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Monday, May 31, 2004

God is a dancer

I used to go out to a local dance club every weekend that I was not traveling somewhere. From 11:00 Saturday night until 2:00 Sunday morning I would be hovering on the edges of the dance floor, sometimes watching, sometimes dancing. It was part of a program of diet, exercise, and forced socialization that I was putting myself through.

I would usually start off the night at one of the three bars that stood on the outskirts of the dance floor. I would order three beers, usually Yuengling lagers, drink one of them as I stood there, and then walk off with the other two to be consumed within the next half-hour. This would be my allotment for the night, enough to produce a short-term buzz but not enough to cause inebriation - for me, anyway.

After finishing the beers, my normally powerful social inhibitions would start to drop temporarily, and I would find myself less afraid to actually get out onto the dance floor. Besides, standing around the outskirts of the dance floor without a beer or a cigarette in your hand you tend to look like a hyena watching a herd of okapi walk by - eyes filled with a mix of hunger, desire, and trepidation. Out on the dance floor, you become one of the dancers.

I never really considered myself one of the dancers. A dance club is a sort of temporary community. The same people tend to show up week after week. Relationships exist between them, and hierarchies of the dance floor spring up. I knew some of the regulars in an offhand way, but never knew their names - except for Lori, who had thoughtfully tattooed her name on her upper arm. There was Lori and her crew - Lori with a tongue stud, thick-soled saddle shoes, and, I would later find out from a mutual friend, severe diabetes and a very bad back. There was the little guy with the bright eyes and shaved head, who on my very first visit to the club invited and commanded me to dance as I stood twitching on the very edge of the floor - he would later become a regular D.J. there. Then there was Crazy Girl, with her Bride of Frankenstein hair, her reckless dancing, and her recognized and respected aura of unapproachability; and her friend Happy Girl, with a less rambunctious dance style and a Jane Krakowski-esque smile on her face at all times. In my eyes, Crazy Girl was the Queen, and the night did not begin until she and Happy Girl took to the floor.

There were others. I never really considered myself to be on their level. But, by virtue of my being on the dance floor, and my willingness to dance, I was one of them.

I loved the place. After a long week of doing the things that I do at work, it was pure pleasure to let the lights and the sounds and the dancing wash all the residue from my synapses, to let me face another week renewed and refreshed. To someone who has never been a part of the dance on the dance floor the throbbing beats and strobing lights may seem meaningless, but to a dancer, these stimuli reach deep into the brain and grab something primitive and fundamental. (The term I'm reaching for is "photic driving", but I can't find a good reliable reference for this online; finding one is left as an exercise for the reader.)

Some of the songs got to me. My favorite was a dance remix of Sneaker Pimps' "Spin Spin Sugar". But one night...

It was getting along late in the night, probably after 1:00 AM, and the dance was in its full frenzy: there would be no breaks, no pop-dance tunes to appeal to the General Public, nothing but pure solid dance until the closing "couples only" ballad played at 1:59. And a song began: "This is my church...This is where I heal my hurt..."

My brain was already in an altered state, and not just from the three beers I had consumed two hours earlier. Dancers perceive sounds and music differently from non-dancers, and for dancers with synesthesia, the experience is again something else. Lyrics tend to interfere with the direct visual appreciation of sound and sonic appreciation of vision, but sometimes the words insinuate themselves into the experience in a way that actually enhances it. My mind spun these words, almost in an act of hypnagogic woolgathering. In an hour I would be leaving for home, an hour after that I would be in bed, and six hours later I would be getting up to go to church with my grandmother at the chapel in the nursing home where she was still a patient (this was a few months before she died.) But, in a sense, this was my church, this was the place where I came to heal my hurt.

My brain was still spinning these webs of thought while the song played on, and I only caught one more line, and incorrectly at that: "Tonight, God is a D.J."

I've always had a hard time hearing lyrics. Sometimes the lyrics that I imagine for a song are more profound than the actual lyrics themselves (as I discovered when I read the lyrics to Stone Temple Pilots' "Plush" for the first time.) In this case, the misheard lyric was "Tonight, God is a dancer."

(The song, by the way, is "God Is A D.J." by the band Faithless - thank you, Google. Not to be confused with the more recent song of the same title by Pink.)

I know a little bit about the Hindu pantheon, and I know that one of the manifestations of Shiva is as a cosmic dancer, whose dance (I think) creates the cosmos. I don't remember if this thought entered my mind at the time.

Instead, what I saw in my momentary confabulation was this: God, in his Catholic/Christian manifestation as a big old guy, minus the triangular halo, having taken a spot among the dancers on the dance floor. I think I might have been thinking a little of Joan Osborne's "One Of Us" (with its moving but grammatically incorrect theme of "What if God was one of us?"). And then details took place: God's hair and beard were scraggly and unkempt. His face was weatherbeaten, and his limbs were long and lanky, and he stood a bit taller than most - say a Douglas Adams-ish six-and-a-half feet tall. He was dressed in a three-piece suit of a 1960's style and a shade of green midway between lime and moss, darkened with long use and threadbare in places. And he danced in an idiosyncratic style, raising each knee to his chest in a sort of exaggerated stork-walk, arms flailing all the while. (Hey, who am I to criticize the creator of all things on his personal appearance, fashion choices, or dance style?)

This was years before I had ever watched Kevin Smith's Dogma, in which God is seen (briefly) in the guise of an old homeless man, gazing out at the sun rising over the ocean from the boardwalk on the New Jersey shore while smiling and humming Beethoven's Ode To Joy. But I think the image is the same: not an angry, wrathful, or vengeful God who allows planes to crash into skyscrapers because a bunch of liberals and feminists and homosexuals have pissed him off, but a God who is pleased with his creation, and is still participating in it.

The image, of course, passed, though I kept it rolling around in my mind for a while, savoring its nuances. I don't know how this image squares with my personal religious beliefs. I don't particularly believe in a personified creator God, no single entity who sits in a throne with a big white beard and a triangular halo on his head. But if such a God does exist, I hope maybe sometimes he comes down to Earth and joins the dancers on the dance floor. There'll always be a spot for him there.

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