Welcome to the world of DISCO a la Mode – the academy of dance for the everyday queer.
What we’re offering you tonight, in three easy lessons, is an up-to-date, down-to-earth, practical introduction to the kinaesthetic delights of Disco a la Mode. I’ll be your dance instructor this evening and before we begin, I’d like to tell you a bit about who we are and what we do.
Unlike our rivals across town, we don’t tart up old latin ballroom dances and pass them off with upbeat disco names. No, we won’t be showing you the likes of the New York Hustle, the Boogie Samba, or the Disco Merengue.
If you’ve come tonight hoping to pick up a few moves to sweep a member of the opposite sex off their feet, I’m afraid you’ve come to the wrong place. And if you were hoping to line-up for the Bump, the Bus Stop, or another bit of disco-fied Bootscootin’ – you might want to ask yourself: have I come on the right night?
So – Disco a la Mode – what is it and where does it come from?
For years now, our team of researchers have been out there on the scene, note-books in hand. They’ve been trawling the dance floors, moving their feet to the beat, as they record every last move in the evolution of contemporary queer dance floor practice. Call it groovy, call it funky, call it what you like – we call it Disco a la Mode – which, roughly translated into Australian, means ‘Disco – the way that it’s done’
Hot off the dance floor, all the moves have been notated in detail, every variation categorised and cross-checked. With such a repertoire at our disposal, we’ll be leaving the fancier moves for the more advanced class. What we offer you tonight is a distillation – three-easy lessons, as I was saying, in the basics of Disco a la Mode.
But enough talk for now. I know you’re itching to get up, get down, and get funky. So time to get out on the dance floor for Lesson Number 1.
The nice thing about the fundamentals, as we’ve observed them over the years, is that they are really very simple.
But there are two key principles we ask you to keep in mind. First is what we call ‘articulation to the beat’ – that is we like to dance in time to the music. Second is what we call ‘orientational flexibility’ – and we’ll talk more about that in a minute.
We’ll start off with what we call shifting weight. That just means you plant your feet about so far apart, and just shift your weight from one foot to the other – like so. Keep your knees flexible and let your hips lead you into each shift. That’s right.
Now, for fundamental number two, all we do is lift our feet and step on each beat.
You can even go for a little walk. And back again. Go for a little walk, and back again.
Now, you could spend all evening doing that, but for a bit of interest, we think it’s nice to add in a tap. Step and tap, step and tap. It’s simple, it’s easy, you’ve seen it before. But it’s a good dance floor staple that’s open to endless variation. You can step and tap to the front, like this. Or you can step-tap to the back, like that. You can even step and tap your way around a little circle.
So there you go – the freestyle fundamentals of disco a la mode. They’re great for sustaining yourself out there on the dance floor. Stick to the beat, move it around, and you’ll look just great. With the freestyle fundamentals under your feet, you can shift where you’re facing any time with ease, and you can move around the dance floor just as you please. This is what we mean by orientational flexibility. It’s great for scanning the door floor and checking out who’s there, for maintaining a cruise and for making a move, or just for pacing yourself over the long haul.
But time now for lesson number two.
When it comes to girly moves – or, as I prefer to call it, girly poofter dancing – there are two words to keep in mind: up and out. That’s up and out. Get it. We take everything up and out.
The best way to get a grasp on girly is to think straight-acting, and then do the opposite. We’re talking up and over the top arm gestures, hands that flap around, lightly articulated steps and step-taps, and, with the hips, we’re talking swish and sashay. If you really want to get into advanced girly you need to think big, think show girl, think drag queen. By all means, lip-sync along if you know the words, mime the sentiments with overwrought emotions, and otherwise camp it up by posing and pouting and create something of a drama with your dancing.
Let’s have a bit of a demo.
Now, girly poofter dancing is not for every gay man on the dance floor. We’ve observed it more often performed by the younger gay man, perhaps with his straight female friend, as a way of having fun on the dance floor and as a medium for demonstrating pop-cultural skills. For other gay men, girly may be an option, indulged in on occasions as an alterantive to a more serious style. Then there are men for whom girly is a style to define their dancing against. And those that do, have told me that they prefer a dance style which is, not suprisingly, more masculine, or a bit more macho. And here, I should add, that girly tends not be a style of dancing performed when gay men are cruising. Try it next time, I doubt that you’ll score.
No, if you’re looking for a dance style to use when you cruise, or just something that’s just a little more you, you might want to get on down to lesson number three.
There are a number of more masculine styles out there on the dance floor today. You’ve got your gym queens who pump their atheleticism with their pulled-down pecs, biceps flexed, and tighly clenched fists. You’ve got your leather men who like to get down and dirty, with their pelvis slung-low, shoulders rolled forward, and weight on their heels. And sometimes, if things are really going off, you’ll see stomping feet and punching fists, as others get into that tribal pumping feel and generate that male energy kind of stuff. But the most interesting alternative to girly by far is what we’ve called ‘a touch of cool’.
In contrast with girly, ‘a touch of cool’ is less up and out and more down and into it. It is inflected – as are the other more masculine styles – with a toughness that accrues around weight. It has a low sense of gravity, with weight on the heels, a restrained range of arm movements, either held contracted low or swung loosely at the side, and an upper body tilts, twists, and shifts – even hunkers down low. But in this style, you tend to hold back the hips. Keep it trim, keep it low-key, keep it cool.
Now it’s time for lesson number for four, and that means it’s over to you. Time to get up, have a dance, and show us your stuff. Who knows, one day your moves may become part of our repertoire.
But that’s it for tonight. I hope you’ve enjoyed our demonstration this evening. Come and see me if you’d like to sign up for our more advanced class. And remember – at disco a la mode, everyone’s a star!
Good night and keep dancin’!
Written and performed by Jonathan Bollen at the Imperial Hotel, Erskineville Rd, Erskineville, as part of Glam Vs Slam on 26 February 2001.