute, Nancy-Myers-film dancing. This was more like a seizure.
By the time Kate Pierson’s wailing vocal dropped a few seconds later, I was no longer in control of my body. My feet leaped as though the tiles beneath them were hot coals. My hips yanked me around the room as if propelled by their own motor, my arms flailed, my head tossed wildly. This wasn’t cute, Nancy Myers-film dancing, where I would have been coyly bashful when I realized my husband was watching from the doorway. This was more like a seizure.
When the song finally faded out, I found myself stranded in front of the stove, slick with sweat, water still splashing unheeded over my vegetables. I felt exhilarated, but also weirdly dazed, like I’d emerged from sort of fugue state. What had just happened?
That was when it hit me—just how long it had been since I’d really danced.
In my youth, dancing had been my refuge. I’d discovered its power the way so many of us do: in my bedroom as a teenager, with the door shut and the stereo blasting. A high school misfit—I had only a handful of angsty, awkwardly dressed friends, and communicated mainly in grunts—I spent a lot of time sequestered like that. But I still vividly remember one day in particular, when after enduring the taunts of the football jocks who shared my bus ride home from school, I tore up the stairs of my house, slammed my door, and cued up my favorite song at the time: a thrashy Time Zone track called “World Destruction.” I proceeded to hurl myself around until I collapsed on the tatty blue rug.
I’d felt much better.
Dance Like Nobody’s Watching: The Black-Lit, Writhing Mass of Humanity
My gusto for dancing compounded once I got my first fake ID—an ineptly laminated card that looked like it had been made in some other high-school kid’s basement (which it had been), but which was enough to get me past the doormen at dance clubs around the Connecticut suburbs where I lived. The places I liked best tended to be gay clubs, with dim, tightly packed dance floors. Nobody paid me any mind there. While the other patrons flirted and posed, I was free to lose myself in the music of Strafe and Grace Jones.
The places I liked best tended to be gay clubs, with dim, tightly packed dance floors.
In my 20s, once I’d moved to New York, I switched to clubs where big-name DJs spun. I’d skimp all week to save up for the pricey cover charges, eating instant oatmeal for lunch at the desk of my crappy job, and spend hours getting dressed and made up to pass the muster of critical doormen. Once inside, I’d happily morph into a dank, sodden mess as soon as I joined the black-lit, writhing mass of humanity.
But as I got older, the opportunities to dance dwindled. Clubbing eventually gave way to occasional house parties—boozy get-togethers at friends’ apartments that would turn wild when someone popped in a Breeders or Beastie Boys CD, and end with everyone wilted like Dalí clocks across the furniture. Then people started getting serious jobs, getting married, having kids.
Where Are All My Funkaholic Friends?
And that—apart from a brief spate of weddings, where the hired bands all seemed to have the same song list—had basically been it. By the time I’d turned 40, I’d become a spouse myself—to a guy who, though wonderful in every other way, had not inherited the boogie chromosome. My onetime groove-loving kinfolk had scattered far and wide, and when the rare occasion to gather arose, we spent it discussing mortgages and after-school programs before turning in, exhausted, by 10.
Whenever I got together with my onetime groove-loving kinfolk, we spent the time discussing mortgages and after-school programs.
The irony of this dawned on me after my impromptu kitchen conniption. Now that we’re all mature adults, with full-fledged stresses and responsibilities, don’t we need dancing’s cathartic release more than ever? Shouldn’t there be some sort of outlet for us? I don’t mean Zumba classes, with their sassy instructors and overhead lighting—but dark, primal congregations where us graying funkaholics can collectively forget our troubles, the way we used to?
Maybe I’ll start up a club. I’m seriously considering it, even though just thinking about the logistics makes me tired enough to want a disco nap. In the meantime, I’ve made some killer playlists, which are in heavy rotation most nights when I’m cooking dinner. If you feel like cutting loose, in company, consider this an open invitation: Come on over. Let’s remind ourselves together: We’re not too grown-up to get down.