I love house music. And I love to dance. Not that old-fashioned kind of “only-go-on-the-dance-floor-with-a-partner” type of stiff, awkward dancing (unless you’re a ballroom dancer). But the “full-abandon-get-lost-in-the-music-I-just-dance-the-way-I-feel” type of dancing (but not like Elaine on Seinfeld*).
My first foray into nightclubs as a teenager was when house music was starting its first rumblings in underground, small venues. By the time I was in my mid 20s and dancing every Saturday night non-stop until daylight broke through, it had exploded. My dance floor ventures would be with others also dancing rapturously. Even today, I can still transport myself back to the dance floor of those amazing Melbourne nightclubs and feel the energy, smell the sweat and smoke mixed with aftershave and perfume. And feel the heavy doof-doof beat in my chest and the euphoria in my heart.
It was like being in a meditative trance connected energetically with equally happy people, also dancing ecstatically to the music. No doubt many of them were on party drugs. But the energy was addictive – with smiling, happy people throwing their arms around like “they just don’t care.**” While stompers did their hypnotic creative hand gestures and intricate foot movements (which I could never co-ordinate).
This is close as I can get to what dancing was like in the 1990’s. It’s not from a Melbourne nightclub. Sadly, limited footage is available from this time. Unlike today!
Of course, I’m not alone in my joyful experiential memories. Visit “I loved clubbing in 1990s!” a Facebook group that has almost 10,000 members all wistfully recollecting their favourite house and techno tracks mixed by amazing Australian DJs. All at my previous stomping grounds – Dome, Warehouse (Fluid), Chevron (Insanity), Mansion, Milk Shake and of course, Chasers.
Now as a mother of two teenage girls, I don’t go to nightclubs. In fact, the last time was 2002 (other than a few stints at a family-friendly Club Med doing canned group dancing). So you can imagine my excitement when I came across the opportunity to see Hayden James at the Australian Open Live Stage Event that was open for all ages (and I could indoctrinate my girls into my love of dancing!).
My husband and I picked up our kids (12 and 15 years), an hour earlier from school and made it to the Australian Open on a 43 degree day. The type of day you could fry an egg on the lid of a paint can. It was sweltering. A storm hit shortly after we arrived, bringing frenetic wind and rain, but barely reducing the temperature. Instead, it brought with it the kind of humidity that makes your hair curl instantly.
After enjoying a dance competition in the Kia booth and visiting a range of shops, we made it to the AO Live Stage. It was a bit of a shock to see bars lining the perimeter with big, rowdy queues. I had bought the children as it was promoted as a family event, so assumed it was alcohol free (unlike the Fatboy Slim show that was clearly promoted as 18 plus). I entered the venue in that slightly panicked, guilty mum feeling that I was putting my children in danger. And was then equally confused, when a security guard yelled at us through the noise that children had to be with us at all times. But then confusion broke through to laughter, as he made it sound like our kids were going to brave the queues and buy themselves drinks.
Having missed the start of the support act. We made our way through the crowd to see Running Touch. And was a bit shocked that there were no other children. Or families. Or even anyone our age. But that was quickly forgotten, when we saw Running Touch, the support act, an amazing young Melbourne artist who sang his hit tunes and energised the crowd. My eldest daughter grinned from ear to ear and we all danced.
When Hayden James appeared an hour later, we had made our way down to the middle of the ground, 10 rows back from the stage. The music was brilliant. We danced. Everyone danced. We sang out loud in unison to Better Together and Just Friends. We raised our hands and jumped up high in the chorus.
Here I am in sunglasses singing with my two girls. No-one in the video was involved in the later-mentioned fracas.
And then something happened that brought me back to the old, dark days of clubbing. And I’m not talking about experiences from the beloved venues I mentioned before. I’m talking about the type of clubs that brought a crowd that wasn’t there for the love of music. In the 1990s, I avoided country or suburban “discos” or city nightclubs that attracted men who thought any girl wearing a short skirt was there for their taking. In that sort of environment, it also attracted a type of female that liked that game. Or at least, knew the rules.
