Finding a safe haven for (gay) dancing

enablePagination: false
maxItemsPerPage: 10
totalITemsFound:
maxPaginationLinks: 10
maxPossiblePages:
startIndex:
endIndex:

As a lifelong practitioner of the uncoordinated way of dancing, a writer recounts his quest for a place that accepts and champions his preferred way of musical expression. Art by FIEL ESTRELLA

Manila (CNN Philippines Life) — I feel a slight twinge of embarrassment whenever someone plays “Dancing on my Own.”

At a bar I frequent, Robyn’s hugot electro-pop hit is always met with a resounding mix of cheers and yells of despair. People outside run into the bar when they hear the first few beats, as if the song were summoning them. Here are fabulously single gay men and their fag hags latching their own woes onto a 6-year-old song, screaming along with all their might: “I’m in the corner, watching you kiss her” and “I’m giving it my all, but I’m not the girl you’re taking home.” (I always liked to pretend Robyn actually sings “guy” instead of “girl,” furthering her into my own pantheon of pop goddess-dom.)

Sometimes, I feel it’s a bit old, like there have already been too many tears shed to this song, that there are newer songs that we could cry/dance along to (anything from Troye Sivan or Stars, at least in my book), that we all should just move on. It’s that one song that never goes away and people will probably never get tired of, along with any Carly Rae Jepsen or Spice Girls track. Because the gays, bless them, never seem to get enough of this cathartic release.

And man, Robyn just really knows how to craft a good danceable song. In fact, I am dancing along to one (“Do it Again,” in case you’re curious) as I write this, bopping my head, shaking my shoulders, and gyrating my hips for a bit — in the office, I might add.

 

***

After college, I learned about the wonders of a dance mixtape, which I would shuffle along to whenever I found myself alone, without any prying eyes judging my awkward dance moves or my choice in music. These were tiny, private moments of emancipation.

 

Emotional repression can do you wonders when you finally grow legs strong enough to stand on your own. Adolescence was a cage for me, non-wonder years that taught me how to bottle up whatever I felt unless I would prefer to be a castaway from my friends, or even my family. I found comfort in sad bastard music — droning, emotive tunes that spoke on my behalf. Thom Yorke wailing about the end of the world, The National playing as a soundtrack of sorts to any emotional turmoil, Celine Dion screeching about all the various feelings welling up inside me. I was never one to go out for parties or bar-hopping. And I never knew about the release dancing could bring until I was well into my twenties, my years spent in interpretative dance and in modern dance competitions more of a move toward belonging to a group than an act of impassioned expression.

A year after I finished college, I moved out of my hometown and into the sprawling tentacles of the city (and into my then-boyfriend’s house). Along the way, Hype Machine, Multiply, and LiveJournal taught me the wonders of a dance mixtape, which I would shuffle along to whenever I found myself alone, without any prying eyes judging my awkward dance moves or my choice in music. These were tiny, private moments of emancipation.

When all the songs were done and with my body exhausted from moving too much, uncoordinatedly, I would fold back in on myself and go back to bottling myself up.

***

Darating daw yung The Killers!” Mei Bastes jokingly screamed to the crowd in one of her monumental Meiday gigs in Cubao X. The American band was slated to play in Araneta Coliseum that night but had canceled their show a few days prior. Meiday gathered everyone who had a fierce love affair with music, spearheaded by Bastes herself. It was the time of everyone’s lives, and for me, especially, freed and away from people I knew. People I barely knew took me in. A bottle of beer in my hand and Pedicab inviting us to dance in the dark, everyone shaking his or her body in wild abandon. I couldn’t believe I was dancing in front of the bands I just listened to back home, at my little corner of the world. No one cared about who you were or the way you were dancing. Just move along with the music and have a good time, while you’re at it. That’s the only thing that mattered.

It felt like home.

***

In the bars that I love, there was no wrong or right way to dance to Jepsen's 'Run Away with Me' or Sarah Geronimo's 'Kilometro.' There’s just you and the dance floor. Everything else is up to you.

 

My first time at a gay bar was because of work. I forgot what it was we were looking for. Alcohol permits, I think. The local government was roving around the city’s bars, checking and inspecting. It was overtime work, but I didn’t mind. I had never set foot in a gay bar. It was almost a mythical place for me, a place where boys liked boys and boys danced with boys, with macho dancers enshrined on the stage. Exposed, these bars were nothing like it. Dingy halls that stunk of booze and mold. But it was still thrilling for me, as if the curtain was finally raised for me to see what it was like. Years later, lonely and dejected, I went around my hometown’s gay bars, had a drink or two, with a hot guy by my side making small talk and egging me on to buy him more drinks.

It was all right, I guess, but I still went home lonely and dejected. Maybe even more so.

***

I always hear about Malate, its glory days and how it was once — still is, in some ways — the home and the place for gays. My only Malate story was in one of the last Syquia Apartment parties. A boy I liked had me tag along with his friends as they jumped from one house to another, all sorts of music blaring in the hallways. Caliph8 in one, and some other DJ in the other. Being the probinsya boy that I was, this was like Valhalla. Exhausted, we sat on the floorboards until we started hearing the first few bars of Yeah Yeah Yeah’s “Heads Will Roll” and, instead of going up to whichever house was playing it, danced in the hallway, like it was nobody’s business.

The boy didn’t like me back.

***

Is it that hard to find a safe haven for the gays in this city? If it weren’t, we wouldn’t be having this conversation. As much as we want to celebrate ourselves and the fact that we’ve gone far in terms of LGBTQ acceptance, we still have to walk the talk.

 

So this is O Bar, I thought, as I entered this neon temple. The darkness didn’t do much in the way of sightseeing. Men and boys had sinister glints in their eyes, either out of glee or desire. This was our place and no one could do us wrong. There wasn’t much dancing to do. I didn’t like the music as much, but I sang and shuffled along when they played Charice’s “Louder,” which predated the singer’s status as a legitimate gay icon. It didn’t matter. I was with friends I loved and within the company of gays who, though judged on their own, let you celebrate who and what you are.

***

Is it that hard to find a safe haven for the gays in this city? If it weren’t, we wouldn’t be having this conversation. As much as we want to celebrate ourselves and the fact that we’ve gone far in terms of LGBTQ acceptance, we still have to walk the talk. O Bar is the only gay bar that doesn’t involve going “all the way” — or does it? I haven’t been there in years — but there’s Black Market, Today x Future, and Borough with their specific gay-friendly nights of debauchery. For every one of them, there are clubs that have “dress codes,” meeting gay men and women with suspicious eyes.

I’ve lost interest in dancing in these public places, but mostly because I’ve grown out of this skinny-gay-boy-dancing phase. I still like going back, sometimes, when nostalgia hits me hard, when I miss being lost in the company of strangers who didn’t give a fuck as long as you danced hard — as the writer Lorrie Moore puts it, “dance begins when a moment of hurt combines with a moment of boredom.” “Just Dance” isn’t enough; it’s a video game that has enforced rules. But in the bars that I love, there was no wrong or right way to dance to Jepsen’s “Run Away with Me” or Sarah Geronimo’s “Kilometro.” There’s just you and the dance floor. Everything else is up to you.