Updated: May 8, 2021
When I was 18, I came back to uni after Christmas to find that my plant had died. It was the first time – but not the last – that I had killed a house plant through neglect. I wrote a sort of eulogy for it in my journal about how I should have whispered to it reasons to stay alive before I’d gone home for the holidays as if that would have made a difference. It started with“love, starry nights, blue sky green grass summer days" and it ended by me telling it to, “live past the days of crying on the bedroom floor because on other days you’ll be dancing and you’ll be so happy…of course, pot plants, however, cannot dance.”
My journal, 2017.
Like most freshers, my first year of uni was punctuated with nights spent dancing til dawn so I developed a devout belief in the power of dancing to cure all ailments, to even be able to bring plants back from the dead. I can't pinpoint the exact moment when dancing became so important to me. I used to hate parties but I was obsessed with music the way most lonely teenagers are so I would pre-drink alone just to dance to the music I loved and that would be the highlight of my night. But I never thought I would be someone who liked dancing in public. I was too shy, too socially awkward, more suited to sitting in the corner people watching than taking over the dance floor. Visions of my lack of coordination reflected in gym class mirrors haunted me and I would have to be blackout drunk to shake off that self-consciousness.
At some point between swaying nervously in living rooms at small town house parties and dancing into the morning at sober raves, I started to love moving my body to music. Dancing became an antidote to my social anxiety rather than a cause. It's natural, mindless, free. It makes me think of the Henry Miller quote, "I too love everything that flows: rivers, sewers, lava, semen, blood, bile, words, sentences." Sitting in a big group of people my thoughts race at a mile a minute until we get up and dance and I can try to empty my mind for a while.
I got used to dancing in front of other people, but I never stopped loving dancing alone. I dance when I feel good. I dance when I feel bad. Lockdown renewed my energy for solo dancing. When I lived in London before the pandemic, my room was too small and it wasn't necessary when the city sprawled out with endless glittering dancefloors each weekend. I used to wake up on Saturday mornings with a hangover from dancing the night before but now Saturday mornings are when I dance; sober, happy, and alone.
It took a podcast and a newsletter to reassure me that I wasn't going crazy and that dancing alone is actually worthwhile and therapeutic. Last month I spoke to DJ Gabber Eleganza about rave culture and the importance of nightlife. Ahead of our phone call, I listened to a podcast he was on during which he was asked when he thought we would dance again. Instead of going down the mournful route of dwelling on the uncertainty of the pandemic, he talked about how we can dance right now, every day, whenever we want. It was comforting to hear that from someone for whom nightlife is worth obsessing over and building a career out of.
The second influence was Patti Smith, who wrote in her newsletter that she dances to doo-wop tunes when she's feeling low. I love the image of Patti dancing around her room at 74-years-old. She asked her subscribers to tell her what songs get them dancing and what songs make them cry. Sometimes people would comment that the same song could do both. Happy songs can fill us with bittersweet nostalgia. Sad songs can conjure cathartic joy. And when you dance to them alone there are no distractions so you can feel those emotions in all their beautiful fullness. They can overflow through your body. It turns out that crying and dancing are not the opposites I once thought they were back when I wrote a eulogy for a dead house plant.
When clubs reopen it will be wonderful and magical. I can’t wait to dance with my friends again but I know I’ll miss the days when dancing alone in my room was the only option. I'll romanticise this time, even the bad days, through the lens of nostalgia like I always do. When I get depressed, I dance to Elliott Smith, thinking of Theo Decker in The Goldfinch. For me, his music captures that special place where crying and dancing meet. And as I'm swaying, dancing, crying I think over and over of that vague night in the future when "you'll be dancing and you'll be so happy."