My preference was nightclubs that were gay friendly. They were the most inclusive of everybody (although, you would get knocked back if you weren’t dressed stylishly, so only inclusive to a point). You could dance the way you wanted, and in my case, in skimpy outfits, and not get hassled. But in the other types of venues, men would attack other men. And well, women would attack other women. It was terrifying. Women would see any female who they perceived as being prettier than them, dressed better or dancing better than them as a competitor that had to be shamed and quashed as soon as possible.
Back in the 1990s, that would involve girls going up to their opponent and trying to out dance them. Usually it was like a scene from Kylie Minogue’s, What Do I Have to Do, with two girls dancing provocatively with each other, to get the males to look at them instead. That was pretty passive-aggressive and in my case funny to watch. But in more alcohol-fuelled or bogan venues, it meant pushing the girl as she danced. Trying to take her spot and telling her verbally that she was no good (I was once told “You’re just an ugly redhead. Who do you think you are?”)
So it was a bit of a surprise that I experienced that at Hayden James. After two of my favourite songs were played and I danced frenetically in ways I haven’t since the 1990s***, my opponent appeared. Weirdly looking like all the other ones from the past like some Frankenstein dance nemesis in a pretty pink polka dot dress.
“My opponent appeared. Weirdly looking like all the other ones from the past like some Frankenstein dance nemesis in a pretty pink polka dot dress.”
She pushed past me, stood right next to me and put her arm over me and took some photos above my head of her friends behind me. Physically restraining me from dancing. When I told her to leave me to dance and stop the intimidation, her friends rallied around elbowing and pushing into me so I couldn’t move. I felt slightly ill that the abuse was potentially because we were older than everyone. And that I was undergoing that strange pack mentality when a group of females could just merrily target in on one sole female.
The crowd didn’t feel inclusive like the old crowds I used to frequent. In fact, their connection was more to the innate object of a camera – happy to photo bomb our videos than actually having a friendly conversation with us. Even our mutual interest in Hayden James and Running Touch wasn’t enough for the people around us to be warm and accommodating. It was a shock because I had assumed that Millennials and Gen Z’s were far more inclusive than Baby Boomers or Gen X’ers.
Embarrassed and frustrated, I told my husband what was happening. After all, how could a 40 something encourage the sort of bitchy behaviour from the bad old days? The bad old days when women regularly faced discrimination and couldn’t talk about it, gays weren’t allowed to get married and when a selfie was something that would have been misconstrued as self-pleasure.
At that stage, I don’t think he had noticed the mayhem surrounding me. A peace-loving man, he was keeping stoic vigil, as he looked out for our two daughters who had stealthily made their way to the front of the stage. I kept dancing and the girls kept pushing and leaning against me. So when he did turn around to stop around three girls from crashing into me, they then turned on him.
Leaving me to try and dance through all the pushing, to Hayden James DJing Kylie Minogue Can’t Get You Out of My Head (as a nod to Melbourne), Moby and one of my 90s favourite’s At Night by Shakedown.
And then things switched, after someone through their shoe at us. My nemesis apologised and said she’d leave me alone. And she did. But by then, her friends had all turned on my husband like some weird she-wolf gang.
What I wasn’t aware of was that one of the girls two rows back was getting people to move, so she could kick him in the bum and not be traced. If that wasn’t enough, she even pretended to be filming the stage by putting her arm above him and hitting him regularly on the head.
After he had repeatedly told her to stop, he yelled and told her to stop being a coward. Somehow that enraged those all around. Right on cue, his nemesis appeared, mysteriously through the smoky haze (sorry, old reference, there was no smoke, just extreme heat).
My husband’s adversary also physically looked like an amalgamation of his past nightclub opponents. Wearing what we used to call “tails” (now somewhat affectionately known as a mullet). And a brown singlet and short combination that would rival any bogan from the 1980s at your local country pub. Although, no thongs were involved, a ciggie or canned VB.
