Foot Work

For a certain generation of gay men, we read with recollected pleasure set pieces that describe the collective and ecstatic experience of a night of dancing. Set pieces like the one below:

Twice so far that evening I’d arrived at that specific and desirable point in a night of hard dancing which I named “stepping into the box.” This was how Jeffrey and I had come to express that almost magical, seamingly impossible moment we’d both experienced and in search of which we drove ourselves onto the dance floor week after week. In laymen’s physics, it was that precisely perfect output of physical energy required to sustain a high degree of complex rhythm and motion without any apparent effort. In more Zen terms, it was the attaining of a certain point of mental and emotional abstraction and physical enervation in which our bodies ego-lessly, will-lessly, danced by themselves! Were danced! The effects were exhilarating, the intricate cross rhythms virtually levitating our bodies off the dance floor for periods of nine or ten seconds at a time. A friend had once filmed from the sidelines while we were in “stepping into the box,” and he reported that our feet did touch the dance floor, but only once for every six or seven times anyone else around us touched down.

From Felice Picano Like People in History (New York: Viking, 1995) pp. 338-339. I am totally with the Zen zone description where however the realism gives me pause is the levitation. Certainly the sense of soaring, of lifting and flying is resonant. But the never touching the floor for ten seconds at a time — trick of the film!? The aerial lightness just doesn’t jive for me with (the undescribed) pounding tramping beat. Still I want to believe that gravity somewhere is overcome even for a brief moment.

In another world (in a text published in 1982), a different, less exceptional view, makes the power of dance available to the reader — one that plays with the intertext of a children’s song (“Sur le pont d’Avignon”).

Dans un tel silence, on voit les ponts. C’est de nouveau relié: on sait que lire, c’est lier. On lit mieux encore: on voit que le pont est une trame de cordons infernaux. On voit la chaine aussi. On peut choisir de sauter, sauter, toujours plus haut, sur le pont, pour le défoncer.

Et quand ça défonce, on rit zen, on rit comme avant d’avoir oublié ce qu’est le rire. On tombe dans un autre étage du réel. On tourne, derviche tourneur, dans un autre monde.

From Yolande Villemaire Adrénaline as cited in Caroline Bayard The New Poetics in Canada and Quebec: From Concretism to Post-Modernism p. 92.

We are bound to the text by reading which in the French is related to binding (the anagrams “lier” and “lire” serve to underscore the point) and also to the simple notion (via etymology from the Latin lego) to a bringing together, a gathering, a collecting. So together we can jump ever higher (“sauter, toujours plus haut”) and once the bridge has been smashed we can accede to Zen laughter and twirl like dervishes.

And whirl we do… Almost like making the perfect liaison to thicken a sauce… It is reading as binding that brings me back to Picano remarking on a place in time.

None of us in the media, none of us in the so-called gay community that had developed in the decade since the Stonewall riot, seemed to have any real program for what we were doing. Naturally we had a public agenda: sodomy laws were to be repealed, discrimination was to be ended, all that. But in other, less defined, more ordinary, more social areas, we were experimenting with different things. This entire “gay” business was still so new, so unprecedented, how could we know what we were doing? We were just trying to do things right. Which meant not as heterosexuals did them, or perhaps not as our parents and teachers did them, and that sometimes meant being outrageous and sometimes meant being merely true to ourselves.

And now? Do we dance differently? Do we prepare sauces the traditional way? How is it that we are to read stomping and twirling and jumping and levitating? Beating and whisking?

And so for day 888

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