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Events in Orlando have left me stunned and hurting. One of my favorite things about being a lesbian has always been going out to dance. Growing up, I wasn’t allowed to dance, and I had dancing in my soul.

When I lived at the woman’s retreat in the Adirondacks, every Saturday night I would be the first one out to our barn to fire up the heater and lay a fire in the stove … and crank up the music on the jukebox. I learned to do the bump there, listening to Carole King’s Smackwater Jack. Before my knees went south.

There were my favorites – LaBelle’s Lady Marmalade, Carly Simon & James Taylor’s rendition of Mockingbird, TSOP, Imagination, Boogie Shoes, Ladies Night, Bennie & the Jetts, Ring You’re Sixteen and Oh, My My. For slow dancing, we had two of my favorites, Barbra Streisand’s singing of “Memories” and Gladys Knight & the Pips’ You’re the Best Thing that Ever Happened to Me. Listening to any of those songs today takes me right back to 1974.

When I moved to the Pioneer Valley in western Mass., I discovered a Northampton restaurant/bar turned its rear dining room into a lesbian-only dance area once a week at 9pm. Every Wednesday night, I hitchhiked from Amherst where I lived to Masonic Street’s Zelda’s. On the weekends, we had a number of women’s bands that might be playing at local venues. Off I’d go to the Steak Out, the Lazy River, or the St. Regis. Maybe there would be a benefit at UMass or Hampshire College’s Red Barn. At Zelda’s, I learned the hustle and the electric slide. And thank you to Molly O who gave impromptu demonstrations on women’s security and self defense. I still get my keys out when walking to the car, spreading the keys out between my fingers. I even scare myself.

And then there was Northampton’s own tiny lesbian bar, the Gala. It’s gone now, but we have Diva’s, a snazzy place to go. I loved the Gala so much that I’ve tracked down much of the music on its jukebox so I can re-capture those nights. Love Hangover, Got to Give it Up, Misty Blue, Love Train, Boogie Shoes, Jive Talking, That’s the Way I like it, Lady Marmelade (again!), Shake Shake Shake, This Will Be, and on it goes.

What was the magic of that dancing? In 1975, it was the joy of the music, moving your body, dressing up, going to a friendly place, meeting friends, and laughing, laughing, laughing. I have to admit my parents were right: rock and roll is the devil’s music…….thank goodness! Looking for love in all the right places. Once, after my dad died, I was amused once to hear my Baptist mother say she was sorry she had never danced with my father. She thought she would have enjoyed moving around the dance floor in his arms.

So I imagine those 49 people getting all dolled up to go to the Pulse club, making plans with friends, anticipating the fun and maybe planning some great new dance moves. I see them arriving and shouting out greetings to friends, maybe avoiding an ex or two, ordering drinks. Perhaps it was a first date for some people.

The music was loud, throbbing, the bass beat pounding in the crowds’ ears. They pushed to the dance area, some people hanging back, waiting for the next song. There was a constant flow to and from the dance floor, people laughing, drinks spilled, waitresses flowed through the crowd with their trays.

The music is different now from what I knew when I came out, but those faces showed the same joy and happiness that my friends and I felt. Being gay is awesome. That is what all of the bigots and homophobes are afraid people will discover. If you’ve got the gene, lucky, lucky you!

I’m tired of platitudes and empty phrases from the right. I don’t want to cry anymore. I’ve decided instead to dance. When the sadness overwhelms me, I’m going to dance. Today I danced down one side of the fitness center at the Northampton Senior Center and back up the other side. No one even blinked.

So if you see me downtown or at Stop and Shop, don’t be surprised if you see me take a few steps, maybe swirl around a bit. Imagine what the world would be like if we stopped waiting for Congress to pass legislation that can stop the madness. Imagine if, instead, everyone honored these 49 extraordinary young people by just bursting into dance periodically. We need more love. We need more kindness. And we certainly need more dancing!

Judith Schenck

copyright (c) 2016

2 Responses

  1. Reblogged this on From Wicked To Wedded and commented:
    Thoughts from Judith on Orlando and the importance of the dance

  2. Thanks, Judith, for sharing yourself…While you were dancing in Northampton, I was dancing at disco clubs in New York City. Several of us met there as a group of regulars and danced our hearts out to the same tunes you mention above. No one ever asked who was straight or who was gay – we just danced with good friends and made some new ones. I missed that era, those nights out dancing, once I started graduate school and couldn’t afford the exhaustion of late nights, my day job and graduate studies. Those years stand out as some of the most purely joyous of my life…Keep dancing”!

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