Learning to dance

I had moved (more or less) in time with music before, but I don’t think I had ever really danced until I did it in places you weren’t supposed to. Late nights in abandoned warehouses and empty blocks; or shutting down a road with a joyous mob moving to the sounds of a wheelie bin converted into a sound system. By the time the police close in around the dancefloor, you have already shed all the inhibitions that normally encumber free movement. It’s only momentarily, but for a second (even without drugs) you can glimpse the freedom of losing yourself in the music; of unrestrained connection with the others around you. Whether they are friends or strangers; you move in synchronicity, and in little glances and smiles you communicate the sense that you are sharing something rare – the transformation of ourselves and our surroundings into something that moves to a rhythm other than the tedious beat of normality.

I’d done bushwalks too; and marvelled at the natural beauty, enjoyed the serenity of strolling along at a slower and quieter pace. But that never compared with the feeling of walking where I wasn’t supposed to. Walking through the forest at night to reach a logging coupe we were going to blockade; or using the cover of the bush to get onto a military base and disrupt the “war games” they were undertaking. In those moments I felt like a part of nature, not a spectator of it. The sounds and sights of the forest felt like they were supporting us – covering us up or spurring us on. And each step we took felt filled with purpose – we walked not just from one place to another, but from one self to another – the powerless and passive bystander we were once reduced to into a person who, successfully or not, at least did all they could to influence destiny.

I can go on… no fancy banquet ever tasted as good as the first time I reclaimed food from a supermarket dumpster and served it up on the street for free. I never really got the urge to paint until the night I took a spraycan and redecorated some of the grey walls I would pass on my way around the city. That city never really felt like home until I rolled out my sleeping bag in one of its parks rather than pay for somewhere to stay.

So many of us sleepwalk through our existence for so long – taking life as it’s set down in front of us, making the best choice we can from a limited set of options, vaguely experiencing life in the same way we vaguely engage in the TV shows we watch to pass time on the couch then instantly forget.

Though we often feel like the way things are is just how it is, of course it’s not by nature that the possibilities of the universe have been narrowed down to the choices on the supermarket shelf or the netflix menu. Most of the blame for that goes to a way of organising society that we are born into and forced to accept – a way that says money will be the mediator of all our exchanges. That everything n the world can be bought or sold and if you don’t have the money, then most of it is not for you. With the whole world – and not just property but knowledge and experience – walled off, we are forced to subsist on whatever crumbs we can get rather than creating the world around us.

Which is why transgressing social and legal boundaries can be such a powerful experience. The examples I gave may seem frivolous, but each of them were genuinely new experiences – familiar things but recast in a way that made me imagine what else could be done differently. Maybe my life contained other possibilities beyond what I had experienced or seen around me. Maybe the same was true of my city, or the way we organised society as a whole. More than any book or movie, it was these experiences of dancing through the parameters of social acceptability that made me believe a radically different self, and a radically different world, was really possible.

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1 Comment

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One response to “Learning to dance

  1. Beautiful writing as usual, Andy.

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