The only thing I’ll remember about New Year’s Eve 2012 is that I had a dance battle with my favorite Albanian. It looked precisely what a dance battle with an Albanian would be: glorious as fuck. The fact that this dance battle existed is a testament to the enduring love I have for my friend, Enea. And how awesome we are. Here’s what happened.
Although our group was ringing in the New Year in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, this place was slightly more “thuggish” than we’d previously anticipated. Which I was happy about. After so many lame nights reluctantly participating in corny singalongs of Miley Cyrus and lame 80s rap, I could handle a little bump and grind for a change. Under the seductive eye of a stripper/go-go girl/exotic dancer with dollar bills in her G-string, we spontaneously decided to give the room something to talk about.
Now, whenever I go out to any sort of social gathering, the first thing I’ll do is scout out the other black people. Which isn’t as weirdly racist as it sounds. It’s simple reconnaissance. Before I can loosen up, I need to know where the dancers are. I need to know if they’re good for black people or good for actual dancers. If they’re only good for the first category, I’ll let go. If they’re in the second, I’ll lay back.
Which isn’t to say I’m always worried about what people think. I genuinely like dancing. And when I think of it, I’ve liked dancing my whole life. When me and my sister were kids, in a game we called “Fast and Slow”. My father would play Latin sounding music that was either dramatic and fast and suddenly it became slow. My sister and I would dance according to the music. Despite it not being sanctified, it was amazing. We got into it like tribal warriors around a campfire. I mention Fast and Slow because it still is the best way to describe the dancing that I do. And it isn’t always Brooklyn approved.
On this night, there was actual people that knew how to dance. I was comfortable with a slow night. I decided to give the crowd just enough to know that I was firmly in the space. But I wasn’t going to try to turn any heads. Like Goldilocklian porridge, I wasn’t not dancing. I just wasn’t making a scene. Enea though had a different plan. In his manic glory, he indignantly spun around a few times and got in my phonebooth of space. It was clear. He wanted a throwdown. I, set down my Bud and looked at him as if he really wanted to challenge me. I did what I do best. I flipped the switch and got to work. As a rule, I don’t play games I don’t think I can. This was, obviously, a winnable game.
We began. He would go for thirty seconds. I would go for thirty seconds. A small crowd gathered around us. One woman, every bar’s staple overzealous socializer who is obviously just dying for some attention, spurred us on.
The problem with being a mildly good dancer is that it attracts women that actually are good dancers. In a spirit of humility and almost apology, I’d love to say frankly, “Actually, all this jaggeration, it’s not real. I don’t actually dance.”
I get weirdly self-conscious about the whole thing. Maybe it’s because I’m black and black people are genetically predesposed to dance better than the average population. But I don’t want to just dance. I want to dance the right way.
A few weeks back, I got to dance on stage with Santigold. Which was sick. Halfway through her set, she asked who in the crowd would like to dance with her. Being the elite New York crowd that it was, no one volunteerd. Being a bum, I did. Santigold looked at me mildly skeptically and waved me on to the stage. Three or four others followed.
In that moment, I was faced with a few difficulties. The song, Creator, is more of a grinder than an EDM banger, so I couldn’t bring out my whole arsenal of moves. Additionally, the other three or four might have learned their moves by by watching Sesame Street. So I wasn’t going to overshadow these wallflowers with my America’s Best Dance Crew moves.
Now, onstage, I was not nervous. But once the song ended, and I took my place back on the floor, it hit me. This crowd was too cool for Fast and Slow.
Of course, some people liked it. Randoms gave me props and high fives. Which I sheepishly shrugged off. But I really shouldn’t be surprised. No one really cares how good of a dancer people are. They really just want to see people having fun.
I once found myself on a rooftop with a crowd way above my paygrade. This is one of those places where the cocktails probably cost more than I have in the bank. Which isn’t to say that everyone wasn’t nice. I’m just not sure why the bouncers let me in.
And so why I’m surrounded by guys discussing their various villas in Sicily, I’m asking myself, “the fuck am I doing here?” But then I learned the best lesson. One of the many benefits of living life assuming it has no purpose is that I have nothing to lose. After getting my ten dollar Heineken (which is bullshit), I played the only card I had in the place like that: not giving a darn. I danced like no one could handle me. As if I was Mayor of the Meatpacking District. I danced, like an Albanian.
The best thing about dancing is that the reasons for dancing feel obvious. The reasons can’t be rationalized. I loved dancing Fast and Slow because I liked feeling crazy. I love dancing on stage because I love pretending I have swag. And I love dancing with an Albanian because when you’re with your best friends, the universe isn’t asking you to overthink anything. Just say thank you.
Which is why I loved my dance battle with Enea. If you asked me if he actually was a good dancer or not, I’ve no idea. He’s probably better than I realize. He probably will not be auditioning for Alvin Ailey in 2013. But that isn’t the point. He’s exactly the kind of people I feel like dancing around. One day Enea will take his MCATS, go to medical school, be hundreds of thousands in debt, be a doctor. Then, he might be beyond a random dance battle on New Year’s Eve. But on December 31st, 2012, he wasn’t worried about thug quotients or dancing well or impressing the stripper in the corner. He was a reminder of dancers everywhere: On this night, Enea let loose. He had nothing to lose. Except in a dance battle against me, of course. But who’s asking?