I was working late in my office when Riley called me up. “Hey, want to go to a Bollywood dance party?”
When someone says dance, my mouth goes dry and my mind jams with…well, with terror. I have become adept at finding respectable excuses for such occasions. I always ask, “is it free?” because that’s a very legitimate excuse, as anyone who knows me can attest.
“It’s 10 bucks.”
I said, “I don’t know. Sounds like a lot of fun, but I don’t know.” I often say that, “sounds like a lot of fun,” when I am certain that it will not be. “I’d probably only stay for 30 minutes or so. I don’t think so, man. Thanks for letting me know.”
I hung up and googled the DJ. It was DJ Anjali and the Incredible Kid. I don’t know anything about DJ Anjali or the Incredible Kid; I don’t know anything about DJs; but that’s a great name. They play dance music from all over the world, mostly India and the UK. I was tempted to change my mind. But no, I said, there’s dancing.
Dancing was the clincher. It was the fear of dancing I was hung up on. And something kept nagging me about that. I thought how every time I said yes in spite of my fear about a thing, that thing turned out good. I thought of how many experiences I’d had of not dancing and turning inward and becoming more and more embarrassed until I reached a nadir of isolation. And I thought about this new tack I was trying to sail of love and gentleness toward myself and the world around me, a tack of letting-be. I thought, “Maybe I’ll give it a shot.”
I met Riley at the BellTower, where the show was being held. I got a ticket and a wrist band and walked inside. It was completely deserted. I mean, the DJs were there, fiddling with their gear, and one kid was at a table sipping something. But no one else was there. The dance floor was void. Smoke wandered over the surface of the deep.
The BellTower is a pretty sweet venue, though. It’s an old church. It’s got beautiful windows. And there’s a gentleman who serves alcohol in the back where the old temperance ladies would have sat and fanned themselves.
DJ Anjali, a dark-skinned smiling girl started playing some wailey Indian music with lots of tabla. Riley went out to the dance floor, and I followed him. I began to wish for more smoke. I watched the smoke a lot. Some other friends arrived. I was standing there on the side honestly doing pretty good. The music was really fun and I was nodding my head. Riley, God bless him, doesn’t seem to have a scrap of self-consciousness, and he began throwing his arms around and picking up his feet in a funny way. It looked natural. And he was serious about it: he wasn’t making fun of something or someone, he was just moving his body any way he felt like moving it. I tried not to watch, because it brought home the fact that I wasn’t dancing. I went up closer to the DJ and looked intently at her deck and all the nobs she was handling. She was really into it with her eyes closed and her fingers turning nobs. Then she’d open her eyes and lean down to her stack of cds and look for the next song while bobbing with the music. Occasionally she’d move her wrists in a really nice way like people do in eastern dances.
I took my hands out of my pockets and tried desperately to pick up my feet. But I was aware that some new people had arrived and they were watching, and it just felt so unnatural for me to move like that. “Surely they know who I am, how I don’t dance, and this is literally my first time trying to do this. Surely I look ridiculous.” I couldn’t lift my feet. Then my friend Adam arrived. He’s a physics student too. And he immediately began to dance. He just went for it. He waved his arms around and spun in circles and smiled as best he could. And I could tell it was getting easier for him by the minute, and he looked more and more relaxed.
Again I have to clarify. The dance floor was empty. It was Riley and Adam dancing and me standing by the side bobbing my head and praying. Seriously, I was praying. I was saying something like, “all things under one head, Christ.” Somehow I find that idea very grounding in intense emotional situations. Very comforting. I am not that big, and neither is the DJ, and my friends, Riley and Adam, and the dance floor, the very empty dance floor, the little beetles outside crawling on the bricks, the magpie, and the whole earth, the farmers, the fields of wheat, the rat-race of academia, all knowledge, relationships, all joys and fears, and wars and desolations, all are being brought together under one virtuous king, Christ. All things will find their place under him, and in him all things will be made right.
I went to get some alcohol. I bought a Pabst. DJ Anjali traded off with her cohort, the Incredible Kid, and he stepped behind the deck like a boxer steps into the ring. He was energetic even though we were a crowd of just over 10. The music picked up energy and some new people arrived and began to flail on the dance floor. I went and sat down with my beer and took a few sips. I talked with an acquaintance for a little while, which is to say I leaned into her ear and yelled at the top of my voice. Then she would yell back, and I’d say, “What?”.
About an hour in I was holding steady. I wasn’t in panic mode, wasn’t really even near it. I was on the dance floor again with Riley and Adam and Joe, and they were all dancing, very seriously, not goofy, and I had my hands in my pockets, bobbing my head. One kid I didn’t know was rubbing himself on the stack of speakers and another kid was jerking around like a robot. A very pretty girl was throwing her hands up and down in a vertical way and she would occasionally pull her hair back to reveal her face which made me very confused and distracted. Everybody was dancing. Except me.
I’d been here before, this was nothing new. Usually at this point several friends would have come up to me to point out that I was not dancing. Of course, that just sends me deeper into self-consciousness. But my friends were gracious, and perhaps knew me well enough to not press me. They just danced like happy fools and occasionally made eye contact with me and smiled.
I took my hands out of my pockets. It was a little painful. I picked up a sandaled foot. I put it down. It squeaked because my feet were sweaty. I moved my hips a little back and forth. I felt like an old man. I looked at one place on the wall and said my prayer, “all things under one head” and followed it with, “thank you.” And then I began to dance.
It was fun. No, it was more than that. It was like a big group hug. With lots of bass.
The kid gyrating on the speaker came over and gyrated around me and I moved to another place. Riley and Joe and Adam and Hadra and me moved in and out and kicked our feet like idiots. We took breaks and yelled into each others ears. Joe waved some butterfly wings around, God knows where he got them. He danced with his arms slowly windmilling like Allen Ginsburg. We all laughed and took in the music.
At the end it was just Riley and me and the gyrating kid and the pretty girl and her boyfriend. We talked with DJ Anjali and the Incredible Kid after they began to wrap up. I thanked them for putting out so much energy to such a small crowd. I could tell it had been a hard night for them. They’re used to big city crowds with bodies packed together. But they said they really appreciated us getting into the music. It was a good night. I went outside, breathed a few times in the cool rain, and walked home.