My identity as an electronic music fan (yes, ok fine: raver) dates back to 1996. I edited a rave magazine called Lotus through the late ’90s, met my husband at a new years rave, and even though I stopped going to warehouse parties in 2000 or so, I’ve continued to attend loud outdoor festivals every summer in the decade since. These festivals included Burning Man 1999 – 2003, and then an awesome Canadian dance music festival called Shambhala for the last 4 years. Andreas and I go with a big crew of other aging dancers ranging from late 20s to early 40s, and have had wonderful times.
This year was different.
Of course I knew things would be really different for me, being pregnant and sober and all. But we had a good friend who attended the festival at 8 months pregnant last year and had a great time.
When we arrived at the festival Friday morning, I was immediately aware that I didn’t have the same energy to wander from stage to stage, and leaving the dance floor 3 times an hour to pee was bothersome … but I was going to have a great time regardless because going to dance music festivals is what I do, pregnant or not! I wouldn’t say I was having a great time, but I was HAVING A TIME, dammit!
Early Saturday evening, the friends I was camped with all decided we’d take “disco naps” before heading out for the night … just as our camping neighbors decided that would be the perfect time to enforce their musical tastes upon us by pounding awful genre-less banging music from their enormous sound system.
Dre and I looked at each other.
“I don’t think a nap is happening,” I shouted over our neighbor’s awful music.
“This sucks,” Dre said. “I kind of want to leave.”
“Leave?!” I said. But, Shambhala is my favorite festival! Even if I wasn’t having the best time evar, I wasn’t ready to just turn around and go home.
“We could go to Nelson, BC tonight and then go camping in the Kootenay Mountains tomorrow,” Dre said.
…And that sounded wonderful.
An hour later we’d packed up our camp, hugged our friends farewell, and were on the road north to Nelson. We stayed in a hotel that night, wandered the town the next morning, and then headed north to a hot springs resort to soak. The afternoon was spent on the shores of Lake Kootenay and that evening at a campground. It was perfect.
I felt 100% awesome about our decision to leave the festival, but I can’t deny that I had to do a little chewing on the identity ramifications.
Back in my rave magazine days, I used to write a LOT about the value of dance and celebration. My nickname at the magazine was “Little Fists In The Air” because I was a fucking dance activist, people!
I wrote an article for Lotus in 1998 called “Maintaining The Groove” (I am physically wincing right now over that title) that was all about how “The moment you stop Dancing is the moment you begin to die, so Dance forever.” (Yes, we capitalized the word Dance because that’s how seriously we took
ourselves it.) Even as an overly enthusiastic slightly dogmatic 22 year old, I was keenly aware that the rave scene’s age-based homogeneity was a problem in terms of cultural sustainability.
Having built the early years of my writing career on screeds like Maintaining The Groove (you can go read it: vintage typos and all!), I guess it’s understandable that the statement “I left the electronic music festival because it was too loud” would be more loaded for me than it might be for others.
There’s a lot of defensiveness that comes up for me, some of which I think is rational: I have friends in their 40s who still go to parties! I knew people who felt “too old” in their early 20s! Age is just a number! This isn’t about me getting older or being pregnant!
There’s no denying it: leaving my favorite festival after 36 hours feels like untangling some tiny last fine threads that held me to my rave career. It’s been a gradual process — I haven’t been a true RAVER!!! since I resigned from Lotus in 2001, attending mostly just hippie-raves and outdoor festivals since 2002. Once I started getting my morning dancing in with NIA in 2006, I gave up on most late-night electronic dance music events. Shambhala and a couple nights at clubs a year have been my last vestiges of my former rave identity.
I have had a HELL of a run, partying loud and proud for almost 15 years … I banged the fuck out of my youth.
When I think about this rationally, I know of course that there’s NOTHING WRONG here. I have had a HELL of a run, partying loud and proud for almost 15 years. I’ve been shouting over speaker stacks since I was 20 years old. When it’s time for my midlife crisis, it will not include pining over not attending enough loud parties or not having enough fun in my youth. I banged the fuck out of my youth.
I also have to remind myself that the form is NOT the function. Dancing and celebratory gatherings have been a part of my world since childhood. It’s not like I don’t have examples of how dance can shift through the phases of a person’s life: I look at my parents and see that they’ve both integrated dance and gatherings and celebrations through-out their lives. Mom still does African Dance and drumming. Dad still loves his Ecstatic Dance classes.
I keep having to remind myself that not enjoying a form of dance that did me good for almost 15 years doesn’t somehow represent the Demise of All Fun in my life. Leaving a music festival doesn’t mean I’m going to stop dancing. It’s just that the era of super loud, super big, super intoxicated, all-night parties may be coming to a gentle close. There are a LOT of places to dance in this world, and while I want to dance forever … I’m not sure I want to dance all night with strangers as much as I used to.
Not that parenthood won’t still be an abrupt transition, but feeling like I’m losing my identity as a party maven is something I’ve dealt with for years. (Although, as this situation is evidence of, not always without a few clutchings and bittersweet moments.) It’s been a gentle amble in this direction, and my favorite moments of the last couple years have all been about spontaneous walks to the park with friends, soaking in my mom’s hot tub, participating in ridiculous choreographed dance routines, shaking it on a sprung wood floor at a dance studio, and laughing over good stories and tasty food.
In closing, I’ll quote my 22 year old self:
Since none of us can maintain (or re-obtain) our youth, we can learn from it. Maintain attitudes of openness, curiosity and enthusiasm. Never let your heart or your body harden. Remember that when people say they’ve “grown out of Dancing,” they often mean that their heart has grown old. Do not let this happen to you. For the sake of yourself, for the sake of our community, for the sake of our shared experience as a generation, for the sake of our shared joy as humans, promise to Dance for the rest of your life!
And I will Dance [sic] for the rest of my life. At friend’s houses. At dance studios. At gentler festivals like this one. In parks. With my husband. With our son.
I’m especially looking forward to that last one.