Originally Published in Farrago Edition Five (2022)
When I'm dancing, I like to pretend I'm someone else. I like to imagine that I'm somewhere exotic, tropical, romantic. I like to think I'm more than what I really am, which is oftentimes just uncomfortable. Because I don't really view myself as someone who likes to dance, or who dances, but my wavering youth and obtrusive mortality continuously drag me to dark rooms cut up by neon lights, because it's something I feel like I must do before the youth has run out completely and the mortality is more than a distant bogeyman but a coat I wear around my shoulders.
I like to imagine that dirty dance floors in dingy nightclubs are more than just breeding grounds for casual sex, but a substratum for exploration and movement, discovery, and euphoria. The sex is not lost on me, though; I find it enlightening, rather than coincidental, that there is a strong tether binding male dancing and fighting ability--both are performances landing on opposite ends of the gender-expression spectrum. Neither are for me.
When I am dancing, I like to imagine the steady beats of a rhythm snaking over my limbs like vines, holding me in place and then moving me in time to the music I picture the bilious clouds of vape exhalation like halos above their users. I shut my eyes and imagine myself smiling in the darkness, the smirk illuminated sporadically and spectacularly by phone flashlights, and then I smile for real at the image. But in all those fantasies, I don't know if the person experiencing all of that is me or the person I'm pretending to be.
It's as if dancing is incongruous with the rest of my character. Dancing, ostensibly, orients itself around confidence and lends itself easily to charm. You must know who you are to know how to move. I don't know if I know myself like that.
So, before I go out, I drink to excess. I dress up. I dress down. I order sacrilegiously expensive Ubers to Windsor or Richmond, or Fitzroy. I finish cheap bottles of wine with my friends. I play music from 2012 because it makes me think I'm a kid again, and I get to feel a slight draught of the carelessness that has slowly been stolen from me by the soft glow of birthday candles. I do whatever I can to slow the tide of fear that accompanies the oncoming movement. I don't want to find myself feeling out of place. I also don't want to be weighed down by fear or regret. I'm always somehow drawn to the light-up floors; half of me feels trapped between the colours, but the other half revels in the unmitigated joy. Nothing could go wrong. Nothing could scare me.
Because whilst all of me fears true adulthood, and most of me tries staggeringly every day to ignore that fear, a small part of me is keenly aware (and afraid) of what adulthood truly means; I think, scarily, that it simply means loss. Losing liberties. Losing time. Losing patience. Even losing things I'm not particularly fond of, like dancing in nightclubs.
So, I go now, and I try my best. And sometimes, trying my best requires submerging myself into darkness. Sometimes it means I have to betray everything I've ever been taught about being myself and choose to turn a cold shoulder to him, and choose another version of myself instead for the night. It makes me feel good. I don't think I feel bad about it. Hedonism is acceptable in small doses.
When I dance, I close my eyes and acclimatise to the music. If my eyes are open, I feel my body too consciously, like a wet t-shirt clinging uncomfortably to my flesh. With my eyes closed, my body doesn't exist anymore--I'm released from its confines, and I become one with the legato of steady techno beats and the flow of lucid bodies around me. With my eyelids heavy like rainclouds and drooping shut, I'm no longer bound to my own preconceptions of beauty. grace, or movement. Because I'm no longer myself. As a bath bomb dropped in a tub, I fizzle and pop until I fully dissolve into the waters around me, becoming one with the sound and the people and the stickiness underfoot. It all wraps me up like a warm blanket (FYI, I am not on drugs) (No hard drugs, anyway) (What do you care even if I am? But I'm not)
When I'm someone else, I think of my normal self. I think of his resistance, his fear, his masks. When I'm dancing, there is no time or space for that rigidity. I walk up to new people to say hello. I move to sounds I don't recognise. I offer my lighter to strangers. It is easy to be kissed by someone in the darkness. It is easy when I'm him, when he is dancing. We are all waves in the same ocean. It only makes sense that we crash into each other and melt into one. A nightclub is the only place people are happily homogenised.
There's something undeniably fun about dancing. The glee and the grinning. There's something sexy about it, too. Not the darkness, not the sweat, not the intoxication or the clouds of smoke or the lipstick stains. I think it all has to do with the dancing. You make yourself vulnerable when you let yourself move without thought. You're opening yourself up to something you can't quite put a name to. You don't know the name, but you greet it with tenderness nonetheless.
I don't know the name, but I try greeting it with that tenderness. I try, but it is often his embrace-that person I pretend to be when I'm dancing-that welcomes the feeling. I envy his delight; I miss it when I am just me.
I allow myself to think that it's all worth it. That closing my eyes and being someone else is worth the thrill of my limbs forgetting themselves in the name of disco or pop or trance. That when the youth has been bled dry, it has been sapped by joy and not just time.
But that's all very idealistic of me, isn't it? At the end of the night, the lights turn on and sweep amongst a wreck of sweaty bodies, emptied wallets, and fractured hearts. The lights turn on, and we open our eyes, and suddenly we exist again. I exist again, as myself. And whilst I'm a little worse for wear and a little anxious, I said something I shouldn't have whilst inebriated, I had fun. I got to be someone else for that little while, but the memories are still mine. A thin sheen of that feeling--that indiscernible, unnameable sensation--it lingers, if only for a few moments, before melting and sliding off my perspired skin.
I realise now, though, that I have never been dancing to make myself into somebody new. I've never actually been anyone else. Because when I'm tapping into that person who dances--that transportive experience only accessible with my eyes shut feet moving chest thumping body bouncing heart racing hands shaking hands touching hands holding eyes locking lips meetingwell, then, really, I'm just being me.