In her biweekly column for Document, McKenzie Wark experiences two very different kinds of dance culture
She danced well, and with a great deal of enthusiasm, making it all the more puzzling as to why she clutched her Emotional Support White Claw so hard. There are only a few rules on this dance floor—one of which being no drinks on the floor—but there’s always some rando who thinks they’re exempt.
This is not my kind of dancefloor. Jenny brought me to Big Apple Ranch, which bills itself as a same sex partner dance venue for country two-stepping and line dancing. We came early for the two-step lesson, followed by another demonstration on the line dance that we’ll perform later in the evening.
Some people came alone, and the instructor tried to match them with partners. Many more want to follow than lead, much to everyone’s amusement. Nobody says “top shortage,” but we’re thinking it.
There’s a mix of ages and types of people, mostly white. There’s a gaggle of young adults, a bit unruly, trying the instructor’s patience. They might still be undergrads in college. I think about the difference between my BA and MA students. The older ones are much more focused. They’re keenly aware that the chances to learn something for your own pleasure and development doesn’t come around all that often.
Jenny and I do our best to learn a basic two-step. Jenny leads, of course. I’m terrible at this. As much as I love dancing, I have no coordination or sense of rhythm. It’s why I love raves and techno—that’s more about endurance than skill.
J: You have to let me lead!
M: I’m trying!
I’d love to be pushed around the dancefloor, but I’m trying to get this basic step right: fast, fast, slow, slow. Shouldn’t be that hard, right?
I do my best to learn the line dance. On top of the two left feet problem, I have a working memory disability. Sure, everyone says they have a “bad memory,” but I have test scores to prove it. I do my best to at least face the same direction as everyone else as we practice the moves.
After the lessons, we’re dancing! The regulars have trickled in by now. It’s such a pleasure just to watch them, especially as leading and following have been separated here from masculine and feminine roles.
It was fun having Jenny push me around the floor. The lead chooses when to spin, and which variation to do. We learned two types of spins, but I get them confused, or spin the wrong way. It doesn’t matter. Big Apple Ranch seems like a friendly and tolerant space when it comes to beginners. One other rule is to always say yes when asked to dance. They encourage beginners to ask experienced dancers to be partners. It’s the best way to learn.
I sit out the line dances. It’s fascinating to me, watching a type of dance different to what I know. Some people know the steps, some are just good at picking them up. Mostly, I watch Jenny. I love seeing her move. I imagine who she would have been, as a teenager, at country music dances. I love seeing this side of her even if I can’t really join in.
Two-stepping and line dancing is hard work. I was feeling it on the way home. I still set an alarm for four in the morning so I could go to Flanger. When the alarm goes off, Jenny, half-asleep, pulls a pillow over her head. I chose not to rouse her.
The venue for Flanger is nearby but I call a car anyway. Have it drop me a block short. Best not to be stepping out of your car right in front, as too many cars buzzing about attracts attention.
It’s in the same Greenpoint showroom as Flocker, my favorite pocket rave. That one is on hiatus. Flanger lays the space out differently, bar and chillout zones reversed compared to the Flocker layout. I think it’s better. And there’s potted palms, a Flanger trademark. I wonder how the palms do with all the fog.
It’s a straightish crowd, but it doesn’t matter. Everyone is here to dance. You can bring your drink onto the dancefloor here, and unlike at Flocker, there’s no prohibition on photos. There’s still what I’d prefer to call conventions of care, rather than rules. There’s a way to gently slip through the crowd rather than just blustering through. There’s a way to adjust the space you take up with those around you. There’s a way to engage other dancers, and to leave them alone if that’s what they want.
I know how to do all of those things, but I’m still a terrible dancer. Fortunately it’s techno, and its demands are few, other than to find a groove and lock into it, and let the repetition release you.
It’d be great if there was a way for people to learn conventions of care. Regular ravers often complain about bad behavior. A popular part of my book Raving is when I talk about the punishers and coworkers, dancefloor types who don’t abide by the conventions of care. But how is anyone supposed to learn those?
When I was in high school I had to learn social dancing. It was excruciating. The dance steps and the music were obsolete. We all hated it or treated it as a joke. On top of being bad at dancing, and being one among many awkward teens trying to hide in the corners of the school gym, puberty had me freaking out about gender.
The lesson at the start of Big Apple Ranch brought back memories of all that. This time it was much more fun. I might be an awkward dancer, but I don’t feel awkward as a body. I feel just fine stumbling backwards while Jenny spins me. I learned that ease with myself at raves. The conventions of care there are different, but once you learn about the existence of conventions of care, you’ll feel at home on any dance floor.