Look, I did my raves already, here. And I’ll fight anyone to the death who even dares to hint that Ruth and Jon and Judy didn’t just put on the greatest show on earth. But let’s get honest, now. There’s something missing, endemically, intrinsically, about the whole Bouchercon experience.
There’s no dancing.
Yeah, yeah, I can feel the skeptics of you out there going skeptical on me already, but trust me, this is leading somewhere you might just want to go.
Because of my confused genre identity, and because romance readers love them some ghost stories, I end up at a lot of romance conferences. And there is dancing there, oh, is there. No hangovers ever at an Romantic Times or RWA conference, because you just dance it right out. Great exercise, too – no one needs to bother with the gym at these things. And it’s great bonding. But there’s a major problem there, too.
Oh, well, there are the requisite half-naked beefcake cover models. And Barry Eisler. Unfortunately not half-naked, but simply working it.
But besides that – pretty testosterone-deprived.
It’s not that I don’t love dancing with three hundred women at a time. I do. It’s just that it’s not exactly… the same. I love women. I love men. But what I love most of all is women and men together, all variations, doing whatever they do, in all possible permutations.
My favorite advice columnist, Miss Manners, said that “Flirting is what adults do because they know it’s not practical or even desirable to have sex with everyone you’re attracted to.”
Well, that’s precisely the point with dancing, but with more full body contact. That’s what social dancing was invented for – the preservation of monogamy while maintaining healthy levels of fantasy promiscuity.
Social dancing is maybe the one thing that the sixties really screwed up, and I’m from Berkeley, where the sixties never died, so you know I wouldn’t say anything like that unless I really meant it. When people started to dance free-form, non-contact, by themselves (which is what tends to happen when you’re tripping) a whole way of life started to crumble. The sexual revolution had a lot to do with it. Men realized they were going to get sex anyway, so they didn’t have to go to the trouble of learning how to dance in order to get laid. And somehow women let them get away with it. But oh, the loss.
I’m sure it was fine in the seventies, when people were still sleeping with each other left and right. And in the eighties, before the dark age of AIDS and during the age of, well, cocaine.
But then suddenly rampant random sex was not happening any more. But when we lost the random rampant sex, we somehow didn’t go back to the socially sanctioned safe-sex substitute of dance.
Which leaves us – not screwed, but pathetically UNscrewed, I think is what I mean to say.
I haven’t been at this author thing that long, but my observation is that as a group, authors are overwhelmingly…
Married. And faithful.
And it’s a lovely thing – commitment, fidelity – I’m all for it. Cheating is bullshit.
But that doesn’t mean I don’t want a cheap feel from a friend – or an attractive stranger – once in a while. And social dancing used to make that not only possible, but pretty much mandatory.
Whoever invented compulsory social dancing really, really, REALLY knew what they were doing. Because within that context, you’re allowed to try out dozens, no, hundreds, even thousands, of different partners. Feel how they move, see if they have a sense of humor and sense of adventure, get a good taste of their passion or lack of, see if they’re generous or selfish, see if you FIT with them. All without saying a word.
And then even once you have your perfect partner (who may not be a great dancer at all, btw – that’s really not the point – you could laugh all the way through the dance of the four left feet and know at the end of it that you’ve found the love of your life) – you don’t have to give up all those other partners. You get them every weekend, all those hundreds and thousands of three-or-five-or-seven minute living fantasies, as long as you’re still able to stand.
What a perfect system!
Let’s apply this to our own situation for a moment.
Some of my favorite times at B’Con this year were with girlfriends, dishing about the guys. And the maybe couples – are they or aren’t they?
Yes, I know we were all there working it. But in the meantime, weren’t you, you know, looking? And thinking?
Is Marcus Sakey too young, or would you make an exception for his old soul? Why do so many women name Dr. Lyle as one of the sexiest men in the mystery community? Did anyone, ever, have a professor like Derek Nikitas in college, and if you did – well, did you? Can anyone’s voice shake you to the – uh – core – like Gary Phillips’? Wouldn’t you love to feel Ken Bruen’s soul in a dance the way you can reading him on the page? How many of the rest of you have secretly wished that Jim Born would just take out the damn handcuffs? This year especially, didn’t you just want to just line up the Brits? Or at least have them talk at you until you passed out? And how about those Teds, as we say in So Cal – the big, comfortable, easy guys you just want to curl up on… er, with… Brett, Rob, Dusty, Bill Cameron, Jason Pinter, Ali Karim?
