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A year without dancing

 In the before-times, I enjoyed several types of dancing. Hopefully soon the world will be dancing again. But until then I'm just gonna reminisce. 


While I was in high school, a tiny ski area near us would host Rock-n- Reggae Fests. My friends and I would sit on the hill and try to bum beer from older kids, or we could go down and dance in front of the stage. Hay would be spread on the ground in front of the stage and I would do a slow and groovy hippy shuffle to bands like Leftover Salmon or Bunny Wailer. These events were a highlight of each New England summer. Often there would be a whole pack of us. We'd set out blankets and coolers in our area and dance, hang out, and then dance some more.

When I moved to Denver I quickly discovered the underground rave scene. Pulsing techno music prompted non-stop dancing until dawn. There were no set breaks, no sound checks or tuning instruments between songs. When a new dj took the control of the turntables, they blended their first beats into the looped sounds left  by the last dj. The music never stopped and if you had the stamina, neither did the dancing.

Crowded among hundreds of other ravers in a warehouse taught me a sense of awareness. At the reggae fests I was always among friends. At a massive rave,  a few of us would enter the party together and I would only bump into my friends at random times throughout the night. Each of us was on a special journey and on the ride home at dawn we would share our stories.





   I was an individual heartbeat in a sea of smiling dancers being carried by the music. I established a very zen mindset when I settled into the flow of a rave. Pretty girls were everywhere. Rave fashion for girls was mind blowing. I saw knee-high striped socks with short shorts, lots of glitter, sometimes metallic eyeliner or lipstick. Some guys my age were there as predators, prowling for the girl they could single out and pester for the night. I never felt that way. I was aloof, I was there to dance. 

   As the hours rolled on, the dancers on the floor would be coated in a sheen of sweat. Pheromones and hormones would be unconsciously emitted through our skin. With our heightened sense of awareness these chemicals could be detected. Each night I would find a place on the dance floor with optimal sound. I'd close my eyes and let the beat control my body. I never felt awkward or embarrassed, I just bobbed along with the music. I think I danced like an average white raver among a crowd of hundreds. But the key was, that I wasn't giving off predatory pheromones. 



  I would open my eyes to the flickering strobes and lasers and notice one beautiful girl dancing close to me. I'd close my eyes again and flow with the sound some more, and when I opened my eyes again more beautiful girls would be dancing next to me. Eventually we would form a small pack of our own. I wasn't invisible to them, on the contrary I was possibly the nucleus. Because I was there another guy couldn't move in and grossly bump himself against the girls. The girls rewarded me with sweet smiles and one of them always had a gallon jug of water to pass around because, well, girls are smarter and actually bring water to an eight hour dance party.

In my mind the girls were all beautiful and the guys all looked cool.


   I knew the whole system would shatter if I stared too long at a bare midriff or "accidentally" rested my hand on the small of a girl's back. I didn't do that sort of thing, we trusted each other. I was delighted when a girl would hold my hand or lean in to give me a gentle hug. These were sentiments of camaraderie, we were in this together. Dancing all night long to fast techno music is a feat, like running a marathon. Me and those adorable girls were a team. 


   Spending every Saturday night at a rave isn't sustainable. Some might even call it unhealthy despite all the cardio. I had a very solid run from 1994-95. I cherish my collection of rave flyers. 



 A funny thing about the rave scene, is that I knew when it was over for me. Life gives you a brief window for some things, and that was one of them. I didn't over stay my welcome. I was never the guy too old to be at the rave.  At 19-20 I was the exact right age. I remember a conversation I had with one of the pretty girls towards the end.

She asked, " Would you like some Special K?'

I cocked my head quizzically, "What's that?" 

She answered, " It's cat tranquilizer."

"Aaah, do you eat it?"

"No, you snort it."

"Oh," I smiled politely, "No thank you."

  There is only one type of dancing I still do. It takes place in a much different environment. In fact, I'd like to think that some day a kid will look over at me and say to his friend, "That guy looks way too old to be in here." That kid would be wrong, because I know how to handle myself in a mosh pit. 

  I don't know if anyone uses the term 'slam dancing' anymore, but it's really the most accurate description of what happens in a mosh pit. The first time I saw a pit was at an Agent Orange concert with my friend Randy.  I had been listening to this band since 7th grade and this was the first time I saw them. The band is SoCal surf punk and the show went exactly as you would imagine.

  The mosh pit was organized in a way that would instantly become my favorite arrangement. It was the 'Circle of Death' configuration. I've been to a few shows where people want to slam, but it never gains the momentum of the circle, and so it's just dudes standing in a crowd bouncing off of each other.  A proper Circle of Death is so much better.

The beauty of the CoD is that it has multiple positions available, based on the level that each person wants to participate.To explain each position let's assume you are walking into the venue from the rear, heading towards the stage. Let's just say it's a Dropkick Murphys show. You enter with a large paper cup of beer in your hand and try to strike a natural pose. At the outer most reaches people are standing comfortably apart. Many people are holding drinks and leaning into each other's faces to talk over the music. You  maneuver farther in and the crowd becomes denser. You get bumped hard from behind and beer sloshes all over your hand and sleeve. You look down at your beer and then look up at the guy who just bumped you. You start to formulate a disapproving response, but  the rude punk is rapidly disappearing into the crowd. He moves like a fish through water. Some people he skirts around, but most he just slips past with a small shove.

