Monday, March 01, 2010

Dancing Around the Issue

Because New York is a city where things like this happen, and because I cannot say no to things that give me access to any subculture that could've appeared on Louis Theroux's Weird Weekends, and because Sunday night is the time of the week when both unexpected invitations and an abundance of sequins could be considered therapeutic, I found myself at a ballroom dance competition at the Roosevelt Hotel last weekend.

The hotel itself was a trip. I've rarely been in a place decorated with that much marble where I wasn't required to genuflect before sitting down. It was the kind of hotel where I secretly hoped someone would think I was a hooker while I waited in the lobby for my friend, then realized they wouldn't because I wasn't classy enough to be the kind of hooker their guests would call, which made me all the more excited to be there. I wanted to order a Manhattan. There were no waitresses and I don't even know what's in a Manhattan, I just wanted to order one.

It was the kind of setting that made me wish I was a girl who can pull off hats.

The competition was in the ballroom, obviously, and we had seats at a table right on the edge of the dance floor. There were moments when couples rhumba-ed so close members of our party were hit by flying ruffles. The dancing was unreal, particularly the professional routines at the end which trod the (heretofore invisible to me) line between gymnastics and soap opera, but I was way more interested in the way the female dancers looked. Bizarre bedazzled gowns and all their strange cut-outs aside, these women were bronzed far past medium rare and into well done. Their hair was shellacked to their scalps with glitter hairspray and exploded into a ramen bowl of faux curls in the back. Stripes of rouge approximated eye black more than a healthy glow. I suspect there were even some teeth coated in Vaseline. I have no idea how to even begin describing the eyeshadow, except to ask if you’ve ever swirled a couple of colors of Play-Doh together and then rolled it out.

The more couples that danced, the more curious their uniformly eccentric style seemed. If you’re going to dance a waltz I can understand wearing either a regular formal dress or, if we’re gonna be authentic, something redolent of the period when the dance originated. But where did the feathered, gathered, sequined, open-backed, ruffled, fluorescent pink rayon floor-length gown come from? Why did they have to be so made up? Why the tan? I understand that even competitive, really athletic ballroom dancing is descended from something genteel and formal and black tie mandatory, but glitter? In your hair? That is fake?

Even though the dancers were actually lovely, they didn’t look beautiful. This is the thing I liked the best about it: I was watching a bunch of whirling grotesques who looked like they felt beautiful, and they danced beautifully. Even better: even though I’d worn my one pair of heels and a dress and fancy tights and (relatively) reasonably applied cosmetics, I was the outlier if you measured me against the standard of the room. I don’t dress up often and always feel kind of like a failure when I do. To show up to a room where the target I proverbially miss wasn’t even on the same field as the one these women were shooting for was a thrill.

Not to belabor a cultural phenomenon so overripe you have to make banana bread out of it, but this is kind of the same reason I’m a Snooki defender. It’s easy to make fun of the way she dresses and the way she looks, but what’s the point when she has achieved hot-as-fuck-itude on her scale and has more fun than most people I know as a direct result?

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about being beautiful because I’ve been feeling generally un-; this has nothing to do with anything besides the tidal nature of my confidence. Sometimes it’s way high up on the beach, but that means occasionally it’s also low enough to walk out on a sand spit. I’ve been wading in one of those moods where my peripheral involvement in Fashion Week and the requisite hundred accusations that I am ruining a photograph and need to move actually sting. And getting Kennedied (the verb for someone telling me I remind them of the old VJ, which happens with disturbing frequency) isn’t funny, it’s depressing. No, not even depressing, really (if anyone leaves me any confidence-bolstering comments I’ll die of embarrassment, so maybe I shouldn’t be putting this on the internet, but also, MY BLOG, MY RULES). To have attention called to your appearance frequently with a comment so neutered is purgatorial.

Confidence and the way stuff goes with guys is so tangled together for me it’s like pulling one necklace out of a jewelry box and having a snarl of ten emerge. It was my last Kennedying that made me decide to hang up my dating hat, at least for a little while, even though it was one of the best bar interactions I’ve ever had.

My roommate Jes and I decided several beers at our favorite bar were in order after a particularly brutal Monday a few weeks ago. She had come straight from work; I was wearing a crappy sweatshirt and my hair in its customary pile on top of my head. We were watching ice dancing. I didn’t even notice when the dude sat down next to me. I don’t know when we started talking. Somewhere between spinning Slavic couples I was Kennedied, yes, but so good-naturedly I didn’t mind. It was one of those moments where you end up talking to a stranger with such familiarity they feel like a room you could navigate in the dark. We made fun of each other for two hours—interrupted only to make fun of other people—and when I suggested we introduce ourselves he insisted it was cooler if we didn’t. I knew he and his friends were in town from Cincinnati for a few days, so he christened himself Cincinnati A. He knew Jes and I were roommates, so I was Roommate A.

Cincinnati and I bullshitted until his friends got bored with us somewhere around 3:00 in the morning and they left. In some Lost-style sideways reality, I probably should’ve married that guy. But in this right here right now, it wasn’t anything more significant than an unexpected gain toward nothing in particular. I prefer this to my endless fixation on the shit I’m missing. Two hours of stranger banter so perfect it’s like David Mamet co-wrote that episode of my life is way more valuable than a repeat with some guys whose names AND numbers I know.

To spread the metaphorical butter super thin, I think I’m forfeiting the goal of Fashion Week beautiful in pursuit of ballroom dancing beautiful. But not in terms of beauty, in terms of life. At least for now. Feeling less than lovely? Declare a romance moratorium, treat bar conversation like chess instead of flirtation, feel victorious when I win it. Writing projects are pointless? Get an acoustic guitar, remember more chords than I thought I did, feel victorious when Taylor Swift covers sound recognizable.

Perform them for the dogs.

Revel in copious tail-wagging.


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