Just finished re-reading DANCER FROM THE DANCE and it does seem to capture a brief moment in a particular time and place, gay Manhattan circuit culture in the 70s: the drugs, and the dancing (the Philadelphia sound and beginnings of disco) , the clothes (burn the Lacostes!), Perrier and Angel Dust, the Pines and the Everhard baths. Everyone from elsewhere, escaping the material and psychic oppression of their hometowns and finding community in the sex and the music and the dance….all conveyed by a camp that rarely strays from the cusp of hurt.
When I first read it, I ignored the sadness, the loneliness, the aspect of the story that dramatised how these men don’t find love, f**k away the years, and then age creeps up on them and they move to San Francisco or return to look after ageing parents or jump of a rooftop. I thought it all glamorous and aspirational.
Now, it seems such an exemplar of a kind of unconscious wasp dominance. Malone is a BLONDE God; the Puerto Ricans — so desired — are barely legible as people. I also now re-read it with the knowledge that many of them would have died a few years later, that a fate much worse than working insurance in their hometowns awaited so many of them.
The spiritual emptiness depicted in the novel seems more clearly a result of structures of oppression, and the appreciation of the dancing and the music and the surfaces of things seem to glow in the mind: I made a playlist of every song mentioned in the novel. There’s an expression in Spanish, ‘que te quiten lo bailao’ i.e. they can’t take away that which you’ve danced (I know there’s a similar expression in English; I just can’t think of it now).
The novel left me feeling that at least they danced and enjoyed their bodies, joked and were in on the joke. Edmund White compares it to THE GREAT GATSBY in the way it glamorises a decade and a culture, but there’s also the romanticism, the sadness, the green light, that is here that relationship that is always within reach but forever tragically unobtainable. A beautiful read.
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