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I'm Back from The Cult

2004-04-24 - 2:45 p.m.

Yeah, hi! I know it's been more than a month. I doubt that anyone out there is still tuning in. But, well, things have to get started again sometime.

A lot has been happening in my life, which is the main reason that I haven't been posting. I haven't even been reading websites lately, that's how busy I've been. Mostly, I've been looking at schools. I checked out the grad programs at Berkeley, Duke, Stanford, Columbia, and NYU, and after a lot of thought I went with my gut and chose Berkeley. So in a few months I will be leaving for the Bay Area, to get my PhD at one of the best grad schools in the universe.

Yeah, I feel pretty good about it myself.

A big reason why I didn't write about all that was because I didn't want to have a public record of why I turned down the other four schools, particularly since I met a lot of cool people at these various institutions. I shouldn't worry too much, I know, seeing as I really liked most things about all the schools, but I worry about putting stuff down here that I don't necessarily want everyone to see, y'know?

So, I'll need to give something of a rundown of the past few weeks, especially the KICK ASS time I had during SXSW with Saint Caroline of the Nickel Slots, but, to warm up, I figured I'd talk about my experience with The Cult of The Dance.

On Tuesday, I had dinner with Pearljammer to celebrate the first day of her new job. Having spent far too many days of her life waitressing for mediocre chain restaurants--most recently Macaroni Grill--she finally landed herself a gig with a non-profit. We went out for food on Tuesday to toast her success with cosmopolitans and mojitos at Cuba Libre, where she invited me to go with her to an "event" that would feature "Indian dancing."

Apparently, PearlJammer met a very cool girl the first day of work who invited her to go do some "Indian dancing." PJer figured that this would be fun, seeing as she works with a bunch of crunchy liberal folk, who tend to know how to have a good time.

Now, when I hear "Indian dancing" I think of Bollywood techno. There are some people out there who don't know what Bollywood is. These people have never met Dolo over at Dolo's Den. Bollywood is a nickname for the Indian film industry, headquartered in the city of mumbai, which used to be called Bombay. Bollywood movies have a very rigid formula that is followed religiously, lest Indians riot in the theaters (according to a friend of mine whose family is from Chenai, this actually happens). Only recently have filmmakers like Mira Nair acheived success with films that break with the Bollywood style. Under the Bollywood formula, every movie is a musical, complete with lavish numbers full of dancing and action. The soundtrack is released well before the movie in order to publicize it. The music videos are ready made, being simply the number from the movie. In fact, some say that Bollywood movies are really just long form music videos themselves.

If you haven't danced to the music from these movies, you haven't lived. Go pick up the Bend It Like Beckham soundtrack for some remixed versions of these songs. They are great for getting you up and moving.

So, thinking that this is what was meant by "Indian Dance" I was eager to go. I was less eager when, on the way, PearlJammer told me that it would be at "The Unity Center."

"The Unity Center" turned out to be, from what I could gather, a Unitarian Church. Now, I love the Unitarians, don't get me wrong. But I was feeling a little anxious when I couldn't hear a thumping bass line or that "Ajare" song from Lagaan (which is this brilliant Bollywood movie that is four hours of cheesy bliss). What PJer and I found instead was a group of 8 people in a circle, one of whom was holding an acoustic guitar.

I never thought I'd be afraid of an acoustic guitar, but in that moment, I was.

Before I could pull PJer back and drag her to the car, the people spotted us and beckoned us in. We went into the room and were told to take off our shoes. PJer's friend gave her a wave and a smile, and before I could feign a sudden sprained ankle I found myself in the circle.

Apparently, they were about to do a dance in honor of Mary. They were going to sing in Latin. They taught us the song.

I'm trying to think about what made the next few minutes so horrifying.

