The DJ and the Dancer
Followers of 1980s Now are no doubt aware of Will’s longtime expertise as a DJ, a role he honed over the course of our favorite decade and beyond. I learned of this right along with the podcast’s earliest listeners. (Although Will and I first became acquainted back in 1989, we’ve only just gotten to know each other since 2020.) Listeners might also be aware that dance has been a significant feature of my life, beginning with jazz style classes in the late 70s, the addition of ballet in the 80s, and modern dance in the early 90s. Reigning above these as my favorite, however, is simply and freely dancing with a group of people to great songs chosen by a DJ.
Since learning of Will’s DJing skills, I’ve often imagined how fun it would be to move and groove at a group event where he was providing the music. What I didn’t imagine is that it could actually happen! The news that Will was slated to DJ a “Mom Prom” (a fundraising event for his daughter’s school) prompted me to feel similarly to when I aspired to make him a mixed tape; it was a must-do, and I began to scheme.
In spite of my early experience with jazz and ballet and contrary to my current demeanor, I was quite shy and self-conscious during my 80s adolescence, and I found myself frozen when faced with events that included unstructured dancing to upbeat tempos. Eighth grade dances and various semi-formals during 9th and 10th grades were events where I longed to join in, but I struggled to peel myself away from the perimeter. I remained hidden behind my ubiquitous camera, vicariously attempting to capture the fun for school yearbooks. The catalysts for my improved groove were yet to come.
Eleventh grade found me overcoming some of my timidity and self-consciousness through some excellent school friendships, but I realize now it was my experience of working at a local ice cream parlor with numerous peers to whom I was not particularly close that pushed me to expand my social boundaries more than anything else. I had to assert myself vocally to be heard over the summer beach crowd (“NUMBER SIXTY-NINE, PLEASE?!?”), and the camaraderie during clean-up at closing time was invigorating, with playful interactions set against the backdrop of ever-changing musical selections.
When junior prom season hit, I had gained just enough self-confidence to secure the date I wished for (a fellow scooper from work) and to let myself feel free to just move to the music with him and with friends around us. The senior prom was even more pivotal, with my choice to approach someone whom I’d long admired from a distance (since 5th grade!) with a prom date proposal, and I vividly recall the absence of self-consciousness while dancing; it was exhilarating! From that point on I was free to enjoy— emphasis on the “joy”— any group dancing experience at a wedding, cast party, or conference, to the point of eagerly anticipating the next opportunity, and with my husband and I joking that we should become professional wedding crashers.
And so I arranged to attend the Mom Prom, thinking nothing of driving over six hours (my longest solo road trip to date) to both spend time with Will and his family and also to have the sort of dance experience I crave. Little did I anticipate that I still had some self-consciousness hurdles to overcome! I knew no one else at the event besides Will (unwittingly dressed like Simon LeBon) and his wonderful wife, who had fundraising obligations to fulfill before she could place her attention elsewhere. Will had some excellent songs playing which were compelling me to move, but I was the only person near the dance floor, while the other attendees were chatting and socializing. I impatiently paced the perimeter with a skip in my step, and eventually decided I’d best use the time to eat something; I knew once I started dancing, I wouldn’t want to stop.
Finally a small group of women wandered onto the opposite side of the dance floor, and a layer of my self-consciousness peeled away. This was still very different for me, lacking a friend to dance with, but it was suddenly of no consequence. The music was all that mattered, and I realized that I could approach this situation the same way that I approach recording the podcast: If I think of the podcast listeners, I feel nervous, and so I don’t think of them. I just listen to Will and Jon and respond accordingly, and it’s just the three of us. Similarly, if I thought about what someone may or may not think of me for how I was dancing, or that I was dancing all by myself, I would freeze up and slink off to the side. But all I needed to do was listen to the songs that Will was choosing to play and blend, and respond accordingly. DJ, dancer.
And so I danced, frequently by myself, and eventually with others, leaving the floor only to use the restroom during songs that weren’t absolute favorites. I learned that Will’s wife and their family friend make the most excellent dancing buddies. I learned that Will is the picture of focus behind his DJ stand and speakers. And I learned that I was capable of overcoming a pointless lingering social hang-up. One of the last songs Will played was Billy Idol's “Dancing With Myself,” and my dancing buddies needed a break then, but I was SO there for it. Peak experience!