Amateur hour: how I danced my way to a better social life
Making friends as an adult can be damn near impossible. But thanks to a cult dance club, Maxim Boon has cracked the code of making mates as a grownup.
I am standing in a dance studio, with 25 strangers looking at me. I'm wearing hastily purchased but not previously worn activewear (it's at least a size too tight and leaves nothing up to the imagination, at least not in the way I'd like). I'm about to do something called a "step-ball-change" across the room. One wall of the studio is covered with mirrors, and I suddenly realise that means there are actually 50 pairs of eyes – real and reflected – locked on me. The lighting is mercilessly florescent. Self-consciousness levels are peaking at maximum WTF and I fleetingly wonder if I should fake a seizure.
The music pumping out expectantly over the sound system is You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real) by Sylvester, tearing along at a white-knuckle 132 bpm. This means I'm expected to step and ball and change in less than a second. And I literally have no fucking clue what a step-ball-change is. What fresh hell is this?
As it turns out, a fresh hell that will eventually become one of my favourite places to be.
I moved to Melbourne from Sydney a little under three years ago and arrived on the mean streets of Collingwood not knowing a soul within a 700km radius. Now, it's a tricky thing making new mates in a new city, especially if you're a cynical xennial who trusts no one, such as myself. It got me to thinking, how the hell do people even make friends? A quick google told me: "forced proximity coupled with important life experiences." Not a combo I was likely to find by tapping a stranger on the shoulder in Coles. Shit.
But, as I settled into my new life as Nigel Nomates, I was thrown a lifeline in the form of a recommendation from a mate back in Sydney. A dance class, for total beginners. 'I'd rather dry-hump a beehive,' thinks I. But in an uncharacteristic move out of my usual comfort zone, I threw caution to the wind, signed up to the Body Electric Dance Studio, hastily bought some too-small activewear, and wound up preparing to execute a truly simple dance step that nonetheless was likely to result in me shattering my femurs.
I take a deep breath. I close my eyes. I let the rhythm of music move through me. I feel the disco beat calling to me: 'Dance, Maxim. DANCE!' And then I lollop across the room like a drugged toddler, balling when I should be stepping, changing when I should be balling, and generally butchering the art form of dance in every way possible. I prepare for the humiliation to wipe me out like a tsunami, but then, something wonderful. I see, one by one, 25 people shuffle, trip, stumble, and yes, occasionally step-ball-change, across the room. Failure is a relative concept in this dance studio. Here there's no such thing as a bad dancer.
Set up by local dance teacher Jade Duffy ten years ago, Body Electric began as something beautifully humble and has since grown into a legendary Melbourne institution. What was originally conceived as a bit of fun for a handful of people who dance like nobody's watching, has snowballed over the years so that a decade on, hundreds of Melburnians now cross the threshold of the Body Electric Dance Studio each week, to learn a few bars of choreography to an iconic pop banger (my first was Poison by Alice Cooper. My second, Babooshka by Kate Bush). Over the course of a 12-week semester, each class - of which there are usually 8 to 10 - prepare a routine for a grand spectacular showcase, which is usually attended by more than 1000 revellers. Yes, that's right. 1000 people choosing to watch amateur dance. And loving every minute.
But beyond the opportunity to acquire hordes of adoring fans, Body Electric also provides a space for community, inclusivity and acceptance. There's no fitness expectations or any previous experience required. There're no auditions or tryouts to see if you make the cut. The only real necessity - and it's an unspoken rule - is that you be a show-off, of either the "closet" or "dreadful" varieties. This quality is most evidently displayed in the costuming of each Body Electric troupe, which channels a range of aesthetics from Haute Couture to Tuesday night at Hooters.
With guidance by Jade Duffy, who not only choreographs but also devises a fully realised theatrical concept for each routine, Body Electricians are expected to produce their own costumes, and by god, do people step up to the plate. With glue guns and staple guns and sequins and tinsel and trips to op shops and dollar stores and garage sales and multiple haberdashers, the creative efforts of Body Electric dancers are jaw-dropping. Making my first Body Electric costume was also how I discovered that glitter is non-toxic and that if your dog consumes four full tubes of it, toilet time becomes a disco fantasia for at least three days.
So, from abject terror, Body Electric has brought me nothing but joy. And most importantly, forced proximity coupled with important life experiences. Goodbye drinking alone, hello brunch with many a wonderful dance buddy. Jazz hands!