Portland, I must admit that I am not one of your best dancers. I don't mean the formal, well-trained dancers at the Oregon Ballet Theatre or the more experimental, modern dancers at Conduit and Bodyvox. I don't even mean the bump-and-grinders at Barracuda or American Cowgirls (I've been known to "drop it like it's hot” after a drink or four). You know who I mean: The leg-shaking, head-bobbing, feet-tapping kids standing way too close to the stage at indie-rock and –pop shows. I've tried to hide it by standing in the back of venues with my arms crossed or furiously scribbling with pen and paper, trying to look too busy to dance. The truth is, Portland, I just don't know your moves.
My relationship with dance is a long and sordid one that began nearly two decades ago in a southern California elementary school. (If you could have seen me then, Portland, you would understand why your moves intimidate me so.) Dressed in parachute pants and a puffy-painted shift, I danced in the first-grade talent show to MC Hammer's “U Can't Touch This.” My running-man and Roger Rabbit were dead on, but since then, I can't say I've learned much more in the art of dance.
Growing up in Orange County, California, I drew my next set of moves from the circle pit, learning how to shove people and wave my fist in the air. Later, I built my movement repertoire from the straight-edge hardcore scene. Between the RAAHHHHHS and ROOOOOOS of tattooed, make-up wearing bands, I learned the Posi-Stomp (which involves an unattractive squat, alternately stomping your feet, and punching the air in front of you), and Picking Up Change (bending over and rhythmically grabbing at invisible quarters). I spent my Sunday nights dancing at an 18-and-over club in Hollywood unimaginatively named “Beat It,” which—you guessed it, Portland—played 80's tunes. I stole my moves from that scene in The Breakfast Club
where a stoned Molly Ringwald spastically dances on a staircase landing.
Unfortunately for me, Portland, my moves don't fit in here. See, the moves I learned in California were about getting noticed: Stomping meant I was the most hardcore; standing on stage, gyrating to “Cradle of Love” in front of other sweaty, under-age kids meant I was accepted and part of the scene.
So why don't I dance here, Portland? Why have I never braved Lola's Room or the Fez Ballroom, willing to--I believe the phrase is--"shake what my mama gave me"? Well, I quickly learned that dancing here is not about being seen (or scene): It's about the music and how it moves you. The first time I saw you shake it was four years ago, at the Les Savy Fav and the Faint show at the Crystal Ballroom. You were jumping around, rubbing against people you didn't know—and, to be honest, Portland, you weren't a very good dancer. You didn't care if you were off-beat or soaked in sweat, your black shaggy hair plastered to the side of your face and your white v-neck clinging to your jiggly beer belly. You liked the music, damn it—and even if I was staring in disbelief, you were still going to dance.
Since then, I've watched you get down when simple pop band Sounds Like Fun played at Voodoo Donuts and at a house show in NoPo, where the Shaky Hands jingle-jangled. Your moves are always the same—there's a lot of shaking, a little skip in your Chuck Taylors and sometimes your head is down, watching your feet. But you're always into it—if you're dancing, Portland, it's a conscious effort. There's no blank-faced, spiritless movements here.
And when I saw you dancing at the Maritime show Saturday night at the Towne Lounge, you were in full swing. With only 20 people in the audience, you were completely uninhibited, shaking everything you had in some startling combination of the pogo and the Monkey. You weren't trying to be cool, Portland; I think it probably hurts your moves if you're too interested in impressing. Even Maritime lead singer Davey Von Bohlen was awkward, standing pigeon-toed while he shook his legs.
Portland, on Saturday, you inspired me to dance like you do. It wasn't much too look at—I still had a camera in one hand and a purse in the other, but I stood in one place, bobbing my head, tapping my feet and even moving my shoulders to the music. It was relief to dance how I wanted to, and not because I knew someone was watching. What I'm really trying to do here, Portland, is thank you. Maybe next time, I'll be brave enough to let loose, put down my camera and purse, and actually dance. Just promise me you won't watch.
(Here's the Molly Ringwald dance I so often attempt to replicate. Watch the boots.)
Picture of Davey Von Bohlen's dancing feet by Paige Richmond.
Definition of "Hipster Dancing"
How to dance like a hardcore kid