To some, dancing is something we do only when young. To these  perhaps jaded  souls, we dance throughout our childhood, in our teens and during our 20s. Then, somewhere in our early 30s, we stop. At best, we might dance occasionally at weddings, or through the haze of alcohol-saturated Christmas and New Year’s Eve parties. […]

To some, dancing is something we do only when young.

To these  perhaps jaded  souls, we dance throughout our childhood, in our teens and during our 20s. Then, somewhere in our early 30s, we stop. At best, we might dance occasionally at weddings, or through the haze of alcohol-saturated Christmas and New Year’s Eve parties.

There is another perspective which views dancing as essential human activity, self-expression or cathartic release. It holds dancing to be a form of unconscious communication articulating that which is suffocated by 21st century existence. To these individuals, whether dancing well or badly, the dance is primeval and essential. Dancing, from this particular outlook, is dynamic and free, too elusive to be pinned down and marketed by the money men.

My background is Afro-Caribbean. During my childhood, dancing was not restricted to the young. If, at the parties I attended, a man or woman was still able to stand and feel the joy of music, then they were considered young enough to dance. And how they danced. I recall old, bald men amongst the edgy youth, raising a glass of Jamaican rum to the ceiling, shouting ‘tune’ and skanking as vigorously as any of the 18 year olds around them.

I note a similar phenomenon amongst a different demographic at contemporary music festivals. Middle-aged middle-Englanders are there, apparently for the talks or for a world music artist they discovered on Radio 3. But at a certain point in the evening, loosened by alcohol and the annual spliff, they find themselves in the late-night tent, where radical DJs are throwing down afrobeat, broken latin cut-ups and deep dubstep. In their eyes, and despite their ivory-tower gawkiness, you see them transported to that magical place where only dance can take you.

In my youth, I also spent a fair amount of time clubbing in northern Europe. One aspect which I appreciated, and which was a reflection of my Caribbean upbringing, was that in these clubs you’d find people of all ages moving on a groove. My 20-something self would be there busting my IDJ-inspired jazz moves, but there’d also be 30-somethings, 40-somethings and 50-somethings dancing in a different way, but who were as deeply into the music as I was. These were noble and expansive parties of the highest order.

And here I am in Sheffield. 51 fucking years old. I still love dancing at any opportunity, but I particularly seek that expansive dancefloor vibe which crosses cultures and age ranges. I find it only rarely here. It is there at Kat Sugi’s amazing Superfly Friday at The Beer Engine. It is there at festivals like How The Light Gets In and, to a lesser extent these days, Womad. It’s there in the DJ sets of The Soul Professor, Justin Robertson and DJ CousCous. We’re not talking clichéd dancefloors - no cheesy evenings of overplayed classics, no nights of exclusively youthful energy. It requires a soundtrack that inspires, surprises and uplifts, one that appeals to the cerebellum, the soul and the ass. It needs the young, the old and everyone in between.

It’s the Jazz Rooms, Brighton circa 1995. It is IDJ Dancers at the Electric Ballroom, Camden in the early 1980s with a young Gilles Peterson on the decks.

There are around 3,000 Saturday nights in the average adult lifespan. That number is too small to waste on mediocre nights out. My advice? Spend more of them dancing at luminous, uplifting, inclusive parties. Such shindigs are rarities, surprise jewels in the silt, but they are events which re-energise and repurpose, and can even change the entire direction of a life.

So yeah, I’m dancin’. How about you?

Peter Play