Thursday, February 24, 2005

Paradigms and Dirty Old Men

In case you haven't noticed by now, I love swing dancing. If I don't get my weekly "fix" of dancing, I don't function very well. So each Thursday I make it a point to go to the University of Utah Swing Kids club. I've been doing it for years now. It's free, it's fun, they have lessons, and it's a great way to get some exercise and let off steam. This story is not about that.

Every once in a while, I will go to the Murray Arts Centre to dance. Either I am for some reason unable to get to Swing Kids, or Swing Kids skips a week on account of some holiday, or I just feel like I need a double hit for the week. So the MAC (as it's called) is a decent dance spot on Saturday nights. It only costs $6 a person, and there are two buildings to choose from.

First you've got the old person place, where they've usually got a live band playing slow music and average age is probably about 50 years old. This is where the cute old couples go: the ones who love to dance romantically with each other and are finally old enough to have time to do whatever they want.

Then you've got the Hatchery. Average age is probably about 17 years old. Average song is about 5 years old. They have a D.J. who does his/her honest best to find good swing dance music and at the same time appease their constituency. Nevertheless, each week they must endure requests of Santana, Christina Aguilera, and even the Boot Scoot 'n Boogie. (shudder). This is where the good kids go, who want something to do on a Saturday night, who don't care for the drug-and-party scene, and who are finally old enough to have a car to go wherever they want.

I don't really fit very well in either place, but I generally stick to the younger crowd when I go there. And I suppose, technically, you could go to both buildings, but nobody does...

Nobody, that is, except the D.O.M.

Nobody knows for sure where he comes from. Maybe he has a perfectly normal house, and he drives to the MAC in a perfectly normal car. Some say he got married recently, and that his wife abuses him. Who knows? One way or another, it seems that he starts out by going to the old person place, and then meanders over to find fresher meat. He wanders around the sides of the dance floor, watching for the perfect opportunity. Then, he sees it: The song ends, and some poor, cute girl is momentarily vulnerable. For one brief instant, she is neither in the protected territory of an interested boy, nor surrounded by the impenetrable bubble of her friends. She is apart: alone in a sea of faces. As she smiles and nods a goodbye to her former suitor, the girl steps back and turns around to find herself face to face with the D.O.M. She barely has the chance to wonder how he managed to appear there, and then to realize he is looking at her, when he opens his old, wrinkled mouth and utters that powerful phrase. Coming from the mouth of the good, the young, and the attractive, this phrase can ring out in the sweet, sonorous tones of elfin tongue. But here, tainted, as if from the mouths of Tolkein's own orcish horde, and with the sudden and compelling force of a flash flood, come the words, "Wanna dance?" Like a rabbit in the headlights, she is frozen. A murmur escapes her lips and her head absently bobs a nod. Gone are the years where she would say "no" to whomever she felt like, and yet she has not yet learned that sometimes it is okay to politely decline. So again, she is in limbo, caught between the points of safety and unable to escape that awful age of uncertainty. And he takes her, and he dances with her--not sensuously enough that she can justify getting angry with him, but just close enough that she is always uncomfortable. And she is stuck there.

One of the more chivalrous things a guy can do at the MAC is to figure out who the D.O.M. has picked as his next target and preempt him. If he's really bold (i.e. if she's really pretty), he might even steal a girl away from the D.O.M. mid-dance.

And this is how life has been at the MAC for ages untold. It's accepted. Nobody's ever considered any other way. But I was thinking the other day, what if somebody went up to that Dirty Old Man and asked to talk with him? And then what if they sat down with him and explained all of this? What if they explained how uncomfortable he makes the girls here feel with the way he dances with them? And what if they explained that it's just not proper for a man his age to come and dance with girls their age? What if they talked with him and listened to him long enough to understand why he does it, and then convince him to stop? I would venture a wager that it has never been done. And why not? Indeed.

It's funny how we get so set in our ways, and how we just tolerate the status quo as long as it's tolerable. Isn't it strange that we can live in discomfort for years and never, ever think of a way to change things? We can get jobs and work hard and get raises and marry and have kids and die. Those are all paths that have been tread long before us. The way has been worn and cut into the rock so deep that it seems impossible to escape. Those who try are pushed back by the stone walls that we've cut around ourselves, or pulled back by the river of a people too busy to move aside long enough for someone to get a foothold. Much of the time, all we can do is exhaust ourselves clawing at the edges, picking away a piece of sediment here and there, but mostly just bruising and scraping our own fingers.
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