Saturday, November 23, 2002

It recently struck me that my Stanford life is positively filled with girls. There are no less than ten such specimens in Testimony, to say nothing of the Ailouriskai, Phoebe, Cythereia, Alanna (who comes by so often now, more's the delight!), and next quarter Thalassa and Blue Tango will return. It's as if somebody crowded the female side of my life into northern California, and left all the males down south. Not that I don't enjoy being surrounded by lovely ladies, mind. It does give me pause to think, though. I wonder how much of the behavior differential between Stanford and home is due to the gender imbalance in my social sphere.

Consider that up here I go to great lengths to establish myself as one of the girls, so to speak. Down home I don't do that, and I don't think it's just because there are so few girls in my social sphere. Even with Princess and Thea I didn't behave like that. What is different up here? Partially of course I'm making a deliberate statement about what I think of male stereotypes. Partially it's a way of interjecting a tiny bit of acting into my campus life, where affectation is so common but acting so rare. Partially it's because my support structure here pales in comparison to the one I grew up with, and I try to compensate with a special emphasis on gallantry. And partially it's to increase the amount of time I spend with girls. And I mean that in a very literal sense. I like being around girls. I like studying their behavior, I like trying to get inside their heads, I like practicing to be a good date when I go somewhere with one of them.

Partially too, of course, it's a reflection of the fact that while I celebrate the division of the human organism into two gendered halves, I don't think those halves are really very different at all. But they are different, different and wonderful. Retaking Social I, this time as a follow, has pointed this out to me. There is something about dancing with a girl that is entirely independent of the dancing part. What I mean is, if you give me two partners of equal skill but opposite gender, I will probably enjoy the dance with the girl more than with the guy. There is something magical about the presence of a girl that makes the dance that extra bit better. Speaking of dancing, I recently compiled my "waltz favorites" playlist, and it inspired me to write my Social I essay. Here it is:

A friend of mine recently asked me why I like waltz so much. He’s a swing dancer from Los Angeles, and so far as I know has never danced a waltz in his life. I don’t mean to imply that he isn’t a real dancer, of course; he’s been a part of the LA swing scene for years. I was surprised at his confusion, though: didn’t I find the music boring, he wondered? And that’s when we discovered that he thought of waltz as being done to classical music. I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised at that. Most people probably think of waltz in the same way my friend does. All the same, I was surprised.

I recently compiled a playlist of my favorite waltz tunes. The effect of the music is hard to describe: if you imagine that it made lightning course through my veins, caused my heart to leap into my throat, and lit a fire behind my eyes, you will have some idea of what I experienced. No doubt the audiences of the great romantic composers felt something similar when they waltzed for the first time to the music of that era—I do not. But when I listen to the waltzes of my generation, the dance enters my body like a ghost and possesses me with the aching need to counterbalance, to spin and be spun, to drive across the floor with a momentum that is unstoppable and yet leaves me weightless in the arms of my partner. How could anyone find this music boring?

Of course my friend probably hadn’t ever seen people waltz to “Erin Shore” or “Caribbean Blue.” But I think that that is only part of the answer. When I listen to a good waltz, I can picture myself waltzing to it—I can all but feel my partner in my arms. In fact, one of my criteria for a good waltz tune is whether or not it conjures up that image in my mind.

But wait—if I didn’t already love the waltz, the songs would never have become imbued with the power to conjure the dance. And why precisely do I love the songs so much? Because they do have that power. There is a cycle at work here: dance and music run together until one is scarcely separable from the other. The dance is not complete without the music—and the music longs for the dance.
My point? I could be writing all of this to recommend to my fellow leads that they learn to dance with the music. But while I think that is a good idea, it is not why I wrote these ruminations. The truth is that I wrote them down because I was listening to that waltz playlist, and I felt that I had to unpack some of what I was feeling or I would explode. Boring, indeed!

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