Dancing in the dark. It’s so beautiful. I heard about it back in Melbourne, where it was born (and so was I), and just kept not going because I felt too shy to go on my own. In Berlin I signed up for the No Lights No Lycra facebook page and waited for them to organise an event but they never did. Finally last Tuesday the old Ukrainian Community Hall in South Brisbane with its solemn Cyrillic listings in gold of every president since 1949 and its overpowering fake floral stench from the immaculate brown-tiled bathrooms downstairs came through for me and truly delivered. A girl in a slouchy beanie stood bopping on the pavement, holding an envelope. “You here for No Lights?” She slipped my five dollars inside her envelope and pushed the door wide. “C’mon in, we’ve just started.”
Inside the dim foyer were big double doors. I went through. The darkness bloomed all around me like mould, soft and plentiful. Oh, the delicious sound, oh, the song I had not heard in so many years and which swept me away like laughing salt water. The song took me by the throat because I used to love it, in the day, the day when days were nights and I was only waiting for the soft darkness to fall. I remember driving to a club I loved and smiling at the doorman whom I knew from a Government lecture at Uni and who never charged me, and just falling onto the dancefloor and dancing until I had to go to the bathroom, until I needed a drink, until they closed. The dancefloor was tiled in black and white and I was very often the only one on it. I didn’t care. Alcohol helped me to get there. A man said to me once in a park, I know you! You were dancing at the club and you smiled at me. But I hadn’t even seen him, I was smiling at god. I was god. The music was everything.
In the darkness the first song made me dance and very quickly the dancing made me cry. I remembered all the times I had wanted to dance and couldn’t. I realized: nobody can see me! I’m invisible. I’m hardly here. I felt the hot freedom pouring like molten sand through me and through me, like glass, a kind of tide of revelation, only me in this full space, me and the lyrics, me and the bass. And as I realized the extent to which I always feel observed, counted, and noticed, and to which I hinge and hem myself, and won’t let myself go, it all got too much and I started to cry. The crying lasted only a moment, a long moment, then the next song took me in its arms and I got this big broad grin across my face, a grin that almost hurt, that lasted several songs before it disappeared without my noticing it.
By the time that boring song came up I didn’t care, I was dancing. My feet came up towards my chin, I flung my shoulders like a bird. I shuffled forward between the blurs. Ever so slowly as my eyes arrived I could make out through the teeming darkness people in a trance of dance, their arms flung up, their heads hanging low. People hopping, jumping, one woman just strutting in a long walk back and forth from one pillar to the next, making a shadowy sashay. Just for herself. She didn’t need to be anything, do anything. Everybody looked absorbed in their own element. I was dancing. We could not make each other out except to keep from colliding. Somebody laughed. Somebody set up a clap and its contagion caught across the wide old hall.
I noticed the second Tuesday something that felt really familiar in me but which I had never consciously seen before: that a lot of the time my dancing involves throwing myself slightly off-balance, so the dancing is more like a falling, a forever falling. Just in time I catch myself, I stave off the floor, I rescue me.
Spun on the spot like a floss I faced the back. The thread of light under the double doors and upright in between them reflected dully on the dim floorboards, resembling an upside-down cross. At the end of every song we grew still and soon another song started. Some were from the 70s, 80s, some were woven by machine. I went out to get cool air under my shirt and let the sweat roll between my breasts and pool in the tiny belly button cave and run down my arms; the night breeze struck me like a soft tree, ineffably; across the road in the old church hall a dozen drummers had set up a racket, independently, a rhythm, they sounded like they were conducting ceremony rather than just rehearsing. I walked round the hall and peered in on them before plunging back into the throbbing, dancing dark. “Last song!” she cried and everybody whooped. At the end of the hour a small light went on up the front and people gathered along the side bench for their bags. As we left two by two or singly or in threes the girl with the beanie was there, gallantly holding back the door, greeting everybody the same: “Nice work, ladies.” Only then as the street trees dipped over the road tropically did I parse the vision I had seen but not really noticed, when the lights came on: these people are all women – it is us who dance, it’s we who want an hour off from being seen, we are here to hold our freedom in our mouths like berries too many to swallow, the jaw dislodges and the voice unhinges and juice rolls fatly and purply downhill, over the hills and valleys of me. Of you, who is me.
I opened all the windows and drove silent home. Thinking about a man who courted me by visiting with drugs. Who used to ply me with pot and I always accepted it and we would talk about music for hours, hours and hours and hours, maybe playing one song over a third, a fourth, a sixth and seventh time to see through the weave. He said to me, When you perform, remember: it’s all in the approach. It’s in the way you walk over to the guitar. I nodded, I had no idea what he might mean. And I got up and danced, irresistibly, through my own house like a thicket of books and ideas dense and shifting like sleeping cattle swaying upright, he loved to watch and I didn’t care, I let him, I’d forgotten him, and once I danced up in a sprung crouch onto the kitchen sink, under the taps, flicking the wall with my flat hands, I played the house like my instrument, I ran out on the verandah and threw my head back my mouth open where the rain poured down from the broken gutter and that night when I came in again and the song had ended my suitor was lying back in his chair, looking very grave, his long fingers a tent, and he said, “Yeah, I know you got the voice, like I said; I realize that you’re this big poet and all. But in my view: you are more yourself in the dance than in any other form.”