As I mentioned in last week’s post, I surprised myself by buying a ticket to an international dance battle with the girls from my weekly hip hop class. I had no idea what I was getting myself into, but at noon on Saturday I hopped on the metro with an address scribbled on a torn out sheet from my moleskine, and hoped for the best.
Although the entire event website was in French, I decoded enough to know that the theme was “Paris City of Fashion” and crazy outfits were encouraged. I decided I was going out of my comfort zone enough by attending, and played it safe with a black turtleneck and jeans.
It became abundantly clear the moment I arrived that playing it safe with my outfit was a bad (and extremely boring) idea. (Please see attached photos and videos.)
But it was also clear that I had made the right choice to come.
Writing this now, it doesn’t really make sense that I wore what I did, because I kind of expected it to be a club scene. And that was what I was most nervous about, because I don’t like crowds or super loud music or being inebriated in any way around people I don’t know well. I mean, what do you think when you think dance battle? I was prepared for the worst, but still pushing myself to be out of my comfort zone.
Thankfully, I was wrong. The “All Europe Waacking Festival” was held during the day in La Bellevilloise, an event center with windows (thank God) that is totally not a club. And there were no alcohol or drugs– several people even brought their small children. It was truly just a celebration of the dance.
I was also very pleasantly surprised to learn that waacking dance is almost always done with 1970’s disco music (which I LOVE).
A quick overview of waacking:
Waacking originated in the LGBTQ+ club scene in Los Angeles in the 1970’s, but at first it was called punking. Homophobic people would sometimes call gay men punks, and this dance was a sort of reclamation of the word, and an act of resistance.
If you watched my videos, you know that this style of dance is all about the arm movement. Arms are thrown above and behind the head to the rhythm of the music. (You should watch the videos, it is really hard to describe with words!)
The dance began to be called waacking (instead of punking) as more and more herterosexual people began to partake, and didn’t want to be assumed to be gay.
Tyrone Proctor, who some may remember from the Soul Train TV show or tour, pioneered this style of dance, and is still heavily involved in the international waacking seen today, at 66 years old. He flew in from New York to be a judge for the event, and before the final battle, he even performed in his cheetah print skinny jeans.
I learned most of this from post dance battle “What the heck just happened,” Googling. While it was happening, I was just dazzled and very, very confused.
When I arrived, the competition had been narrowed down to some 32 dancers from all over Europe. My favorite part of the whole thing, I think, was the beautiful diversity of crowd. There were dancers of every skin color, every shape and size, proudly and skillfully improvising to whatever song the DJ selected for the given dance-off. I loved it.
After the top 32 became the top 16, the emcee announced that there would be a break for the contestants, and a dance party for the audience. I froze.
I do love to dance, but feeling comfortable in my body, and comfortable enough to dance in new spaces are not my strongest qualities. My amigas from dance class were there and although the contests were mostly professional or at least very seasoned dancers, most of the audience members were just hobby-dancers who were happy to be there. There was no reason for me not to dance. And yet.
These thoughts were racing through my head as I stood just off the dance floor, awkwardly holding my coat.
I challenged myself. Even if I am as bad at dancing as my anxiety sometimes tells me I am, what is the worst that could happen? In two months, I will probably never see any of these people again in my life. And I thought of this quote my best friend Rose shared on Instagram last week:
“To not dance when you had the health and could hear the music could be the greatest regret of your life.”
And so I danced.
It was my favorite day in Paris so far, for sure. Maybe even one of my favorite days of my life. The energy was so positive and empowering and while it was happening, I willed myself to remember every detail. It was the exact brand of magic that I wish I could bottle up and share with my loved ones when they are discouraged. And something I wish I could relive a million times over.
Olivia R. Sanchez is a journalist and M.S. candidate at the University of Oregon School of Journalism and Communication. She can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @OliviaRSanchez.