Some Disco Social Psychology

 

I'm no disco dance expert. However recently I've been doing a lot of boogie-ing in disco Waikiki and, throughout my escapades, sensing and recording my feelings about the scene. It seems that "disco mania" is not "an escape from reality" but a very real source of pleasure in the experiencing of life for those who select this particular mode of positive affective stimulation. Disco is the closest we've come to continuous partying (Spats discotheque is packed throughout the week).

What's also happening is a contemporary throwback on the style and mood of the 1930's. Father says that when he was in high school he wore what he sees today. Now along with the music and clothes, to be truly consistent with the period of father's nightclubbing days, must go the mentality of the 1930's dance scene. In terms of the present it's a basic temporal-sociological conflict. We're conditioned to value progress and a futuristic outlook but yet our current mass youth entertainment professes a reincarnation of the past. With the sanction of the designer's additional dash of secondary linings of silver or gold, or a hint (or more) of daring transparency, Miss "With It" America dances on television in antiquated old clothes but is still able to maintain a superficial air of opulence. Pleated baggy pants and gold watch chains are back in and so are men's long riding scarves. The only thing missing is an accompanying model T Ford! "Marathon McCoy", a part time disc jockey friend of mine, has got it made. His wife kept her grandfather's wardrobe chest in the attic and he wears the same size!

Not all segments of society are into disco dancing. I just returned from our high school class reunion disappointed (Kalani High School, 1963). NO ONE accepted my request to disco dance while the band played my special requests. Most of the singles and divorcees, some past heart throbs of mine, when asked to dance replied apologetically, "Sorry, I'm too old to dance!" Funny thing is that a significant number of "Oldies but Goodies" are being put to the driving percussion of disco.

When you're working on teeth all day and every day except Sundays with disco music, the specific lyrics and melodies eventually fade out of conscious attention. But the underlying continuous driving disco beat goes on for eight hours and gets me and the staff out on time at 5. Thanks, DUKE (FM98)! Thus the beat aids us in staying on schedule during the course of the day. And when we do fall short of the demands of the appointment book, there's always DA WAITING ROOM, my discotheque reception area. Beyond this personal on-the-job fringe benefit, disco is the current night life catalyst with ignites that special bond between two strangers with sensual reciprocity (as well as mental if the male is an exceptional lead), within a socially acceptable context.

Like all social dancing, disco touch dancing is a special kind of mind trip. Although disco touch dancing is marketed to the public as a gregarious hang loose activity, in reality certain strict unspoken dancing rules apply. If the male is endowed with natural rhythm but has not mastered the prerequisite dance sequences, his free style (each partner doing his and her own steps) maneuverings, adequate to shine out during the pre-disco era, may not be sufficient to carry him into the intended partner attention and subsequent mutual attraction.

Do not ever go to a professional dance studio "party" unless you're above average as a touch dancer! The ladies are decked out in shiny nylons and rayons, a few overdressed with hats but all with at least three-inch pointed heels. Free style dancing is OUT here. Everyone's dying to get out there and DANCE, DANCE, DANCE. However a pervasive mood of anxiety is upon the crowd as the majority remains spectators for the most part of the evening, mere spectators for the few experts that dominate the floor.

What if the female that is asked is better than he or what if the male that asked is better than she? And even worse, what if the male does not adequately know the proper dance sequences but creatively improvises after having had a couple of drinks? What if his lead is INADEQUATE? She thinks" "Make A-- out there with this loser!". Nothing can be more humiliating for an enthusiastic amateur disco dancer than to receive the request from his partner and new acquaintance to leave the floor in the middle of a song due to her perceived social embarrassment, especially if she is immature, insecure or with girlfriends watching from the sidelines!

Yes, in disco touch dancing there also is an element of male chauvinism. A woman cannot achieve dance satisfaction (i.e., her level of dance self expression) unless the male is of her level of performance. No wonder many women now opt to bring along their own personal dance partner to "singles" Waikiki. A guy would never consent to "follow" in touch dancing. If she was suddenly socially sanctioned to "lead", imagine how ill-prepared even the above average male disco dancer would be!

 

With a little guidance from a contemporary men's clothing store and some dedicated disco dance lessons anybody can become a macho - even without good looks. Like any other fad, social conformity such as dress codes at the door, the latest steps, the "grooviest" body language and "jive" talk is the current name of the game. It's too bad people can't be their genuine selves and not worry about criticism from those wallflowers who aren't dancing. Others occupied dancing do not have the time to criticize those also PARTICIPATING. Worse than these victims of social conformity (they don't have as much excitement as those dancing ever dance with anybody - like me!) and of perceived dancing inadequacies are those foxes who seem to enjoy turning down the series of machos that politely ask for a dance. And in-between these mental castrations they continue their incessant squirming to the beat IN PLACE, angling for the next unfortunate decked out sucker to be attracted and then come cruising by, hooked to request, only to be shot down or mentally dumped.

 

But I am realistic enough to realize that all these mind games are deeply rooted in our culture and cannot be easily replaced by the purist's desire for the enjoyment of dancing for dancing's sake. This land is not Utopia, even in the discotheque, were, supposedly, everyone can come and "let it all hang out". But maybe this is what disco is all about - to be able to pick up in a pseudo-atmosphere of affluence and class, and then return Monday morning to behind a counter, or in my case, restoring teeth.

 

The Disco Doc (Rodney Chang, DDS), Honolulu, 1979