Dazza (not actual name) yelled at my husband saying that he’d run down to stop the girls from hassling me, but then got angry when he saw my hubbie push one girl away. The cowardly girl (ironically, in a sweet little red floral dress), then proceeded to break into what I could only label a four year old tantrum, wailing “You broke my sunglasses!” Somehow failing to connect that kicking and hitting a 54 year old repeatedly on the bum and head, made her immune to any sort of repercussion (that’s assuming that he actually did break her glasses when he pushed her off him).
Thankfully, unlike the 1990s, my husband was eventually able to have a calm conversation with Dazza and his equally irate mate Davo (not real name) who at one stage had their firsts raised to punch him. Eventually, they all shook hands while the girl having a dramatic outburst looked on furiously.
Everything was fine from then on. But in the words of the great poet Timbaland, “the damage is done, so I guess I’ll be leaving. Oh!” We watched until the end of the show. My enthusiasm for dancing was tainted. And our 12 year old, looked on worried and perplexed, after having seen a man threaten to hit her father.
Now in the aftermath, I have a husband that doesn’t want to be around people and I don’t think I can convince him to go to AO Live next year or any concert. We’d love to be able to see Rufus du Sol, Cosmos Midnight or Flume as a family.
As someone who teaches leaders and employees to build trust with one another, I’m kind of lost and disappointed after seeing that sort of human behaviour. I do believe consciousness is changing and people are becoming nicer to each other. We are less violent than we used to be, if you look at the statistics. It’s just now we live in a world of transparency, thanks to social media, where we are empowered to call out bad behaviours. It’s ugly when the light comes on and we can see what has been hidden and tolerated for so long. From priests molesting children, people in power procuring sex slaves, and women, aborigines and gays all suffering in workplaces and the community.
While the recent bushfires were a tragedy, on the upside it brought a wave of compassion. Not only did those outside our borders send us love and money, but Australians rallied together to help each other out, even caring about native animals (something only done by a few even twenty years ago).
What my husband and I experienced could be written off to a range of things – alcohol, hot weather, generational intolerance or the Australian Open not creating a safe space for families. In the end, it doesn’t matter. What matters is that as a society Australians need to be more inclusive of everyone. We’re not even tolerant of those like ourselves. We are a white middle class family who ended up being harassed and bullied by white middle class kids. And if we can’t even dance together, then what hope do we have to reduce racism, sexism and any other ism? After all, we belong in a Universe, which really means one-song. Music is healing and brings us all together. Dancing and singing should have united us like the ancients that danced on the same earth for thousands of years before us.
“And if we can’t even dance together, then what hope do we have to reduce racism, sexism and any other ism?”
Today, light is being shone on all the hidden dark behaviours starting at the top of society that have become embedded into our institutions, Governments and society. But we need to shine it on the small, everyday behaviours, by ordinary Australians that cause so much avoidable pain and hurt. When we complain about the state of the world today, it is so easy to blame Government and other people. But it really starts with looking within ourselves and how we treat others. We are all responsible for creating a harmonious and loving Australia. It’s time we started asking ourselves, “How can I be a better human? How can I connect with those in a loving, peaceful way, rather than judging or attacking?” How can I ensure I’m not being a bully?”
After all, peace starts within ourselves. Once we can all do that as a collective, we can naturally create a safer, more enjoyable Australia for everyone. And that’s the Australia I want.
*Seinfeld is a 1990’s hit comedy show.
**1980s reference to “Word Up – Wave your hands in the air like you just don’t care.”
***Despite being involved in Eisteddfod’s and lots of school dancing concerts, today’s 20 somethings just don’t dance like they feel the beat. Watching back the Hayden James videos it is hilarious to watch such lacklustre dancing in the crowd. Everyone is more interested in looking like they’re having fun on camera than actually knowing how to do that. All I can advise is “shake what yo momma gave ya!” Woo! More dancing, less image protecting. No discrimination is intended against younger generations. Just an observation.