I went to a club one recent Sunday afternoon. It was scorching hot outside, cool inside, several fans blasting. The club was located in a tiny space under an archway, and as we arrived early it was still quite empty. At first I found it hard to dance, displaced by the idea that it was Sunday afternoon, disoriented by being out of practice. Going outside for air was strange: unusual to see how it was still light. Gradually, however, my body remembered, as bodies tend to do. The music was undeniable. As some of the first to arrive we were the first to dance. Plunging into an empty dance floor was intimidating yet irresistible, to have all that room to move.
When I dance in a club, it isn’t sexy. I have friends who I observe being totally hot when they dance, in charge of their bodies and movements. I am arms and legs everywhere, a father at a wedding. I am awkward until I am not; I am stiff until suddenly I am boneless. The trigger for what makes me give myself up could be a song, or a shift in a song. It could be the sight of someone else dancing, the pattern of a light, the feeling of the bass moving through my feet. I wait for this liquid feeling, the sense of being no longer just a body but a moving, bending collection of parts within a larger collection of parts, unseen and yet accepted.
Part of the thing I love about the physical experience of clubbing, though, is that even though you yourself become part of something larger, it is not one undifferentiated event. There are many intimacies and many stages on the way from empty dance floor to full dance floor, and all those that surround it. There are parts when you will dance alone. There are parts when your friends will hold you. There are parts when you may dance with sadness or tiredness or out of the automatic sensation that to dance through these emotions will dispel them. There are the conversations, the melting of the hours, the leaving into crisp night or morning.
Before Sunday, the last time I was in a club I stayed in it for seventeen hours. It was Sunday then, too, or a Saturday bleeding into Sunday. Inside was dark, cool, the music overwhelming. Hours later the inside dance floor closed, and we emerged blinking into a sunlit dance floor outside, as if it was magic—a new place, the light hot on our faces, everyone giddy at the change in pace. In between, countless intimacies, countless movements, our phone pedometers telling us we had danced our way over miles, and we felt like it. It was one of my more memorable clubbing experiences: one I remember for conjuring the belief as if years had passed, like a fairytale where you emerge into a changed land.
It reminded me of the first time I went clubbing, in the period when the pandemic restrictions had started to ebb. I had missed it so much, but I was still a little reluctant to return. However, having just recovered from being sick and figuring that I was about as protected against it as I would ever be, I went anyway, not sure how I would find it. I wondered whether there would be fear, avoidance of crowds, a wary atmosphere. I was worried I may have forgotten how to move, how to be. But it turned out that everybody was so happy, and it wasn’t long before I lost myself in the ungraceful motions of my limbs, losing myself in the crowd the way I had come to love over the years as if it had never gone away, even though crowds had been terrifying for a while. Having felt alone through so much of COVID-19, it felt like returning home.
On that recent Sunday, I went to the club and wanted to feel like I was coming home, but I was dancing through a sadness that currently lives in me. I didn’t want the music to end, but then, sometimes it does. Even in the joy I felt an absence on the dance floor. I tried to ask my friend if they felt it too. Did they feel their own absence of another person who used to be there, moving in boneless synchronicity, losing themselves in tandem with your losing of themselves? The music was too loud, I am not sure if they heard me, but in the asking I realized my answer anyway. The spaces around us on the dancefloor are always filled with the ghosts of people and movement—some happy, some less so—as well as the communion with music, with light, with liquidity.