I’ve been cheating. When I travel and I want to meet people, I go out swing dancing. Then, others (non-swing dancers) say, “You mean you just showed up at a dance by yourself? Where you didn’t know anyone? Wow. And then you made friends? Double Wow.” Okay, maybe they don’t actually say Double Wow, but you get the point. But really, this swing dancing socializing thing, it’s cheating. It’s my home town. Even when I don’t know these particular swing dancers, I know the dance, I know the stereo(geek)typical swing dancer. It’s a (geek) event at which I am very comfortable. It’s not traveling. It’s cheating.
Sarasota, Florida, on a Friday night, I went to a local bar called The Gator Club that was playing rockabilly and hip hop. The crowd was a real mix – young frat boys and frat girls, two biker guys with leather, long hair, and bandanas on their heads, a woman who was pale and thin with a scarf on her bald head and was surrounded by three other women trying to look like everything was normal, a very short wrinkly man in a brown three piece suit and hat, a woman with giant blonde hair who wore spike heeled boots, fishnet stockings, and shorty shorts –and she was in her late fifties. So, yes, the crowd was eclectic. It was about 10pm and the band was just coming and on and there was nowhere left to sit, so I got a drink and then stood (cowered) near the wall by the dance floor trying (desperately) to look as though I was with the crowd of women around the scarf headed woman. The band started to play.
Let me take a moment to explain why swing dancing by myself is not terrifying. At a swing dance, there is likely to be one, maybe two, Creepy Guys who are clearly just there to hold on to girls. They are entirely shunned by all the swing dancers. Many girls just say “no thank you” when they ask them to dance. These Creepy Guys are obvious. When they ask me to dance, I dance once, and then I say “No thank you.” Everyone else at the dance, the boys, the girls, the old guys, the hot guys, they will dance with you, smile, and walk away. Maybe if you had a really great dance you will dance a few more times that night and exchange email addresses. There is no hidden meaning in a dance. Dancing with a boy does not mean “Yes, I’d like to come home with you,” or “Yes, I think you’re attractive,” or even “Yes, I’d like to know your name.” Swing dancing is 100% no pressure.
So, there I was, at The Gator drinking my drink, making eye contact with no one, and cowering along the wall. The band was on a second song when the FishNet Granny got onto the dance floor alone and started wiggling. 40 seconds later, there were ten more people out there with her. Give it up for Granny. Some people were dancing alone but there were a few couples out there too. And oh did I want to dance, but there was no chance of me unfreezing myself from the wall. After a few more songs, the strange little man in the three piece suit (of course) asked me to dance. And, honestly, it wasn’t that bad. We danced one song and I rushed back over to my spot on the wall as though it might not stand without me there. I had a few more dances with non-descript people, all of which I ran away from as soon as the dance was over, and then one of the biker guys asked me to dance and he talked through the dance, so I couldn’t just run away. I had promised myself that for this non-cheating experiment that I was not going to lie. Okay, that I was going to try not to lie. Well, not to lie much. For example, it was okay to hide the fact that I was a girl staying alone at a nearby campsite, so instead I said I was visiting my Aunt. But, it was not okay to say that I had a boyfriend. I was going to deal with people. Real people. Like I wasn’t a pansy. With the biker guy, it turned out to be easy because his line was “So, how many boyfriends do you have in South Carolina.” And my response was, “Enough.” Okay, not exactly direct, but it was my first go at it.
And then, I made a brilliant discovery, the perfect line, so perfect that it has been immortalized in song, and even a song I particularly like. “I’m just here to dance.” That is what I said and it was the perfect response for nearly any question. Do you want a drink? I’m just here to dance. Do you want to go outside and talk? I’m just here to dance. Do you want to have dinner while you’re here? I’m just here to dance. What’s your phone number? I’m just here to dance. Literally, it worked for everything and repeated enough times and the guy seems to actually believe it. It’s brilliant. You can use it if you like (for a small surcharge of five cents per usage).
And it actually made for a pretty fun night. I danced with a lot of people. I didn’t have to use the “I have a boyfriend” lie. Then, half way through the night a tiny Indian guy, well dressed and actually pretty attractive, nudged his way over to where I was standing and started up a conversation. He asked about my boyfriend. I used the line on him. He went on and on about how girls like me deprived nice boys like him of girlfriends. For a long time. He kept talking and talking. And then, he told me, “I like you because you look like a bunny.” What? A …bunny? The first time that the “I’m just here to dance” line just didn’t work for a response. Ironically enough, the small strange guy in the three piece suit came over and asked me if I wanted to dance, and I went off with him and he said to me “You looked like you needed to be rescued.” So, the small strange three piece suit guy who I would have clearly guessed was the Creepy Guy in the room rescued me from the upscale somewhat attractive totally Not Creepy Seeming guy in the room. But suit guy was dead on. The Indian guy followed me around for the rest of the night. I didn’t talk to him any more and I didn’t feel threatened (I probably out weighed him by 50 pounds for pete’s sake) but it was disturbing. The whole night. I came out of the bathroom and there was the Indian guy waiting by the door. I went to the bar, Indian guy followed. Indian guy didn’t actually dance, so he just stood on the edge of the dance floor and stared.
So, the night goes on and around 11pm a guy started dancing near my treasured wall spot. He was dancing ….hip hop? I don’t know. I don’t actually know hip hop, at all, but I start mimicking him and we started dancing together….for the next two hours.
And while we’re dancing he’s chatting me up and I’m using my “I’m just here to dance” line, but the truth of it is: He is a fantastic dancer. I am having a fantastic time. He is totally hot and I have just recently been dumped. So, at the end of the night, when he asks for my phone number, I give it to him and when he texts and calls and calls and texts, I agree to see him the next day. But this blog entry is already ridiculously long (is anyone even still reading), so I’ll leave that for another day. Besides, all this writing crap, I’m just here to dance…and to look like a bunny, apparently.
(photos are old dance photos to break up the text. from top to bottom: by Keith Marszalek in Louisana, by Will Luong in NYC, by unknown in St. Louis, by unknown in NYC at the dance protest, by George Gabor in SC)