Our analysis of making music together has been restricted to what Halbwachs calls the musician’s music. Yet there is in principle no difference between the performance of a modern orchestra or chorus and people sitting around a campfire and singing to the strumming guitar.
– Alfred Schütz (1951)
All that is important is this one moment in movement. Make the moment important, vital, and worth living. Do not let it slip away unnoticed and unused.
– Martha Graham
Placing the bag on the floor, the ritual of the evening begins. The extra socks, the laces done up just right on the leather-soled shoes, an interplay of significant gestures to which your fellow can relate. Moving your foot up and down, twisting your ankle, adjusting the fit, the length of the lace, a smudge on the toe. A slide on the carpet to make sure before the main stage, and the safe and considered moment of preparation is over. Now to find a place to begin: your introduction to the evening, to be considered or, in flurried expectation, poured out upon the floor.
Watching the familiar movements on the dance floor as I stand on the edge, awaiting my turn, my first record, I understand the slight dip of a head, extension of a hand, a leg, a scheme of expression and interpretation that only the initiated understand. A lull, a clap, a moment for catching your breath. Those that do it out of turn stand out- sore thumbs in a harmonious movement. Both soothing and frightening at once, the fear of being found out, that you are only pretending and all the others are the possessors of true knowledge, of true experience, performers of truth in the shadow of your deception.
Then the record plays, the one that you have been waiting for but couldn’t guess. It moves you to move, from the seated sides into a space, to become part of the motion on and off. Simple steps, on double beats for a fast record, focusing on the smooth, the capable footwork of the in crowd: your debut performance for this particular audience. And it works. Those around you move into the in-between spaces, a harmonious ebb and flow of step and slide, a precommunicative social relationship that binds you into a kaleidoscope for those on the balcony above. The tentative first steps beginning to mature, to gain their rhythm and to feel the record reverberating around the space. Your head raises, your arms are more expressive, you look around and away from yourself to the arms and faces of others, dancing alongside you, a mutual tuning-in relationship, a connecting of bodies without contact or previous planning, yet years of evenings like this bind you to each other, to the music.
The second record blurs by. Familiar in instrumental yet not words. The third record following the expected breather breaks into rapid sound, bouncing off the walls, begging for the invention of new combinations, a step further than what has gone before. A record worth feeling sore tomorrow- a leg kick, a backdrop, a spin. It seems to be contagious as the limbs flail and the etiquette of the dance floor becomes harder to follow. A moment for giving it all you’ve got and for some their performance of the evening. Yet style persists, binding enthusiasm within an expected form, wrapping restrictions around your limbs, taming your imagined canon to slight adaptations, to continue the façade, the mask you have so expertly placed for the on-looking crowd.
The next record, introduced as ever but not ringing any bells. But it’s good. No, it’s amazing. What is it? A quick glance around to see who is mouthing the lyrics, some are but others look on with a similar mixture of rapture and frenzied movement, making the most of this discovery in the same world of sounds, to be enjoyed only too briefly before it crackles to an end. Titles guessed by repeated words, stored away on a phone or a mental note for searches later and YouTube records, filling a bedroom with an all too perfect rendition, a shadow of its dance hall self, missing the very language which creates music, the movement which makes it meaningful.
Another floor filler, the new record brings the evening’s full range of bodies to perform. It requires no introduction, yet the DJ mutters his familiar platitudes, hurried on by the unspoken yet palpable anticipation, evoked by a well-known record label displayed on the screens above the stage. Instrumental breaks are further broken by seemingly choreographed claps, the musical sign is nothing but instruction to the performer, a call to arms of the insider, identifying those who don’t quite know enough, responses too slow or retrospective, too early, too many. Another opportunity to be regarded as authentic, to become a pattern for others in their early negotiations of movement, music and knowledge. While the arm movements and additional steps set individuals aside from the masses, the specific scene dance style seems a meaningful entity, independent of those that channel the movements through it, tempering individual interpretation yet conferring upon those that can a membership, a shared understanding of what it means to belong.
On the dance floor, the two and a half minute records seem to last simultaneously forever and for a fleeting moment, suggesting a separation of reality from a dimension of inner time, given life in movement. A spin stalls the sand of time yet furious footwork pound away the minutes. Each second painstakingly ticks by from your seat around the edge, but on the dance floor all conventions of time seem to be kicked to the side during the revelry of the moment, leaving you sweating, gasping and wondering where it all went as the lights come up, yet within the moment it felt as though it would never end. Timeless moments within a music that defies all space and time to persist in the face of the digital, the subversive, the avant-garde.
In the whirling and stepping of leather bound feet, we dancers share in a flux of experiences, each rebelling against time to create an alternative moment within which the experiential is elevated above all else, shared within this liminal space as an experience of the ‘We’ of familiar faces and movements. While each song inspires different emotions and memories within the mind of the dancer, shared words, shared movements link us to each other in this timeless labyrinth of in-between spaces that we inhabit, briefly in reality but for eternity within that moment. Added to these memories and emotions is the knowledge of record names, labels, musicians, dates, venues, people, lyrics, breaks in tempo, instrumental interludes, moments for reprieve, moments that use up your last reserves, materialised through a series of events in the outer world. While wonderful in the act of doing, such slides of feet, movements of arms, jerks of the head seem a paltry and unworthy representation of all that knowledge and history, distilled down into a style which can be learnt over time on the edge and away from judging eyes: a worldly expression of an ethereal experience.
Through this music you feel released not only from the ticking clock on the back wall, but the expectations and experiences of twenty first-century life, waiting patiently beyond the venue door. A place where time stands stills, quickens up, and reverses serenaded by the crackles of a record within the alcoves of a dance hall, filmed by an iPhone for YouTube postings, all existing simultaneously in several dimensions of time. Bodies moving to a sounds that has inspired countless bodies to move, listening to sounds that have inspired countless people to listen and take note. Words written, spoken and sung by people long since dead or divided by place and time, memorialised in song and celebrated through dance. A motley gathering of music makers past, present and future, singing out the lyrics, stomping out the rhythm in the creation of music.
Glimpses can be made into the secret thoughts of others around, sharing in vivid present, the other’s stream of consciousness, far beyond that of considered movement but rather the expression of strands of self, moulded and made to fit within a common form, a form that binds us together within a staccato waltz.
We share the floor.
With thanks to Alfred Schütz for the odd word, here and there.