Sometimes, a flash of insight that passes in a millimoment can sum up a complex state of being better than a graduate thesis on the subject that took a decade of angst and begging for grant money and living on ramen noodles to write. I had one of those not long ago when I was at a party for a magazine I was working for at the time.
Women’s magazines, like many other supposedly glamorous enterprises, attract bright, ambitious, preternaturally attractive recent college grads willing to work for peanuts in the hopes of someday having one of the few jobs at the top of the masthead. Call it dues-paying, call it exploitation, the result is the same: people (overwhelmingly female) under 30 at women’s magazines outnumber those of us over 30 by a margin of something like 3 to 1. The number of people in their 40s like me is proportionately miniscule, and if there is one person in her 50s, it is usually the boss or someone the HR department knows is married to a civil rights lawyer with an age-discrimination suit in his outbox. (What becomes of older women in glitzy jobs–a subject I’m more than a little interested in–will be the subject of a future posting. We can’t all work at More.)
Anyway, after dinner, the DJ started his set, and I was not shocked that the songs were completely foreign to me. I may have heard one at my niece’s bat mitzvah, but I’m wasn’t sure, and anyway, no one seems to play entire songs anymore. It was over before I’d figured it out.
The assistants and associates, however, squealed, shouted the name of the song or the artist, dropped their dessert forks and pulled one another onto the dance floor, dancing in rings of fabulousness, their sky-high heels apparently no hindrance to their perfect music video moves. They had a secret language of arm gestures and in-jokes, and magically all seemed to know which lyrics to shout out simultaneously. I felt a teeny bit left out, but I remembered, of course, when that was me and my underpaid friends pretending we were Lady Miss Kier from Dee-Lite. These girls (or women, as I, too, preferred to be called when I was a girl) were gorgeous, joyful, and incredible to watch. I sat back with a few others my age, finished everyone’s dessert and enjoyed the show.
Finally, after about 20 minutes, the DJ cued the inevitable old school medley, songs from the ’70s, ’80s and early ’90s, something by Cameo or Bel Biv Devoe or Salt-n-Pepa that you might have danced to when you wore shoes like that. I grabbed my boss, who is also in her 40s and a friend, and we wedged ourselves in among the chicas.
We had a blast, dancing to those songs the way we danced back in the day. It felt good to move (no, to BUST a move!) In fact, we seem to be inspiring the assistants. Why, they’re emulating us, forming a circle around us, clapping to the beat and shouting encouragement. (Remember, we have power over them, so this is in large measure butt kissing, but we don’t care–we’ll take it.) We’re bad, baaaad in a good way. In fact, for a minute, I feel kind of badass.
Until one of the few men (who is, of course, gay and works in the art department) broke through the circle, danced over to me, and enlisted me as his partner. He is a stellar dancer, and I was inspired to new heights of experimentation, breaking out some moves that I’d locked in the vault, to be saved for just such an occasion: The overhead hand-shuffle, the Danceteria arm-cross, and of course, the hair-thrashing free-for-all that just seemed to be made for the chorus of Nirvana songs.
He was mirroring me. I must be FANTASTIC, I thought. I felt fantastic, that I know. Whatever I did, he did. We are a perfect match, a modern Fred and Ginger, improvising and clicking and freaking each other and it was wild.
And then, it occurred to me: Is he dancing with me because I’m fun and a good dancer? Or is he half making fun of me, being ironic, much like we used to do The Bump or the Hustle with those who came of age in the disco era–with a wink?
I’m pretty sure it was the latter, and for a second I was tempted to dial it down. But I was having so much fun I decided it doesn’t matter. Perhaps he was mocking me, but who cares? At least I was up and moving and away from the parfait, enjoying my Nora Desmond moment.
In fact, once I got over the shock of the revelation that I am at least in part the joke of the dance floor, I took his choice of me as a partner as a compliment. He knew I could take a joke, even if the joke was me. That comes with age. And that, for me, is the absolute best thing about being a Formerly.
Photo Courtesy of www.ladykier.com