One of my favorite things to tell people about myself is that I used to be a dancer. I throw out the phrase, “competitive hip hop dancer” with downright duplicitous intention and imply that my one or two years coming in dead last at dance competitions somehow qualify me to be on the receiving end of those raised eyebrows of “I had no idea you were so cool.” I like to provide a real life juxtaposition of my current state of physical fitness (see: none) and the implication that I maybe had abs once. Which, for the record, I did not. I did, however, manage to memorize choreography and make a face that looked like I was always trying to inhale my top lip into my nostrils. Also I was pretty good at body rolls. Something I assumed would always be a sexy thing to do in da club.
As a young teen, I logged hours in the basement of my parents’ house. Watching, rewinding (kindly) and absorbing Darrin’s Dance Grooves on VHS with a disturbing intensity. I knew the choreography to NSYNC’s “Bye Bye Bye”, Britney’s “Crazy” and Jordan Knight’s “Give It To You”. Sometimes I still try to do the crouched, circular bounce-walk from Jordan Knight’s video, but then I get stuck down there and need to be hoisted. One should never be hoisted. Not content with only sharing my gift of bastardized hip hop at sporadic school dances, I pined for the day I turned 16 and would be allowed to hit up “Teen Night” at The Orbit Room. When that day came, I went as often as someone would drive me into the presumed seediness of deep 28th Street urbania. I body-rolled to my heart’s desire and created a slimy layer of sweat between my skin and whichever polyester shirt I had most recently purchased from Charlotte Russe. I was flush with tips from waiting tables at Steak n’ Shake. I was “boop-booping” Grand Rapids boys on my brick of a Nextel and returning to Hudsonville on Monday with tales of “going clubbing”. I was living my best life.
My 18th birthday ushered in dance floors that also contained non-teenage boys. And, I could drive myself there. I salsa danced (and surprisingly did not get pregnant by osmosis) Saturday nights away at Azucar, always wearing the leather stilettos I had bought earlier that year on Spring Break in Italy, even though they made me want to saw my own feet off, and giggled coyly when guys lined up to grind with the gringa. Because at 18, it wasn’t about the dance anymore. It was about the sexual validation. I literally was not even having sex yet, but I knew I was supposed to want people to do it to me. And the way to get them to want to do it to you is to body roll in their general vicinity, right? To remind them that you have a body. It also works to recreate the entire plot of “Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights” whether or not others know what is happening. When I couldn’t convince anyone else to risk life, limb and rashes by going to Azucar, I’d go to the decidedly more Caucasian, Bucking Beaver. At “The Beav” (we never called it that), I was free to practice my craft, uninterrupted by denim bulges and inexperienced groping. Mostly because I had brown hair and a big ol’ booty, and my thinner, blonder friends were the commodity in that place. It’s fine. I’m fine. Not bitter. Just fine.
Turning 21 coincided with an inexplicable “country phase” I was having. I spent a lot of time pretending Kenny Chesney was sexually appealing and doing my best impression of Gretchen Wilson, even though I was in no way a redneck woman. I abandoned awkward, arrhythmic grinding for spontaneous choreographed stomping in the form of “Country Night at Margarita Grill”. Every Thursday night was spent convincing myself that I liked the idea of farm-boys who really knew how to shake it. I think I might have accidentally created Luke Bryan with my mind. The Grill closed (due to underage drinking and probably unrelated knife fights) and with it, my insatiable need for dance.
I’ve since abandoned dancing as a means to look cool and seduce onlookers. Partly because I can no longer physically dance for longer than the chorus to “Come On Eileen”, but also because I have no idea how people dance now. I’m caught in the purgatory of one’s 30s. Too old to grind (well, old enough to realize that it’s gross and offputting) and keep up with what the kids are doing, but too young to be content with a good bop-n-shuffle. What I’ve settled on, it seems, is taking lyrics to a literal level with pseudo-interpretive dance and turning any dance floor situation into an impromptu lip sync battle. And I gotta tell you. It. Is. Fun. I’m in a very “who cares” place in life and that translates to dance floors across this city. I’m cutting a rug at Stella’s on Fridays and Saturdays, twirling shamelessly to Whitney Houston. I’m joining the geriatrics on the west side at River City Saloon and using their lackadaisical step-n-sway to my advantage, throwing a spin or some other mildly acrobatic move in the mix to clinch my status as “best terrible dancer here”. I have also perfected the minimal-effort-required “chair dance”. Looks intense. Takes no actual stamina. And I’m loving it.
So let’s go, Grand Rapids. Let’s get weird and dance like only old people are watching.