A freak flooding of the basement storage of my former home in Durban resulted in the loss of many of my baby photos – but luckily I was able to salvage a few, including this one of me ‘busting a move’ on the deck of one of those ships that used to travel between South Africa and India in the 70’s.
I’m not sure what the cherubic me was grooving to at the time this picture was taken. Probably the music in my head or my heart.
From as far back as I can remember I’ve always loved to dance! I find it both relaxing and energizing; a form of expression and release – and a kind of meditation at the same time. In the heady days of my early adulthood, dancing was like a natural drug. And a long time ago (in a galaxy far, far away) I used to hit the clubs just about every weekend to get my fix. I would sometimes need a little warm-up but when the DJ was good and didn’t jump too much from one style or sub-genre to another I would really get into the zone, so to speak. Music and rhythm have the power to put people into a sort of trance – and mine sometimes lasted for hours at a time. With my eyes closed and a big, blissed-out smile on my face I would frequently be approached on the dance floor by people wanting to know where they could get some of what (they assumed) I was on!
But I didn’t need nor desire any ‘disco treats’ to get into the groove. Music – and the primal urge to move to it – was what gave me a buzz. The same, however, could not be said for a lot of my fellow revellers. Recreational drug use in clubs was hardly new back then, but as the years passed I started to pick up on a sort of nihilistic undercurrent on the club scene. The mood was more that of general disenchantment than revelry. Most people didn’t seem to be dancing in joyful celebration any more. They seemed to me to be clubbing as if to anaesthetise themselves – paradoxically getting high to feel numb.
If the boogie wonder-landscape was changing, so too was the sound. It became increasingly shrill, electronic and artificial. Nothing really wrong with that of course, but dance music to me seemed to be in danger of losing its soul. I used to jokingly say that I stopped going to clubs when the music started to sound like a series of fax-signals over a thumping, monotonous bassline! I just couldn’t get into it anymore – and when I occasionally did, there’d be this drawn out ambient, beat-free interlude in the middle of the song that would go on for so long that I’d loose my mojo and find myself wondering if I left the iron on at home! To me dancing was always a sexy, celebratory act – and I didn’t find anything sexy about dancing to a factory lunch whistle – or sexist, homophobic and misogynistic lyrics for that matter. Hah, you know you’re officially ‘old’ when you start paying close attention to the lyrics (what lyrics?) in a dance track!
In fact, it’s been so long since I last shook my groove thang that I would probably end up injuring myself if I did! I was, however, prepared to take that risk at my 40th birthday party…
In the months leading up to the day, the people in my life kept asking me what I would like to do to celebrate such a “milestone” year. I don’t like to make a fuss on my birthdays, so the reply was always “nothing special”. But friends and family kept insisting that I do something fitting – and one day I just gave in.
“Oh to hell with it! I’d like to dance on my birthday!” I announced.
I don’t like clubs anymore and I knew I didn’t want to be in the city for my birthday – so we looked at booking an intimate venue out of town and hiring a DJ to play all my favourite songs to boogie the night away to with a small gathering of my nearest and dearest. As I warmed to the idea I started to grow more and more excited at the prospect of my 40th birthday disco night. But my enthusiasm soon cooled when all the quotes for the party came through. I don’t mind spending money on the things that matter, but I can tell when I’m being ripped off – and it all added up to a ludicrous sum. We changed the party to an intimate dinner at home and I got a gorgeous camera lens instead.
So, I didn’t get to dust off my old signature dance moves that day (or since), but I do get close to the outskirts of Funky Town in my gym where I like to crank up the volume to get the blood pumping and the sweat flowing. I still support dance music – and I’m pleased to say that the genre hasn’t lost all of its soul just yet. Though it does seem that the industry is exhausted…
I have a good chuckle at just how many tracks off the latest dance compilations are the very same songs I used to get down to in my day – all remixed, rehashed and rebranded for this generation of party animals.
“Music rots when it gets too far from the dance. Poetry atrophies when it gets too far from music” ~ Ezra Pound