So You Think You Can Dance? has replaced American Idol in our house as Wednesday-night no-cable trash television, which has got me dancing and thinking about dancing and critiquing dancing like I know what I’m talking about (kind of like Lil’ C, who probably does know what he’s talking about only somehow he always manages to sound like he’s totally bullshitting).
There was a little hoopla in May because judge Nigel Lythgoe made a comment about how two guys dancing in each other’s arms alienated the audience and how he’d rather see them dancing with girls. I worked at Harbourfront Centre for a long time and witnessed a similar mentality in the dance world. It seems there are few models for same-sex couples dancing. Out at queer clubs we are all winging it, often based on typical boy/girl dancing dynamics. Maybe that’s the reason that grinding with another woman in public on a dancefloor has always felt a bit like a political act. Maybe it’s the reason that sliding my hand under Andrea’s skirt on a crowded dancefloor, especially in the midst of misogynist music, feels like a political act.
The barista at the village Lettieri just told me this morning that he’s a salsa dancer. Remarkably atypical for a straight boy, he also cuts hair, wants to open a daycare and sometimes shops at Winners. My editor at Xtra is a cancan dancer. It seems there is a dance style, and a corresponding dress code, for everyone.
I used to fantasize about being a B-girl, doing capoeira, mastering hip hop. My mother put me in a ballet class when I was six years old. All I remember is getting Five Alive from the pop machine in the waiting room and hating the five feet positions, but loving the shoes and my big sister’s hot pink-striped jazz leotard. The truth is I am majorly uncoordinated and do a better job at the hokey pokey than jetés or pliés. I am pretty good at sautés though, and not so bad at French.
We learned the box step to “Knock Three Times” by Tony Orlando and Dawn in Grade 7 — and we all pretended to hate it but at the Grade 7/8 dance you could tell that everyone was practising at home on the sly. I just remembered that I shaved my arms for that dance too. Oh, the plight of mixed-race girls with no safe spaces to be hairy.
Remember Electric Circus? Remember Monika Deol? I used to turn on Electric Circus and pick out the people I wanted to dance like. If I was alone I would enthusiastically dance along, trying out new moves, imagining myself getting funky on a pillar with throngs of people all around me. If I was with someone I would sit on the couch with my knees up and make fun of the dancers and their outfits instead. What a weird concept that was — a club that you watched live on TV, in broad daylight, that you had to audition for, pass a fashion test for. (I’ve heard that some swingers’ clubs in Toronto do the same sort of snobby thing.) It was kind of like a workout show you could follow along with at home.
I used to practise dancing to Erasure in front of the mirror in my room, along with Ace of Base, Salt-N-Pepa, and all the danceable songs on Casey Kasem’s top-40 list. Those were the days when I thought I could dance, when I wanted space on the dancefloor just for me. Those days are over.
Now I just try to get lost in the crowd. Andrea and I mix dancing with making out where the rhythm is easier, where your feet don’t matter quite as much. We dance with our daughter every day, so I’ve become much more comfortable jumping around in the kitchen to Fred Penner than shaking it at Buddies to Lady Gaga.
Still there is something unique that dancing does for me, this blend of art and exercise that is so good for the queer mind and body, so good for the queer community.
Straight boys dance with their drinks, gay boys dance with their asses. Straight women dance with their boobs. The representations for each of these groups are out there — in videos, in movies, pop culture.
How do queer women dance? Those images are not out there at all. It’s hard to generalize how queer women dance, which is probably a good thing. I think we borrow our moves from everyone else right now. I think we’re still waiting for our own signature style.
A dancefloor is one of the few places in the city where you can get completely absorbed in a crowd of queer people with a similar purpose and a similar energy. The other obvious places would be a protest or a parade. It’s no coincidence that those things go together.
Oscar Wilde wrote, “Life imitates art far more than art imitates life.” We need to keep living like we’re dancing, borrowing what works, laughing at ourselves, allowing for variation, engaging mind and body and carving out a space we can come to call our own.