It may have been the song stylings of our lead singer/guitarist, whom I will call Miss Grippo in honor of the Saint. She had one of those awful thin voices that should never, ever be applied to any piece of music that is meant to prompt the human body to move. It was a voice that heard Joni Mitchell and had decided that there was nothing to this "folk singer" business. It was a voice that could only be appreciated by a kindergarted classroom, provided it was employed to sing a song no more controversial than "Puff the Magic Dragon." Suffice to say, this was not a voice to lead us in "Ave Maria."

Then there were my fellow dancers. Or rather, "dancers." I had more rhythm in my nostrils than they had in their entire bodies. They kept forgetting which direction to turn in (the choreography didn't get much more complicated that "raise your hands, now turn left in a circle, now lower them, now walk clockwise, now turn the other way, and repeat") which resulted in some tangled arms and bumped heads. It wasn't their fault. About half were over 50 and obviously wanted something to alleviate their boredom. But it made something that was already rather sad and soppy into something deeply pathetic.

Hence my attitude, which was the most horrifying part of the evening, now that I think about it. I could barely contain my laughter the entire time. I made sure to circle as far away from everyone as I could so that they couldn't see me biting my lips together. At the end of the dance, which went on FOR-FRIGGIN-EVER, we gathered in a circle again and closed our eyes (well, they closed their eyes) and our fearless folk singer said, "Feel the presence of Mary in the room." I pictured a Jewish woman in a blue robe, sitting in the corner and laughing her ass off. I nearly had to go outside.

Of course, there were still two more dances to go. First we had to rock out to none other than Hildegaard Von Bingen. You know, when someone says "Indian dancing," the music of a medieval German nun is not what comes to mind. Call me crazy. Anyway, as part of this dance, we had to freestyle. Actually, the technical term that our fearless folk singer read off her note card as "move in a sea of love." I, at that point, started doing The Swim, complete with the nose-holding move, and nowhere near enough people found it funny, which became a problem when we had to hold hands because the woman next to me had noticed that I was not taking all this seriously, and so was holding hands with me only grudgingly. She was also the worst turner of anyone in the group, constantly going the wrong way. Eventually, I realized that this was part of her plan to switch places with someone else in the circle, in order to avoid being sullied by the touch of the non-believer.

Even more comical that this woman was a man who was very paranoid about getting the dance right. I noticed that he would always end his freestyle early and grab the hands of whoever was next to him in order to have the circle ready on time. If someone was too far away, he started breathing a little heavily and giving them the "What are you DOING? Get OVER HERE!" look that actors on stage give to small children who have decided to play with the curtain rather than get on stage. I got this sense that he feared the folk singer woman, and that, in fact, everyone else feared her as well. I decided to try to hold the snark back in order not to incur her wrath, as she was able to strike fear into so many hearts.

The last dance of the evening had us chanting in Sanskrit, the first nod to South Asia we'd had all night (although there had apparently been a Native American dance earlier, which might have been referred to as Indian by the less PC). Of course, the only Sanskrit we were speaking was "Om Shanti" which is about as original a lyric as fucking "Amen." Thankfully, this dance involved a partner, allowing PJer and I to dance in our own private world of horrified amusement, and while other dancers expressed their disappointment with not being able to change partners, we clung onto each other, relieved that the risk of bad touching would now be minimal.

Except it wasn't. After the bows and the circles and the "Om shanti shanti shanti" we had to come back together, and one of the dancers asked if we could end the evening with hugs. I love hugs. I am a good hugger. I did not want to hug these people. I gave the most unfeeling, frigid hugs of my life. The only hug I vaguely appreciated was the one from the woman who noticed that I was being snarky. she at least was as fake about it as I was.

As soon as PearlJammer and I hit the open air, she began whispering "I'm so sorry! I am so, SO sorry!" I told her not to worry about it. Granted, I had been wanting to shake my ass to some Bollywood beats. But a great way to kick start my diary again is nothing to be sneezed at.

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The End - 2005-02-11
Let's Go on With the Show - 2005-01-30
The Curse, and This Bee's a Keeper - 2005-02-01
Sisters Lolita and Matronic Explain It All for You - 2005-01-31
Cowboys and Medievalists - 2005-01-30

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