For a bunch of years, I was vehemently opposed to going out dancing, and by this I mean the kind of dancing that happens at parties and bars and clubs. Dancing with no rules. Dancing with rules, I was used to: I started Irish step dancing when I was eight, and this, with its exact footwork and perfect posture, I am reasonably good at. I am, on the other hand, pretty terrible at going-out-dancing dancing, and I used to be even worse, mostly due to crippling levels of self-consciousness. It was from this self-consciousness that the opposition stemmed. I made a lot of talk about hating crowds, and groping creepers, and our society’s dependence on alcohol in social situations (I was kind of a party pooper those first couple years of college), but looking back with honest eyes, it was totally just because I suffered from complete, paralyzing stage fright letting loose in a room full of people.
I’m sitting here now trying to remember where exactly along the line that changed, and I can’t really say. All I know is that one day I found myself converted; I love going out dancing. I love joining an undulating throng of revelers in a room that is dense with voices, bare arms, shining brows, waving hips, thick in a stew of music so loud it has viscosity. I read an article somewhere praising baseball games as the last hold-out of a once strong American tradition: the group sing-along. I’d like to point out that dance clubs are another location for those. Everyone’s singing along, especially on the choruses, most people seemingly unconsciously, while they sway and grind and wave their arms and move their feet with varying levels of skill. It is loud, and sweaty, and alive, and with all of its music and dance, utterly and defining-ly human. And human in a really biological way: people sweat unabashedly and certainly no one is politely ignoring the fact that we’re all sexual beings, resolutely attracted to each other and capable of furthering our species.
There are still groping creepers, of course, but these give the opportunity to bond with your friends as you form indestructible walls of arms and backs and employ other increasingly ingenious forms of determent. (You all know what I’m talking about.) There are too-forward creeps everywhere else in the world too, but whereas elsewhere (at work, on the street, in a chill bar) they have to be more subtle and so you can’t respond like you’d want to, even though you know they’re the worst, on the dance floor you can actually shove people and it’s no big thing. Also there is the fact that sometimes dancing close with a stranger is not a terrible thing.
And yes, people drink a lot in clubs, and yeah, it can be overdone, and yes, I wish that everyone in the world would master the art of having a crazy good time without alcohol or drugs as well as with them. Assuming that you are stopping before the point of acute alcohol poisoning, never driving impaired, and you know, not making it a daily occurrence, I personally advocate the drunken evening, but that’s another discussion. Drunkenness is not a pre-requisite for dancing. You are a human. Group celebration is there inside your DNA. You can always take Salvador Dali’s lead:
I don’t do drugs, I am drugs.
Let’s take a turn for a second. I’m advocating here those moments where you are caught up in what it means to be human, joining voices and bodies in our own version of a wolf group-howl or a gibbon early-morning chant. But I want to advocate too those moments where you forget utterly that you’re a human being, and instead are totally outward-focused, on your environment, your surroundings, and you become just an observing piece of a wild ecosystem.
I’m pretty into solo outdoor trips for just this reason. Yesterday I explored and hiked along the St Croix River, and camped last night by myself, in the snow, in the woods. The St Croix marks the border now between Minnesota and Wisconsin, but it used to lie along a fault-line, and later became a funnel for the rush of melting glaciers, and now the river curves below giant cliffs and features smoothly rounded glacier potholes in the basalt. There were lots of scrubby oaks still hanging onto their brown leaves, and graceful white pines and northern white-cedars. I scrambled up and down icy slopes, sank through crusts of snow to my knees, and took some moments to just stare out at the flat blue-white frozen river. A little before sunset, I found myself facing a small inland lake across an expanse of unmarked snow, and the sun was beaming across all of that blankness from a broad blue sky. I faced the sun and was very still for awhile. There I was, another small living thing, dependent on a far-away ball of fire with my feet firmly planted on Earth. (The night was very cold. I only had to hike in about a third of a mile to where I camped, the only person there, so I loaded up my pack and then carried two down comforters in my arms. I’m always amazed at how much body heat a person can produce, and I stayed reasonably comfortable completely buried in my self-made cocoon, but still. The temps dropped to about seven degrees. I woke up every hour or so chilly, and ate some peanuts and did some push-ups in my sleeping bag. In the morning my boots were frozen solid, as were my grapes and string cheeses. Frozen grapes are delicious. Frozen string cheese is impossible.) Take time for both things, is my recommendation. Join a throbbing mass of humanity and sing at the top of your lungs and dance alongside friends and strangers. And then some few days later, find yourself alone in the woods, listening to bird call and insect song and breeze rustling pine needles, and recall that you are human, yes, but also a part of some bigger, more complicated network of life, a tiny piece of it all, in need of warmth and food. Humans are animals, exactly like and nothing like all the rest of ’em. Revel in it.