This Dance Thing - or, What the Hell Is “Smartpop”, Anyways?

by Noah Ramon - DJ Illuminator


A Little Background to Start With

A little less than two years ago now, I started holding dance night events under the name of “The Bright Lights Tonight”. To give you an idea of one of the many different kinds of nerd that I am, the spur that got me off my duff to actually start this was reading a comic book called “Phonogram : The Singles Club” set at an indie dance night. I chose that particular name for the event for a couple of reasons : I felt like it captured the aura of “the night out”, celebrating life and dancing a la Joe Jackson’s “Steppin’ Out” … and also because I really like the Richard Thompson song and I’m THAT kind of nerd as well. When I started it, I had an idea in my mind of the kinds of crowd that I wanted - I wanted smart people who enjoyed dancing to good music who felt like there wasn’t a place in town that catered to their needs in that regard. (As a friend put it later on, “us, twenty years ago”.) I wanted those nerds like me to have a social event in a supportive environment where we could indulge our particular quirks, one that wasn’t just co-opting some space at some other event. Over the course of several events, I distilled it to the one-sentence pitch “smart fun pop music for smart fun people to enjoy dancing to”, which hit the aspects I wanted to emphasize : good music, fun dancing, and smart people.

In short, what I realized what I wanted is a space where friends who like being weird can be weird if they want, and for that same space to be safe and inviting for people to come and be weird alongside the rest of us. I knew that it was going to be somewhat ephemeral - springing up from time to time and place to place, but that it was something I needed to do, both for myself and for others. After some discussion and thought, though, I came to some further realizations about the whole shebang, spurred by a few specific incidents.

Some Anecdotes to Provide Foundation and

Scaffolding on which to Hang the Rest of This :

ANECDOTE THE FIRST : About fifteen-twenty-some-odd years ago, a friend of mine had mentioned that she wanted to go dancing at Numbers, but her boyfriend at the time didn’t dance and she didn’t want to go there by herself because, being a young lady, she was well used to being … well, targeted by people who wanted to pick someone up, and all she wanted to do was enjoy the music and dance. What with my being a known quantity, she asked me if I’d be interested in taking her sometime so that she’d have a partner there who she could dance with and also be a kind of ward against That Guy while we were dancing. That stuck in my craw when I was developing this idea, that this needed to be something where someone could just go and enjoy themselves and not worry about the usual club issues like that. (And then I never managed to take her, on account of my lazy do-nothing ass. So, Lissa, if you’re reading this, I still owe you.)

ANECDOTE THE SECOND : A little after I started throwing these dances, one of my close friends and I were talking, and he mentioned how much he and his spouse enjoyed the events because, in addition to getting to dance to neat music, he and she got to do their clothes-horsing fun. Normally, their chances to dress outré are limited on account of Mundania, and the dances are some of the few events where they get to wear outfits that might be a little risqué, or silly, or frou-frou, or overly-dapper, or somehow otherwise not normal going-out-wear, and they get to wear it without worrying about That Person raining on their parade by making rude comments or skeeving out on one or the other of them.

ANECDOTE THE THIRD : A short one : After a recent dance, one of my cousins posted to Facebook that she appreciated the events because “… I know a lot of people want a way to dance to fun music, that doesn't feel like the sleazy club scene and doesn't play top 40 crap, but you still get to drink beer with yr friends.” And I responded : “THIS. THIS, SO MUCH, THIS. THANK YOU FOR GETTING IT.

ANECDOTE THE FOURTH : Lastly, and most recently : At the last They Might Be Giants show here in town, there were three gals who I fell rather in crush with for what they did. They came in TMBG-themed cosplay, one as Particle Man (festooned in EL wire), one as Universe Man, and one as an Angel (with “DON’T FOLLOW” on the back of her shirt). They then proceeded to hand out glow bracelets/headbands and plastic light-up maracas to the nearby audience members. They were whimsical, friendly, smart, playful, amusing, clever, charming - and so I handed a button for my dances to Particle Man, telling her that “seriously, someone who shows up to a concert in TMBG cosplay is EXACTLY the kind of people I want to attract to my dances.”

…And then I thought about that sentence a little more, and realized that it’s true from two directions : I want to attract the smart playful crowd who wants to dance to interesting music, and who would enjoy exhibiting their playfulness. Also, though, I want to make a space that is welcoming, inviting, safe, and pleasant for people to do that in. I want people at my dances to be able to be freaks if they desire, and I also want people to feel like this is a space where they can feel safe and free to do it if they wanted.

The Declaration

So to all of you out there, I say this :

If you want to show up to one of my dances in a kilt, feel free and be welcome.

If you want to show up to one of my dances in a ball gown, feel free and be welcome.

If you want to show up to one of my dances in goth, steampunk, mod, cyberpunk, renfest, decopunk, neo-edwardian, gothloli, or whatever else garb, feel free and be welcome.

If you want to show up to one of my dances and spin poi or hoops or run a LARP or show off your belly or sword dancing skills, feel free and be welcome. (Try to be considerate and not hit anyone, though. But still, feel free and be welcome.)

If you want to show up to one of my dances dressed up as Rei Ayanami, Captain Kirk, Janine Melnitz, Louis Wu, Inara, Ford Prefect, Jean Grey, Iggy Pop, Princess Leia, Spider Jerusalem, Ace, or whoever else you might want to cosplay as, feel free and be welcome.

If you just want to show up to one of my dances in generic casual wear, just hanging out and enjoying the good tunes to be social, feel free and be welcome.

But if you mess with those who come here - if I get word that you’re being a jerk or creeping on someone because of the way they’re dressed, or the way they look, or the way they act, or what they like, or what they don’t like, or just that general skeeveyness is going down on your part - then we’ll have some words, and that’s probably going to be followed by you getting an invitation to the world.

Because once you’ve messed with my guests under my music, you’ve violated my personal Pax Templi. EOF and adios.

I’m not sure still how I’m going to implement this as it scales up - as things stand right now, it’s easy. If I only have fifteen people in the space, and they’re all people that I’m either having brunch with the next day or dinner with the week after that, then I can be pretty sure that  everyone’s going to be cool in regards to each other. As I attract more people to these things (kennahara), though, I’m not sure how I’m going to work this. But I’m GOING to make it work, somehow, because This Is Important.

Let me repeat that :


The Upshot of All This

The focus of the events is still most definitely THE MUSIC (and, when my buddy ChuckEye is doing his cool thing, THE VIDEO as well), but I’ve begun to view it as important that I get it out there that this is a space where people can be weird, and feel comfortable that they can do so. To put it in context for the fen out there, it’s a one-night con.

What I Want You to Take Away from This

Smart fun pop music for smart fun people to enjoy dancing to. These are things that Mean Something. Come, have fun, dance, and be smart with us.

You’ll like it.

Now that you’ve got a bit of background, head on back to the main page.