New York City – Circa 2000
It was a time in my life that, looking back now, seemed like it was in fast forward. Youth happens so quick that by the time you blink, 10 years have passed and you’re holding down a real job, paying bills, and having dinner parties. But this night, this moment, was different. It all happened slowly, as if Time and Life wanted to slow it down so that I would pay attention. I did.
The night was anything but young. My friends and I had already been to a bar, a party, and a club, so the obvious next stop was a New York’s legendary after hours spot. (Funny the kind of energy one has in their “younger” days!)
We arrived at what was then known as Twilo (I don’t know what it’s called now or if it is called anything for that matter, since a few years later Twilo would be closed due to one too many cases of publicized overdoses). It was one of the biggest clubs at that time, and we arrived at 4:00 am to find the typical crowd for that scene: the workers, and everyone else (including crackheads, college students, crazies, celebrities, soccer moms living double lives with their boyfriends, and husbands living double lives with, well, their boyfriends. I guess we were somewhere in the middle of all that. A line from the all-knowing “Wikipedia” can help one to understand the magnitude of Twilo:
“Until its closing in 2001, Twilo was the most well liked and, its critics charged, most played-out nightclub to grace the streets of New York City since the seminal Studio 54.”
The workers worked: the bartenders, the bouncers, the waitresses, the drug dealers. And the rest of us were just out to be yong or relive young and have the best time we could have on that Saturday night.After all, when you’re young, “life is short.”
Really late into the morning, when the club was emptying out and the dance floor was clearing up, I noticed a strange man. In New York City, you gotta be pretty damn strange to stand out and an after hours club, but he stood out. He was older, like late 60s / early 70s older. Now what stood out wasn’t age, after all, I had seen and met many people that were his age at other times, but what stood out was that he was dancing around the empty floor to what looked to be… a tango? Twilo, wasn’t a tango kind of place. Actually google “Twilo NYC” and the last thing you’d find, if you found it at all, would be Tango. I immediately threw him into the crazy category, but like many crazies it’s nearly impossible to keep your eyes off. There was something elegant and beautiful about him. His footwork was graceful, his posture was perfect, his timing -to house music-was impeccable.
Most paid him no mind, and the ones that did were jackasses. Even at my age when self centered egotistical behavior is a norm, I never found mocking others funny. Some threw things. Some yelled out names. Some tried to step in his way to interrupt him. I found him fascinating. He danced. I was enchanted. Like a magical maiden tip toeing in the forest after coming upon a magical tree house, I was overpoweringly following him through the sea of people and around the floor. I had an epiphany: a late night, wined epiphany, but nonetheless, an epiphany…
To this guy, dance is life. The two ideas juxtaposed and intertwined on that dance floor. Without one, there isn’t the other. If one stopped so did its pair. He knows that if he stops moving for even a moment, then it would all be over. No wonder he let nothing stop him; his vitality, his existence is here on this floor. It’s rare that you see someone so physically holding on to a moment, a perfect moment in time, that is only his. And it really is beautiful.
Others continued to imitate him, standing beside him, pretending to tango, just to get a laugh from their friends, but he danced through them like a raging bull, DeNiro style and paying no mind. Not only did he dance on, but the mimicking wasn’t getting to him either. Knowing many people that would have catapulted a fist or two, he was awesomely impressing me. He would graciously step away from the mockers and move to the other side of the floor with his tango. His focus was not theirs to have. “Life is not about living for others, life is about living for me,” I thought he thought. Fascinating. NOTHING stopped Mr. Tango. I was utterly intrigued.
So I watched for a bit and then with unmitigated and absolute respect, joined his dance. Not mocking, just wanting to be a part of an exquisite moment that I felt blessed to be a small part of. I stood next to him and followed his lead; danced what he danced, moved as he moved. I didn’t mimick or laugh. I didn’t talk or ask. And while he moved away from others, he let me dance alongside him.
When he finally stopped, I stopped. And before I could ask he said, “It’s the dance of life. Let nothing get in your way. And if you’re lucky you’ll find someone to dance alongside you.”
Sure, some might think that this guy was bat ass crazy. He might have been. Some thought that he was high as a kite and for all I know, maybe he was – it wouldn’t have been the first time that I had seen someone in New York City wound up on artificial flavoring – but never had I seen someone so sincerely, so vigorously full of life.
We shook hands in that “thank you for sharing a moment with me” kind of way and said nothing else. It was a beautiful moment and I had gotten something more out of that evening that no one else could understand. In a moment, a brief moment in my life, this old “crazy” stranger taught me that his tango was so much more than a dance. It was his dance, his life, and he would let no one get in the way of how he danced it.
Moral of the story: Not all strange is weird. Not all weird is crazy. And if you give anything a chance, you just might learn something about how to dance in your on life.