  You try to follow this guy, he moves with purpose and confidence. You get bumped again and lose more beer, but you are now committed to moving forward. People are mostly shoulder to shoulder, if you stop right now you will be standing next to some one you just pushed against to reach this point. You keep going, the crowd closes in tight behind you. A massive shirtless guy lumbers through the crowd several people away, but his shockwave knocks everyone near you hard to the right. You accidentally push the last of your beer into the back of a girl in a black leather jacket. The beer squeezes out and runs down her jeans. She's  a head shorter than you, but when her eyes lock on you, you feel fear. Despite the blasting music, you can see very clearly that she is saying, " What the Fuck Asshole?!"

You quickly pivot away from her and realize going backwards would be impossible, the band has started a song that makes the whole crowd roar and surge forward a few steps. You squeeze a few places away from her and begin to sense that you are now at the edge of the crowd despite still being twenty-five feet from the stage.

One final shove from behind and you are locked shoulder to shoulder with an unbroken ring of other people. These are the pushers. Pushers are the gate keepers who separate the majority of the concert going crowd from the actual mosh pit. It's not an easy position, but it might be a good place to begin your mosh pit experience. Right in front of  the pusher's human barricade is a revolving maelstrom of the pit. It moves at the speed of a fast walk, its a powerful merry-go-round of punks passing by at arms length.

In an instant, a punk is flung violently backwards.. You and the pusher next to you react quickly to grab the guys sweaty t-shirt and pull him up. He definitely would have fallen hard to the concrete if you two hadn't caught him. Your muscles strain as you get him to his feet. He looks you directly in the eye as he grins from ear to ear. "Thanks Bud!" he yells at you and grabs your shoulder. You think he's touching your shoulder as a sign of affection, then realize he's only using you as a launching point to propel himself back into the ring. You realized that the other pusher  who helped him is holding out his fist...to you. You bump it and smile at this chubby, bearded guy in a black t shirt.You two are a team, you quickly realize you are working in concert with him and the pushers on your other side, and also the rows of people behind you.



For much of the song the circle passes safely in front of you. You are standing comfortably and watching the carnage inside the whirlwind. You see a punk stagger and fall, the circle passes over him as others stumble and fall on him. It takes a few seconds for the momentum of the train wreck to halt, but as it does, pushers lean in and join with stopped punks to yank the fallen to their feet.Then the whole thing starts moving again. Sometimes the circle wobbles out of its normal orbit and the whole mass collides with a row of pushers. The pushers lock together and form a wall, shoving the pit back into place.Other times a rouge punk will be spit out of the circle so hard, it can't help but take down several pushers. The punk is shoved back where he came from and the pushers all smile and laugh at the shared experience. 

After a few songs you  start thinking maybe you can handle the circle. You've already been hit hard in the side by an elbow, and you totally knocked heads with that one guy. Farther down  you see a girl on the pusher line. She's wearing a white tank top and a trucker hat, she holds up one shoe. It looks like a checkered slip-on Vans. A punk slips out of the circle to take it from her gratefully. You look down at your sneakers and verify they are tied on tightly. You take a deep breath and step into the ring...

"Oh God Damn!" The first thing you realize is that the circle is moving faster than you thought. The speed feels closer to a run, but everyone is so jammed together they can't take long strides. You try to slow, but spastic flailing punks shove you forward, you take two steps to speed up and crash into the guys in front of you. It's like you are caught in a rushing river of humanity and you need to just go where it takes you...which is in a circle.You struggle to find your balance and realize that everyone in the whole mob is actually using each other to stay up. In order to survive the pit you cannot be independent. You must become part of the group. 

The pit has an order, it has rules. And it can identify individuals who would threaten it. When someone notices the little psychopath throwing elbows at people, he is ejected from the pit. The pit is not for people trying to hurt each other, it is for people learning to survive with each other. Slam dancers in a pit are trying to knock each other down, and then as soon as someone falls, the entire group joins to get them on their feet again as fast as possible. The rush is exhilarating. It's like standing between to moving freight trains, right on the edge of disaster.

The circle spins on and on. It is a challenge to stay in it for long, let alone the entire show. A full beer showers down onto the pit from above. You come around the turn and see that two massive guys are standing in the flow of the pit and are trying to hold it back. One is bald with tattoos, the other looks like an Irish dock worker. Before this show, you never realized Denver had such a large working class Irish population. But here it is, slamming into you. You press hard against the Irishman, others join in behind you. The big brutes strain, like rugby players in a scrum. Soon the power of the mob is too much for them they begin moving again. Before he turns, the big Irishman bumps against your shoulder and grins. He respects you for not holding back against him, that's all he wanted out of the exercise.

A night in a mosh pit can be full of moments like that. Something absolutely crazy will happen in front of you. Only you and the dancer next to you will see it. You two will a share a knowing look of disbelief, then you'll be separated again you'll never see that person for the rest of your life. But you'll always know that at least one person saw the same think you did and you are forever connected by that tiny thread.




You need to catch your breath so you jump out of the ring. But you do it on the side closest to the stage. Once you are past the pushers you realize this is the crush zone. Between here and the stage people are compacted tightly. Only one or two people ahead of you is the railing in front of the stage.The first row is literally pressed against the railing. You are squeezed so hard you can't lift your arms from your side. Then you realize you are as close to the band as you can get. You see details that you'd only notice from this distance. Maybe the singer has mismatched socks, or the lead guitar has a small lobster sticker on it. These are dumb intimate things that you now know about the band. 

Still,you want to leave this spot, it's crushing and claustrophobic. You turn your back to the band and before you lays the Circle of Death again. You check you shoelaces again and steady your nerves.

"Once more into the fray, into the last good fight I'll ever know. Live and die on this day."

Stay healthy and strong my friends, maybe one day we'll share some good music together.

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