Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Vol. CLIV, Issue 10
Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Dancing to a different beat, but lighten up and live a little

Vacant, glowing faces, jutting elbows, wiggling butts plastered into jeans flash across my view in fragments like slides flipping by on a projector controlled by a manic professor. I can’t tell which elbow is attached to which face. Maybe I’m dreaming. The faces surround me but they seem to belong to another world, a world endlessly pulsing like a jellyfish, floating in a dark, thick sea of sound.

Maybe it’s the four shots of rum doing their job on my brain. Maybe I’m the one in another world. Whatever. I’m going out and meeting new people on campus. I’m living it up. It’s one of those really good dreams that are so glistening and intense that you never want them to end.

One of the faces that flash by me looks vaguely familiar and I’m drunk enough that I can shout out “Jason!” without establishing eye contact. But he doesn’t hear me. The sound-soup has too much thickener in it. I wonder again if I really am asleep. Or is Jason sleepwalking? Suddenly, I feel some strange hand brush my thigh and wonder if this hand is attached to a body. I figure out somehow that there is a face that goes along with it, but that face is staring blankly into the distance and doesn’t seem to have noticed that my thigh is corresponds to a face.

Fifteen minutes away from this Saturday night Whitman dance, some other college students are also dancing. But the fact that these two activities are both called “dancing” is cause for serious worry about the meaningfulness of the word.

There, in the well-lit grange hall, thighs flow clearly into torsos and heads. Whole bodies bounce as one to the hokey notes of a blue-grass band. While feet play crazily on the ground like naughty children, eyes gaze seductively into each other with the unbearable joy of newfound aliveness. The eyes are strangely bright and unclouded, as if not trapped under a poison-spell. Could this be a dance?

The Walla Walla University students who make up the majority of the crowd say that they go to contra dances because these are basically the only dances they are allowed to attend. According to religioustolerance.org, some conservative Seventh-day Adventist churches recommend abstaining from all dance and other such “questionable worldly activities.” The official Web site of the Seventh-day Adventist Church gives the following guidelines regarding lifestyle choices: “For the spirit to recreate in us the character of our Lord, we involve ourselves only in those things which will produce Christlike purity, health, and joy in our lives . . . our dress is to be simple, modest and neat, befitting those whose true beauty does not consist of outward adornment but in the imperishable adornment of a gentle and quiet spirit.”

B.S., I might say, as a typical West Coast, liberal, atheist Whittie. Who wants a gentle and quiet spirit? I want to be loud and vibrant, glamorous and edgy. I want to live it up. And that’s exactly what I’m doing when I hit the dance floor, right?

LIVE it up. What exactly does that mean? Do I really feel more alive when I’m under the strobe lights? Don’t get me wrong. I love a good party sometimes. But perhaps what I love is really a sense of brushing against the seductive, faceless thigh of death. Sinking into the dark, pulsing jello, I go deaf from the pounding, blind from the flashing lights. The alcohol makes me feel miles away and I collapse into a dreamland where I can relax and watch people go by, passively watch my hand caress some elbow.

In the other world, at a contra dance, I don’t feel very quiet and gentle, but I do feel full of spirit. A swing and a chord from a fiddle somehow create that fullness of life where divinity and sexuality meet. So, if the College Place community is trying to cultivate a cold sort of chastity by attending this “wholesome” dance, they’re probably not succeeding, but if they want to be vibrant, they’re doing a heck of a lot better than we are.

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