"Some of the dancers are on drugs and enter the discotheque with the radiant faces of the Magi coming to the Christ Child; others, who are not, enter with a bored expression, as if this is the last thing they want to do tonight. In half an hour they are indistinguishable, sweat-stained, ecstatic, lost. For the fact was drugs were not necessary to most of us, because the music, youth, sweaty bodies were enough...We lived for the music, we lived for the Beauty, and we were poor. But we didn't care where we were living, or what we had to do during the day to make it possible...There was a moment when their faces blossomed into the sweetest happiness, however -- when everyone came together in a single lovely communion that was the reason they did all they did; and that occurred around six-thirty in the morning, when they took off their sweat-soaked T-shirts and screamed because Patty Joey had begun to sing: "Make me believe in you, show me that love can be true."
-- excerpts from "Dancer From The Dance" by Andrew Holleran (1978 William Morrow and Company, Inc.)
IV. A DANCER FROM THE DANCE
The history of house music and dance culture, indeed all history, is really a remix of opinions, experiences and facts. Things are forgotten, facts are embellished, events may be invented or exaggerated, and the past is continually reworked to fit the needs of the present. What is the truth? That depends on the experiential perspective and motives of the person who is telling the story and his or her relation to the "facts." That's why I thought I'd begin this excursion with a brief description of the person I was when I entered the world of dance in the '70s.
In the last issue I tried to describe the winds of change that were sweeping through America in the '60s and '70s. I was an active participant in all this. Politically I was part of what was then called the "New Left" and was a student organizer and participant in the anti-war movement. Used to carry a tear-gas mask to all the protests...and often a helmet to ward off the police batons. Che Guevara was (and still is) one of my heroes. In addition I was very active in the human and civil rights struggles of the times and did a lot of grass-roots organizing around the country and wrote for a number of alternative press publications.
I grew up in a conservative, all-white suburb in Pennsylvania where my politics and life-style choices were not at all appreciated. So I left home when I was 16 and from that point on I funded my education and other needs with my brains and body. Various academic scholarships got me through to my Ph.D.; for the food and shelter I did some conventional and unconventional things, some best not mentioned here, including dancing as a go-go boy at various NYC clubs. At any rate I developed over the years a love for the culture of the streets and much compassion for the poor and oppressed. Further I was involved in many experimental communal living situations with diverse groups of people.
My mother was a violinist with a symphony orchestra and she wanted me to follow in her footsteps. Thus, I started studying violin and music in the second grade. Loved the music and training but, as kids are wont to do, I took up my own passions and interests, learned percussion and guitar, and then played in a rock band for a time (one of the members of the band went on to cut three "glam rock" albums in NYC). I was also introduced to jazz dance music by my grandmother, who had been a "flapper" in the '20s; Latin music and in particular salsa by my mother who loved the stuff; and blues by a black boyfriend. And, importantly, early on I acquired a great passion for funky Motown and other "soul" music.
Sexually I was all over the spectrum ( I have a daughter), but when I came to NYC I enthusiastically embraced the growing gay liberation movement and became more self-identified as "gay" than "bisexual" although these days I would prefer to think gender is just one of a number of qualities that make one person attractive to another (this lesson I learned in the early rave scene). But this was the '70s and sexuality was a very political thing. And NYC was a sexual Disneyland for a gay kid from the suburbs. My sexual and emotional tastes are also pretty diverse and I have a strong attraction to people of color. My partner in life (an artist and photographer) for over twenty years is Hispanic.
I've always had a hard time fitting into any particular scene or subculture. I came NYC a street-wise, gay-identified, leftist student radical. I have never been into glitzy, "I am here to be seen," up-town scenes preferring the honest sweat of the dance to high end cologne (I'm allergic to that stuff anyhow).
So I didn't fit with the Lacoste shirts and designer jeans crowd. Or, later on, the "Saturday Night Fever" crowd with the polyester shirts and platforms. And I had developed, concurrently, a deep interest in the growing punk scene and spent lots of time at CBGBs, the Mudd Club and such. So I ended up developing a persona that put together my interests and fetishes, as it were, that visually comprised a package that got me into most places and didn't require a varied wardrobe and the construction of multiple personalities.
For example, I liked gender-bending looks so I had a Mohawk hair cut with hair dyed pink, piercings, and I would wear black boots, a leather skirt that I had cut into strips like a Roman soldier's and painted, black stockings of various types, and a black leather jacket with much decoration. This look was good enough to get me into places like Studio 54 when I wanted (place WAS worth doing), but it was much more suited to the sweaty, sexy, "off-off Broadway" venues which I preferred...and where the music was really hot and innovative.
So this was "Apollo" in '70s NYC. I'm providing this background up front because there will inevitably be questions about my involvement with subcultures and music that most white kids from the 'burbs did not experience. By sweeping this away at the beginning I don't have to explain later on why I spent so much of my time dancing at black and Hispanic gay clubs, or how I happened to get to know some of the seminal DJs and producers in the house scene like Larry Levan and Frankie Knuckles. And you know something about the heart and soul of the observer who is about to take on this body-jacking journey.