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SPOTLIGHT:
DANCE AND THE CITY
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Dance and the City - Halloween Dancing Queen

by Rachel Levin
November 2, 2004
Los Angeles, CA

Dance and the City - Halloween Dancing Queen

Rachel Levin
November 2, 2004

With our slick store-bought costumes and packaged candy, Americans are far removed from Halloween's Celtic predecessor, Samhain Eve, and its rituals of dancing with the dead. Samhain Eve was a festival to commemorate the end of summer and honor those who had passed into the afterlife. The Celts gathered around a roaring bonfire, which symbolized cleansing and purity, and danced to the beat of the drum. Today we might think this kind of ritualistic waltz with the spirits spooky and sinister. But to the Celts, it was celebratory and life affirming.

Unless you count the Monster Mash, dancing just isn't as central to our modern incarnation of Samhain Eve. Yes, the bacchanal of costume is an open invitation to dance. As men dress as women and women dress as devils, people's usual dancing inhibitions melt away beneath the cover of character. But I've been to plenty a costume party where no one so much as tried to imitate Michael Jackson's zombie dance in "Thriller."

Halloween night this year found me without a costume and without party plans, but with a strong desire to make like a Celt and go dance among the living. My ex-boyfriend and I had first kissed on Halloween two years ago, and his memory was haunting me like a ghost. I really needed to go move my body and shake it off. I ran through my list of friends, but I couldn't entice anyone to join me.

So I took a chance and called a new guy I've been dating. It was risky to expect that he didn't have other plans and even riskier to raise the specter of going dancing. When we first met, he warned me that dancing was not something he did unless he was adequately lubricated with alcohol.

To my surprise, he was not only free for the night, but he was totally game to give the dance thing a try. I decided to take him to my favorite hip-hop club, which I expected would be crowded with costumed revelers.

But when we got to the club around 10:30 p.m., it was empty. I guess everyone was still at costume parties and hadn't yet made their way out for after-hours celebration. The dance floor was like a scene from a seventh grade dance in a high school gym: the D.J. and colored lights were jamming, but the few people there were clinging to the wall.

I felt mortified. What a loser he must think I am to bring him to such a dead club! But feelings of disappointment quickly replaced the feelings of embarrassment. How am I ever going to get him to dance when no one is on the floor? For people who feel self-conscious about dancing, it's hard enough to do on a packed floor, where you can at least blend in with the crowd, let alone an empty one.

I tried to find a couch where we could curl up and talk until he was sufficiently liquored or people started filling up the floor, whichever came first. I dragged him from room to room and from inside to outside, but there was nowhere to really get comfortable. Finally he stopped me.

"What are we waiting for?" he asked.

"Don't you want to wait until there's some more people out there?" I replied.

He didn't bother to answer. He just took my hand and led me out to the middle of the dance space. Now it was my turn to feel inhibited. I realized that even though I was supposedly the more experienced and confident dancer, being out there with him alone spooked me a bit. He hadn't even been lubricated with alcohol, and he was proving himself to be bolder about dance than I could have dreamed.

I felt silly at first. It was our first dance ever, and now the delicate work of finding our groove together was happening in full view of the wallflower crowd. But it wasn't so hard to find. I was impressed by his innate ability to feel the beat and draw me into his rhythm through touch. It felt easy and natural. Soon enough I was closing my eyes and getting lost in the hip-hop and dancehall music.

When I opened them again, to my surprise, there was a healthy crowd on the dance floor. We had broken the ice and gotten couples to follow suit. In no time the floor was so crowded that we opted for a break.

We found a couch and cuddled. I felt delighted. My ex-boyfriend would never have agreed to go dancing with me, and would never have been giving enough to set aside his own apprehensions and lead me onto an empty floor. I felt like maybe my mourning period for my old relationship was finally, officially over. With this ritualistic dance, the haunting spirit of my ex-relationship had been exorcised and transformed into a place of restful memory. Maybe the Celts had it right after all. I had danced with the living and said goodbye in my heart to the departed.

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