New York is full of great things to do all-year round. But, for me, the more serious pursuits of autumn — opera, museums, drama — give way to freer-spirited festivities in summer. Shakespeare in the Park, outdoor concerts, riding the ferry to nowhere (the last of which I did, albeit somewhat unintentionally, with Childhood Friend last weekend. Who knew that you had to get off at Governor’s Island, buy a return ticket, and wait for the next boat? I suppose we would have had we paid attention, but CF and I talk to one another entirely too much for that. Besides, we’re both just a tad impulsive.)
One of the funner things I’ve recently done was to attend Midsummer Nights Swing in Damrosch Park (which is basically my backyard) with Boon Buddy. On the particular Thursday night we chose to go, the theme was disco, hosted by the wonderfully-named Losers Lounge (who are neither losers nor a lounge), and the dance lesson was of that venerable staple of my college years, the Hustle, which none of us back then knew how to do. At least I didn’t. I more or less Peanuts danced with white man’s overbite. Turns out that a forty-five minute lesson doesn’t do much to change this.
Permit me to pause on the music before we reach the dancing. The history of American popular music seems to reveal the requirement that every generation must reject the music of its parents before, a decade or so later, it returns as nostalgia for those who hadn’t quite lived it. The nostalgia is invariably accompanied by irony so, heaven-forbid, your friends don’t think you actually like the stuff for its own sake. But then, something funny tends to happen. Once the irony starts to wear off, everybody realizes that they actually like the music for its own sake. And why wouldn’t they? Good music is good music. We don’t throw out Rembrandt just because Picasso started painting.
So it is with disco. Good disco is good music. It’s fun, the beats are great, the harmonies, orchestrations, and vocalizations generally are lush, if a bit straightforward. It’s happy music. What’s wrong with that? Ok, leisure suits, gold chains, pointy shoes. But I’m talking about music here, not fashion. In order for the fashion industry, like the auto industry, to survive, it requires consumers constantly to be changing their preferences in order to keep them buying. It does this by making it embarrassing to wear perfectly good if outmoded clothes. But music is infinitely elastic. True, we only have so much time to listen. But we don’t have to throw away music to hear more music. You can only wear so many clothes. You can listen to music all the time. In any event, I’m glad it’s ok to listen to disco again without irony.
That said (about fashion), I seized the opportunity to wear my flamboyant jungle-print Versace silk shirt, white pants, and white shoes. I mean, it’s disco, right? (I got a lot of compliments on the shirt. It is kinda gorgeous in a Robin Williams-Birdcage sort of way. But I can’t wear it to the opera.)
In any event, we met at Damrosch Park which was decked out like the high school gym on prom night (except most people, bowing to the reality of a reasonably humid June night, had the good sense to wear light clothing, including shorts for men. I’m not going to take your time on my rant about how men of a certain age ought not to wear shorts unless they’re playing sports, and most certainly should never wear shorts in a restaurant lacking a 99 cent menu (which I see them do all the time), but I did get the point, especially about 15 minutes in when my Versace was rather wet. Anyway, I digress . . . .)
The dance floor was large and nicely assembled. The big stage was ready for some serious music and dancing. The teacher came onto the stage. And then.
“Take a partner.” Oops. This wasn’t high school prom, it was junior high dance. Yours truly, who is very shy around women, turned to BB in horror. But BB, far more composed and self-assured (as he has always been) was confidently striding toward a woman. Lucky for me, as I turned a bit further, a very kind young woman took pity on me and asked if I would be her partner. Phew.
It got worse. You see, this is a really fun event. But, before you take a dance lesson with several hundred other people, it probably helps if you have some idea how to dance in the first place. Our instructor was doing her best, but she had forty-five minutes and was up on the stage. Nevertheless, the terms “ball turn” and “Michael Jackson Michael Jackson” didn’t mean very much to me. Fortunately, neither did they to my partner. After a few false starts, we conferred. She suggested, quite intelligently, that we try to make sure we were doing whatever it was we thought we were doing at least in the right order and at the right times, and that perhaps other things would fall into place. At least I think this is what she was trying to say when she gave me a dirty look and said, “do it.”
So I did. Forty-five minutes later, I can’t say I quite knew how to hustle, and still didn’t get “Michael Jackson, Michael Jackson,” but, as the lesson ended, my partner smiled sweetly and thanked me for the dance. She went to find her friends. That would have meant I had to ask another woman to dance as the dance actually began. Fortunately, BB wanted a beer, so we hung out for a couple of hours, mostly watching the professionals in the crowd and trying to analyze their steps for next time, I pretending that I was just too cool to ask just any other girl to dance. But it’s good that we tried to learn something. Because we’re going back.