In her biweekly column for Document, McKenzie Wark writes about a cross-generational spring party and the simple comforts of dance
Every spring, I wait impatiently for a special invitation. Fingers crossed that my shenanigans at this party the previous year didn’t get me crossed off the list. It’s a small event, maybe 50 people. It’s held in a private home in Greenpoint. Its hosts—let’s call them Laura and Tom—both came into a little money through fairly absurd circumstances. They put it toward the art of living well, or at least as well as one can under the present circumstances. The spring party is part of that art. An art I aspire to learn from them.
Their home is not palatial. One thing they’ve learned about money is that you don’t need to spend it on a ridiculous amount of property. The place is well-appointed, with art on the walls by their friends, and a living room big enough to be a dance floor. There’s rooms upstairs with candles lit, indicating they are available for various uses, later.
One has to arrive promptly after 9 p.m., and no later than 10. One has to mingle and get to know the other guests. Many have been coming to various iterations of this event for years. Others, Laura and Tom have gathered into the fold more recently. Laura and Tom are in their 70s now, but they like to keep people of a range of ages in their lives. In a world that commodifies time in separate generational packages—Boomer, Gen X, Millennial—this mixing of timelines is an intentional cultural practice.
It’s giving burner vibes. Tom went to Burning Man for a few years—was enthusiastic about it as a kind of invented ritual. That was before the titans of tech descended on it with their drug sommeliers and experience curators. In my raver world, “burner” is pejorative, but I appreciate the sense of collective-making, even if I’m not here for the occasional hippy runoff.
“I feel like we’re a bit of an anomaly here tonight, and not just because we’re the only ones dressed in all-black. Maybe it’s because we’re at queer raves every week. You get used to letting your body go—into movement, into music.”
Not the least thing that keeps this crew coming back is that the molly is always superb. It’s optional, and not everyone partakes. Kate, the drug witch, will only sell in the 9-to-10 window. After that, she’s off-the-clock and part of the party. I get one each for me and Jenny, plus some extras for a rainy day.
There is always a coming-together in a circle before the party starts. Laura reads out greetings from some regulars who can’t attend. Her words gently encourage the spirit of falling in—of letting go. The DJ drops a starter track, and we’re off. It sounds crisp and warm and full on this homemade sound system, brought in by a friend. It’s in gleaming white cabinets. Wouldn’t last a night in the grimy queer raves Jenny and I favor, where everything gets spritzed in schmutz and ick. We’re in a different world tonight.
I’m dancing when the molly kicks in—hard. I look around and can’t see Jenny, which gives me a moment of panic, as I feel like I just absolutely have to share this moment with her. She’s back soon enough, but not rolling yet. I have the fast-forward metabolism of a chihuahua, and drugs hit in minutes. I have to wait for hers to come on. Then we’re all in, dancing together. One thing I love about Jenny is that, when she gets free, she really gets free. Arms up, oscillating around the beat.
Pulling her to me, thigh between thighs. “We could totally Roomba this dance floor,” I say. Roombas are what we call those couples who lock together and zag across the floor, knocking solo dancers out of the way, oblivious. Much as we hate them, it’s tempting to become one just out of spite. The vibe tonight is peace, love, and quinoa, so we’re not actually going to do that. It’s always an open question, though: what to do with aggression. Everyone brings some to the party, and if the party is good, it’ll find ways to dissipate it.
A core group is straight and polyamorous, whereas Jenny and I are queer and monogamous. And madly in love. I just can’t help making Jenny the center of my attention. I hardly sense the other dancers, although I’m vaguely aware of an enthusiastic knot around us. Tom sidles up to me: “I love it when you and Jenny sex up the dance floor.”
I feel like we’re a bit of an anomaly here tonight, and not just because we’re the only ones dressed in all-black. Maybe it’s because we’re at queer raves every week. You get used to letting your body go—into movement, into music. Everyone on the dance floor gets it, but I feel hesitation around the edges, and over in the kitchen. It’s taken me many years, but finally I have no shame about enjoying my own body. I want that for everyone.
“It’s always an open question, though: what to do with aggression. Everyone brings some to the party, and if the party is good, it’ll find ways to dissipate it.”
Taking a break with Jenny in the garden, I ask her about the non-dancers.
M: What’s your read?
J: It’s mostly straight people. I’ve had to be careful where I direct my attention.
M: There’s a small core of real dancers, but also people having a hard time finding their groove.
J: It’s like they need permission to let themselves into their bodies.
M: I like them, though. Maybe it’s the molly talking, but I like this crowd. It’s like I have compassion for that inhibition, a lot of which I’ve felt in my life.
J: It’s what happens when you sign on for straight life. It’s like it comes with a whole agenda of stuff you need to get done—like career, home, kids, consumable stuff, all that. Whereas a lot of queer people don’t expect any of that. We work more on the everyday pleasures of life. There’s straight people who get that, like Laura and Tom, but maybe it’s less common.
Back on the dance floor, Jenny nudges me out of the way of someone behind me. It’s an elderly man, maybe in his 80s. His back and neck have collapsed into an S-bend. His movements are gentle shuffles. He reaches out with both hands, and we take them. The three of us are dancing in a circle. He lifts his left hand up, and I twirl. He lifts his right hand up, and Jenny twirls. Then we’re back to a simple two-step. He grips our hands a little tighter, closes his eyes, and he’s there. I can just feel it. He’s in that special space that dance can open, where you get free. Then he’s back. Lets us go, shuffles off. Other dancers steer him through the throng.
Later, Laura tells me he is a retired professor who specialized in some kind of traditional dance. I couldn’t hear the details. He has Parkinson’s disease. I’m holding in memory the few seconds where he closed his eyes, and danced, and smiled. Later, late in life, I’ll want that too. I’ll want and need this simple pleasure. I’ll want to dance and be held.