Tuesday, September 22, 2015

No Dancing Allowed

I moved to New York City in 1997 without a penny to my name and with the fool notion I would get a job within a week and pay my way through school. I managed to succeed with a lot of hard work and very little sleep. Those were the golden years of the city. The internet boom was just about to start. Mayor Gulliani just came into office. The broken window policy was being enforced and crime rates were at an all time low. Meanwhile, the economy was getting better and time square was being transformed from a theatre district full of sex and strippers, to a tourist area with stores, restaurants and larger, more mainstream theaters, thanks to the Disneyfication of the area.

I witnessed a lot of alterations during those years. I still saw a lot of crime and homelessness but I saw a lot of excess and wealth as well. One memory that sticks out for me was the "No Dancing Allowed" rule that was starting to be implemented in bars and clubs everywhere. It sounds like a joke now and it sounded like one then as well. The city came up with a cabaret license and unless your club or bar owned one, dancing was strictly not allowed. There were "no dancing" signs posted everywhere. Some of them were very anti Gulliani. They stated, "no dancing allowed thanks to you know who."

I checked out one of these bars, which was known for its music and it had one of those anti Gulliani signs posted. The funny thing is, the music the bar was known for was New York swing music which is basically dance music. People started showing up to swing dance. They started swinging their arms and legs, grabbing their partners and twirling them around with furious glee. It was not your typical romantic dance, or even a fun dance. It was a rebellious dance. I saw staff members walk up to dancers and tell them to stop dancing, that it wasn't allowed. How did they respond? They danced faster, harder, in the face of all authority. It was fun to watch, fun to experience.

How, I wondered, can you put a license on dancing? How can you tax a person for tapping their feet or moving their hips? It was the most absurd law in my mind. Yet there it was; a law against dancing, smack dab in a world renown performing arts capital. Oh, and the rebels; they didn't protest calmly or march angrily. They danced hard, passionately, defiantly.

I can very much relate to F. Scott Fitzgerald's novella, "My Lost City." I lived in the ghetto, partied with the rich and watched the city go from rags to riches, to rags again. I only lived their for five years. By the year 2000, the economy was booming. Everyone had a job and everyone told me to take advantage of the good fortune while it lasted. By 2002, the market crashed badly and we had been bombed by terrorists. If New York had a personality, it would be Bi Polar. One day its gritty and poor, another artsy and rebellious. On one day its wealthy and opportunistic, another its retreating into fear and prejudice after the greatest terrorist attack that every hit the U.S. bombed thousands of its dwellers. I saw it happen but that's something else.

Before the darkness, there were good times, almost an innocent time -- if New York city could ever be thought of as innocent. I remember young, energetic people dancing hard and fast, rebel dancing over an absurd law. 

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