I’m worried about the state of dancing in 2018. Sure, three months ago New York City repealed its Cabaret Law, which required bars and restaurants to have a license to let their patrons lapse into rhythmic motion. But even now, with some New Yorkers surely testing the new boundaries of where their hips can and cannot sway, there is one constant companion that makes a night out something other than the transcendental blur it could have been.
That companion, of course, is work. To accept a salaried position in 2018 is to befriend a kindly corporate ghost who lives in your phone and asks for your attention at odd moments throughout the evening. It is to feel the pinprick of an unfinished project tickle the back of your mind all Saturday night, a tiny anxiety nudged along by an ever buzzing Slack channel. Then there are the holiday parties, those secret Drake performances and paid model extravaganzas that rub out any remaining hope that partying might liberate us from daily toil, at least as long as the source of the toil foots the bill.
If there is an escape, menswear magazines can’t seem to find it, judging from the articles Esquire and Fashion Beans published about what to wear to a nightclub. Both articles advocate for a sort of minimalist chameleon look, a dark sombre ensemble that gels so perfectly with the room’s level of formality that everyone’s attention drifts away from your clothing and toward your face. Your poor, work-addled face.
But this year, we can try another model for partying, one that might actually let us transcend our unbalanced lives. It comes from a scrappy group of New Yorkers who thwarted the Cabaret Law, oh, until the leader’s murder conviction brought their whole scene to a halt.
In the late eighties, Michael Alig and his Club Kids would hold “outlaw parties” in spaces like Dunkin’ Donuts and McDonalds, none of which expected or wanted to play host to dense crowds of social-climbing youngsters. For years, I read interviews about the Club Kids and their legendary outlaw parties. Then I found footage of one.
A 1989 outlaw party at McDonalds comes across like a leaky liferaft in an ocean of boredom, where the guests use their sheer force of ego to bail out the grey encroaching water. The most impressive thing about it is how much faith they have in their own ability to keep it afloat. Aside from the tinny squeal of a stereo in the corner, loud enough to cue maybe a handful of bodies to dance, the only sound is the clatter of personalities trying to assert themselves as flamboyantly as they can.
Partying with the Club Kids wasn’t, after all, only about the physical pleasures of dancing and drugs. It was about total obliteration of previous identities. Many of the kids came from outside New York, Midwestern cities too cramped for their galaxy-sized ambitions.
And for the hour they’d spend at McDonalds before the authorities sent them scurrying to an actual club, none of them could follow advice like Fashion Beans’ or Esquire’s because there was no dress code to follow, no darkened dance floor to cloak an all-black minimal look. Just a ceiling full of fluorescent bulbs casting into relief the costumes of worn-out selves rebuilding into brighter ones.