The music started, a little jazzy. Where was the Motown? Where was the disco? The punk? It was my 50th college reunion, and this was the Saturday night dance.
My college had had two weekly dances. Friday night was folk dancing, Saturday night was the twist party. I loved rock and roll, had loved it from the moment I heard it on the radio years before, on "Jukebox Saturday Night." I loved it even though my mother was soft on Elvis Presley -- she didn't denounce him like all the other grownups did. I loved the syncopated rhythm, the rough yet crooning sound, the harmonies.
I only knew how to dance by watching "American Bandstand." No one ever asked me out on a date, so I didn't get much practice. Instead, I would hold onto the doorknob of my bedroom, as though it was my partner's hand, and try out steps.
Now, at college, the twist was hot (go, Chubby Checker). I was shy, didn't go anywhere by myself, but my roommate, from Long Island, was brash and had enough attitude for both of us. The twist was the quintessential lone dance -- you could have a partner, but you didn't need one. I would stand near the wall, but still feel part of the dance floor, and twist away. It was easy, and I felt wrapped up inside the music, the rhythm (Ray Charles, "Hit the Road, Jack"; Del Shannon, "Runaway"; the Shirelles; the Everly Brothers). I almost didn't want a boy to ask if we could dance, because then I would become attached to him, I would have to talk, ask questions, wonder what he would want to do next or if he would want to take me outside, and that was the part of dating I knew nothing about.
More than 50 years later, I was no longer shy. Dancing was still the abandon of movement, rhythm taking over my feet, arms, hips. I no longer needed to stay at the edgeofthe dance floor, though I couldn’t be the first one. A woman, maybe in her 50s, danced onto the floor, and then I leaped up. I could be second. (She said, maybe a little gleefully, she was humiliating her son. He remained in the darkness, a beer in hand.) We danced in the old rock and roll style, alone but but oriented around each other. The couple from the 1950s class joined us, with a friend. I was glad that the first people out on the floor were the oldest.