Yesterday, for no particular reason I can think of, I remembered how my best friend in college danced. It was a whole thing; he became quietly famous — or infamous, perhaps — for the way he did it in the local clubs, and people would occasionally come up to him to ask, with a mixture of caution and excitement, if he was really the guy they’d been hearing about. (He was, he’d admit, with a similarly complicated mix of pride and embarrassment.)
It wasn’t a John Travolta in Saturday Night Fever situation, I want you to understand; it wasn’t that he danced with such grace and skill that crowds parted and encircled him, in awe of his moves on the dancefloor. Instead, it’s that, when he danced, he did so with such passion that it was unmistakable, and somewhat hypnotic — he swung himself around the dancefloor with complete conviction, arms flailing and with a face that was part anger, part pleasure, as if the music had taken him somewhere else entirely and he was powerless to resist. It really was a sight to see.
This wasn’t the case with every song, of course; there were some where he’d just move like the rest of us, all anxious and uncertain late teens and early-20s with a self-consciousness and a desire to be noticed by the right people for the right reasons that overwhelmed everything else in our movements. (Oh, the nervousness that was going out at that age, all the hope and need hidden inside our very bones…!)
But with certain songs, with certain bands — the ones he felt the kind of love for that you can only feel at that age, as if their lyrics are speaking the words you could never quite manage to come up with yourself — he was a sight to see, and seemingly unstoppable as he lost himself in the music. Looking back a quarter century(!), I realize that I’m glad I was there to see it as it happened.