JA Konrath, angel or demon?
And let’s not forget the agents and editors. I’d put Scott Miller up for a Men of Mystery calendar any day. Joe Veltre was looking mighty fine, and Lukas Ortiz is not only a hottie, but after a five-hour bike ride with him last year in Anchorage I can testify to his endurance. Marc Resnick is so sly and smart – and Eric Raab has that rock star soulfulness – could be Adam Duritz’s brother.
And speaking of brothers and rock stars – when we have two tall elegant brilliant Englishmen like Lee Child and Andrew Grant skulking about the proceedings – and they’re brothers? Or Michael Palmer, pere, and Daniel Palmer, fils, doing the rock star thing at ThrillerFest? I mean, this is better than twins, people. Doesn’t the mind run wild?
Talking about it is fun (Louise Ure and Lori Armstrong and Tasha Alexander and Christa Faust, I’ll dish with you any hour of any day). Talking to people is fun. But after 14 hours or so of it I’m talked out. When the lights get lower and the cocktails are flowing, I want more.
How breathtaking to have a socially sanctioned excuse to leave all that talking behind and simply step into someone’s arms. Repeatedly.
And I’m not talking about drunken groping. I’m talking about people being skilled enough at the LANGUAGE of dance to get out on the floor for three or four minutes and have a whole thrilling, surprising, funny, sexy, touching, mindblowing conversation – every bit as complicated as writing – through rhythm, through touch, through teasing, through holding back and then pushing through, anticipating and riffing on each other’s moves – all without a word. (Is this reminding you of anything? It should be.)
There’s that disconcerting feeling you get as a powerful, independent woman – to have to surrender to his hold. And how thrilling to find that he knows exactly what he’s doing. Yeah, it’s a little flustering that he as the lead is in ultimate control (I tell my male friends that men don’t really dance, they STEER) – but as the woman, or follow, you have any number of opportunities to change the game on him – to halt the step, to change the pattern and make him adjust to you, or just make him watch and know that everyone else in the room is watching while you seduce them along with him.
Dance is conversation to music, too. The music is really another partner, a whole dimension, as much a part of the experience as the person you’re with. If you listen to the great swing tunes, you’ll see that the music changes constantly within the song, from swing to rumba to mambo to, hell, a tap break. If you and your partner are on the ball, you can follow not just each other, but the different dances within a single song. And when you dance a lot, there are certain songs that you just crave to dance with a certain man, to see if he’s up to it. And if he isn’t, you could always dance it with someone else. Dancing doesn’t have to be just one-on-one. You can be dancing WITH someone – but dancing FOR someone else entirely, if you see what I mean.
Think about this for a moment. Let’s just imagine that you CAN dance, just like you can talk, because you’ve been in classes and at cotillion and social dances from the time you were eight, then on to the jazz clubs and Latin clubs, or shag or tango competitions – depending on where you’re from. You can speak dance as well as you speak – if not quite English, then French or Spanish or whatever you speak as a second language. Because that’s the way it used to be. Salsa, Rumba, Swing, Foxtrot, Samba, Lindy Hop, Waltz, Tango, Shag in the South… everyone spoke those languages.
(And let me tell you another thing – age means nothing in dance – it’s all about the conversation. I’ve been tossed in the air by high school kids and danced down a ballroom staircase with the then-85-year-old maestro Frankie Manning (pioneer of the Lindy Hop) and every experience is uniquely wonderful.)
Now, what if that was simply the thing that we all did – from nine or ten pm on?
That’s the way it used to be.
Do you get just a glimpse of what I’m talking about? Can you blame me for being a little nostalgic for that time of night when the talking was done, and a whole other level of communication opened up?
Oh, and the best thing? It’s understood: What happens on the dance floor – stays on the dance floor.
So, if you could…
Who would you want to dance with? At B’Con or Thrillerfest or LCC or wherever. And don’t even pretend you don’t know. Most of you probably have a whole list. Writers are the sexiest people around, and that’s just the truth.
So that’s the question for today. Who would you dance with? Truth or dare.
And if you don’t quite dare, is there something besides writing or reading that does you the way dance does me?