Dancing like everyone's watching

WHEN I hear good music, I dance. Not just shuffle-from-side-to-side dance. I mean I leave no space for shame. There is something about a catchy hook and a crafty bassline that makes me lose so much of myself in it that it almost feels impolite to look at.

I recall college days when my mates and I would go club hopping along Jalan Sultan Ismail and Jalan P Ramlee – a sumptuous platter of house, RnB and retro and top 40 hits. We would let our hair down, get lost and bump into other people from college, raise glasses, and go home giddy with the accomplishment of having fun.

Then another element was added to the equation. Enter the age of camera phones, swiftly followed by smartphones. No longer is a night complete with self-accomplishment. It now must be known to everyone that we did indeed have fun, otherwise it would be deemed as fun that did not exist.

More recently, I have been to festivals and nightlife events with flashbulbs going off everywhere. People posing, 'approving' photos, and shouting “You MUST tag me in this!” at parties dominated not too long ago by people just actually partying.

For a while, I too was part of this trend, which followed me for the last time at a concert. Having missed one of my most-admired musicians Jason Mraz in Kuala Lumpur back in 2011 due to work, I managed to work around commitments to fly to Bali four days after, to catch him perform a rare acoustic gig with his regular percussionist Toca Rivera. I arrived at the moshpit early enough to assert a middle spot in the second row. I brought three cameras – two basic digital cameras and a DSLR. I refused to let a moment pass unaccounted for. 

It seemed to be the agenda of everyone else around me – an unmoving crowd of raised recording devices. But when Mraz strummed the first chords of 'Butterfly' – a personal favourite, I had to stop filming as my hand was shaking too much from the rest of my body grooving. I gave up and went all out into my ridiculous jig... ridiculous enough for both Jason and Toca to see it and smile back.

When I arrived back in KL, I went through the photos so painstakingly that I did not make the time to review the gargantuan video files – and to this day, have yet to. It was then that I recognised a dire problem: that I was putting more effort into documenting good times more than actually having them.

Last year, Mraz was holding another concert in Malaysia. And just as the stars had mockingly aligned themselves before, I once again had to miss it in the name of work. I decided to fly out of the country again to catch an alternative date, this time in Singapore. (Me, obsessive? I prefer undeterred.) Problem was that I had to be in KL the following daybreak to catch a flight to Cambodia with my sister. To miss half a concert to make it for a holiday made this chance all too valuable to spend behind a lens. I reached the venue early to meet a Filipino friend I had made in Bali. And using the single camera I brought, I took pictures with her and other new friends, then slipped it in my pocket the minute the stage lights dimmed. My body was aching for a lot of impolite action. And I made a promise to not disappoint it. Not now, not ever again.

Jason and his band began their set with uplifting numbers. And in that docile sea of digital culture, I surfed the wave of audial bliss. I closed my eyes and swirled my hips, raised my hands and shook up my feet. I laughed at how amazing it felt, like a friendship so sincere that the absent gaps are forgotten.

Halfway into the second song, Jason greeted the crowd, then added, “I wanna acknowledge this young lady in the front who's spotted a little room to dance for herself.” He raised his hands too, honouring me honouring the moment. For lack of a better word, I was grateful.

A few songs later, the screen backdrop illuminated with a burst of butterflies. I whooped in preparation for the dirty jam to be had. But not before Jason then pointed my way and coyly announced, “This is for that dancer down front.”

It no longer mattered that I had to leave the concert early. It no longer mattered that I take such extreme measures to make days like this and the next work out. In fact, nothing mattered at all, except the unfiltered, unapologetic expression of joy that music should bring out of everyone.

> The views expressed are entirely the writer's own

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