This fact in itself was enough to drive my sister insane. Here I was, a newly minted teenager, and I really couldn't dance to save my life. Early in the 60's, I had mastered the twist, but here it was some five years later, and it was clear that I could not Frug, Jerk, Pony, Swim, Monkey, Mashed Potato, Watusi or Boogaloo. I had years of opportunity to learn by watching the gyrating dancers on the Clay Cole show and Where The Action Is. But I didn't. Given the chance to move different parts of my body in diametrically opposed directions, I'd melt into a flailing mess. My sister and her friends would giggle, roll their eyes and bemoan my future.
Thank heavens for Archie Bell & The Drells, who released their seminal recording "Tighten Up" that spring. In addition to a spoken introduction, relentless beats and a great horn chart, there apparently was a dance that accompanied it. I think my sister felt that this was her last chance to save me from a life of wallflower hell, and she decided I would have to learn the rather basic steps that was...The Tighten Up . If I remember correctly, it consisted of a semi-graceful shrugging gesture combined with mild hip thrusting and some alternating foot extensions. There might have been some finger-snapping involved. Simple. Any 13 year old could do it. In fact, it took me much of that Spring, my sister marshaling me much like Velma Von Tussle, inciting me to dance faster and get on the beat. Or off the beat, as was the case here. For that was just one of my problems; I was dancing on the beat. In hindsight, I've come to realize that my basic issue was executing the pelvic thrust necessary to successfully master the dance. I'd had little opportunity at that age to practice that particular movement. I've since learned. Eventually, I got the knack of it, and was able to Tighten Up to any song that came out.
It took a while, and a whole lot of Rolling Stones records to learn how to move my body in some sort of semblance of dancing, and eventually I learned to love it, dancing where ever I could; at summer camp socials, college mixers and finally gay bars. I actually entered my very first gay bar, The Ninth Circle, under the pretext of going dancing with two female high school buddies. Apparently, they could dance there and not get hit on by guys. I thought I could do the same, plus get a some of their unwanted attention paid to me. My thought process turned out to be entirely correct.
From there, I moved on to the Gay Activists Alliance Firehouse, where I spent a couple of seasons dancing on cobblestones in platform shoes. Friendships were made on dance floors all over town. We danced wherever we could to whatever was playing, a live band, a jukebox full of 45's or some young man mixing magic before our eyes. We danced at the Mercer Arts Center to the New York Dolls, before it collapsed into a heap in the middle of Broadway one afternoon. We danced at Cheetah, listening to Eric Emerson & the Magic Tramps. A bit later, we danced at the discos of the day, commencing with Flamingo, 12West and the Loft, with visits to Paradise Garage, Les Mouches, Infinity, The Sandpiper, and many, many, yes, many more. We learned to arrive late and stay until the next afternoon, fueled by no end of Mother's Little Helpers. We'd stay on the dance floor for hours at a time, taking short breaks to rehydrate and re-energize. We'd leave, our clothes completely saturated with sweat. Even our leather belts and shoes were salt stained. Eventually we would dance under the dome at The Saint, and then we didn't dance again for several years to come.
So I pretty much haven't been on a dance floor in well over a decade until a few weeks ago. Tim is not from the dancing stock I am, and has a limited attention span for this sort of thing. I, on the other hand, will get up and dance around my living room, should the spirit move me. But those marathons just aren't quite the same without the various requisite party favors, and I'm of an age where I no longer indulge in most of them. We have danced here and there; at a friend's big 40th birthday celebration, when the DJ played Jimmy Ruffin's "Hold On To My Love" and all of us old Saint boys hit that dance floor real hard. Or the time I dragged Tim onto the crowded dance floor at the Boatslip to dance up a sweaty storm. Exiting up Commercial Street, I realized that I no longer looked good dripping wet, just haggard, and that, as they say, was that.
That is, until September 8th, when the whole bunch of us attending Blowoff NYC. Now, I'd read and heard so much about Blowoff in DC, and greatly admired the men responsible for the music. I bought tickets, figuring if we changed our minds, we could always blow off Blowoff, but as the date drew near, I grew excited. We arrived en masse, meeting the rest of our party in the mostly empty HighLine Ballroom. I was a bit dismayed to find no one dancing, and the room vibe not unlike the dance in the gym in West Side Story. But the room was lovely, and the music was intriguing and insistent. I downed a couple of cocktails and talked to friends, inadvertently twitching to the beats. Eventually, I could stand it no more, and heading to a slightly secluded corner near the DJ where I could begin the dance.
There, in the shadows of the alternating DJ's I started moving my body, joined by Tim and an assortment of friends. It took a few moments to see if everything worked, and in fact everything did. My body seemed to have a few new gestures it had acquired, God knows where, and was insistent about trying them out. We danced in various configurations, merging and focusing our attentions elsewhere. I noticed a friend or two nudging each other and gesturing towards me, and thought, Ah, they're just pointing out their wacky old uncle Mark...all that's missing is the fringed lampshade on his head. I was having too much fun to mind.
Study the picture above and you'll see Tim and Joe and Little Tim and Jerry and Lars and possibly Tom and maybe Glenn. A holy host of others. I'm half hidden, partially obscured by a shaft of light, lost in music. Lost in thought, as well. I marvelled at how I pretty much dance exactly the same way I did back in 1975 at Flamingo. Not much has changed. The same sort of men dance their way over to me, communing for a few endless minutes on the dance floor. The same wordless energy is exchanged. I thought of the long line of men I had danced with over the past 35 years, most gone, some missing. For a moment, I entertained the idea that I might be acting as a sort of museum installation, a hazy time capsule view into the dance and mating mores of that long lost age. I jettisoned that thought completely, happy as I was to be right there, among my friends, back in the tribe.