Preppy New England propriety and dancing in Minneapolis


Recently I went to Bunkers’ Bar to hear a band and have a glass of wine. I don’t often go to bars. It may be part of aging and the lack of sleep after alcohol. It may be my new self-consciousness in unfamiliar places. It may be that I have mistakenly believed I would not like the music. A man from the building where I live plays drums in the Belfast Boys so we went across the street to hear him.  What I have been missing! The music was great, the drink was just right and there was everyone and every configuration of couple out on the dance floor: old, young, women together, singles dancing to the music, large, slim, Mohawks and hair my mother would have approved of. I did not dance and that did not matter.

I was raised to be vigilant about what the neighbors think. My mother and father cared deeply about how we behaved, how we performed, how we dressed and how we conformed. This essentially meant that we were not to make a scene, draw attention or challenge the upper class norms of our suburban Connecticut neighborhood. While I rebelled against much of their politics and beliefs I have never shaken a fear of looking disheveled or appearing drunk, or offending some unwritten rule of propriety. I am acutely aware of how I come off, how I move, how I appear, or how I sound. Yelling at games was frowned upon although my father yelled at the TV and he yelled when he took me to a Giants Dodgers match up when I was eight, and Willy Mays hit two homeruns. Wearing tight clothes was met with disdain, long hair on men was met with anger and table manners were scrutinized carefully. I know how to do preppy New England, and there are times I have been grateful for that.  Yet I wish I did not watch myself so carefully.

I wish I could dance like the man at Bunkers in a white hat. He was slim and in his sixties. He wore jeans and a light colored shirt. His hat was broad brimmed and appeared to be made of straw. Before the music started he drifted among the tables, saying little, never sitting. He watched the guitarist set up, the singer test the microphone. He disappeared behind me and I caught his slim glide across the darkened room off and on. When the music started, he did too. He went right below the stage and began to move, turning and twirling and keeping the beat at the same time. What struck me about him was his obliviousness. He never ran into anyone yet he seemed to be totally in his own world. A woman and a man joined him and others as the floor filled. Song after song, some ballads, some rock, called for shift in pace, slowing down, speeding up. The man in the white hat danced with himself to each tune. While couples clung to each other for the love-gone-bad songs, and twirled and dipped and rolled their hips for the hard rock where- have- you been- hanging- out songs, the man in the white hat danced between and around them all. He liked that space in the very front of the room, just below the band. It seemed as if he wanted to absorb the actual music into his body, as though he could crawl inside it if he stayed close enough. For an hour and a half he stayed there, not sitting or taking a break, not drinking, not speaking.

In an instant he left. I did not see him actually walk away.  Yet when I looked out the window where smokers leaned against the wall to have their cigarettes, I saw him flit by. One moment he was there, the next he was disappearing down the sidewalk. Outside he looked almost frantic to get away, as though he had become his more customary self, his worried, anxious, even clumsy self. He was ephemeral to me, a ghost on and off the dance floor. Utterly lost and utterly found.

Perhaps we all have these two parts to us–or three or four. Perhaps we were all raised to be careful of our image, of how we project to the world. Perhaps it is music that lets us escape that once in awhile, lets us be the lonely dancer, the sexy lover, the agile and coordinated figure we dream about. For me, to be transformed for a time from the girl who learned to curtsey when her teachers walked by, to the one who raises her voice in argument when she feels strongly, who moves her hips when the song dictates it, or who does not care how she looks on a Friday night at Bunkers’ when she sways to the music, is to claim autonomy. The man in the white hat claimed this. The two women who wrapped their arms around each other during the slow songs claimed this. The woman with the tattoos and spiky hair claimed this as she moved through the spotlight with her long -haired boy friend.

While I did not join them, their ease and lack of self –consciousness released something in me. The man in the white hat more than any of them, made me realize that all my dancing when I have my studio to myself, and in my living room where no one is watching, makes me kin to him. Who knows, maybe next time at Bunkers’ I will join him on the floor where we will each be free to be moving in our separate worlds to the same music.