Mette Jolly: The Marathon Dance

The invitation has no date or time. I don’t even know who is hosting. All I have is the address:

What I do know is that this is a bring-your-own event, so I’m carrying a crate, although I don’t plan to get tipsy. I learnt my lesson on LinkedIn, the only office party I’ve ever attended where good-humoured activity behind the photocopier is considered improper. These days, I prefer the gatherings on Twitter where I dance around handbags, while ignoring the late-night fistfights.

I also enjoy the occasional Instagram outing, although even this pictorial universe has warriors lurking in the lushness. One of them once commented on peony I showed him that I’d ‘obviously never seen a real one’.

So, it is with trepidation that I enter the Facebook ballroom, ‘fifteen years late to the party’, as a friend of mine puts it when I run into him by the entrance. He is in a group of tall men with good hair who are standing with their blazers over their shoulders declaring that they are moving onto the next thing. ‘This joint,’ they say, ‘has had its day’.

Five minutes in and I know they’re mistaken. This party is far from over, although I soon realise that I was right to fear what attending birthdays, weddings and funerals simultaneously might do to my mood. As I stand under the disco ball trying to get my bearings, one friend sails past in an American Smooth while another collapses by the exit, alone and exhausted, the lace on her burgundy dress ripped at the seams.

‘She’ll be back,’ say voices behind me.

I was aware of that. The red light will tell her when it’s time to hit the parquet floor again. (After a few visits, I will learn that nobody waits for the signal. The prize, although an unknown quantity, is too tempting).

But tonight, my friend is going home with no points, and I wish I could comfort her. It’s just that I’ve spotted my aunt across the floor waving a red heart at me.

‘Wonderful to see you here,’ she says.

It feels good to be the object of genuine affection. We do a few basic movements until somebody I used to train with in the gym comes over for an open hip twist. I’m beginning to enjoy myself, and, although I arrived after the welcome toast, I plan to stay late, making up for lost time. As  long as you don’t cheat, the doors to this hall will always be open. You can even attend as a corpse, minus the birthday reminders, if you appoint a stand-in to dance in your shoes, carrying your full-figure cardboard cut-out. (You have to arrange this before you die. There is no feature that allows you to manage your moves from the afterlife, although I suspect somebody is working hard to remedy this in Silicon Valley. Or maybe Croydon).

But for now I’m alive and alert and I thank God for that because, although I’ve studied the written regulations, this place has unspoken rules that carry equal weight to the statutory laws. It will take time to internalise these, mainly because they flow in the wind whenever the invisible bouncers pull aside the blue velvet rope letting in more contestants.

The rules of interaction are particularly tricky. I can’t work out if I’m allowed to ask just anybody to dance. Taking a swig of the wine, I decide to go for it.

Although a few acquaintances ignore my nod, sympathetic strangers make up numbers. I do have limits, of course. The robotic picture-frame types twenty years my junior who stop to say ‘hey babe’ don’t even get a thumbs up. Nor do the actual creeps.

The eeriest part is the right-hand side of the room where Les Lanciers is in full swing, starring a gallery of participants from my past and present. I spot former colleagues dancing with my cousin who is standing on the toes of an old school friend of mine, and I soon get the feeling that romantic interests from previous decades may appear from behind sofas ready to throw beer in my face or ask for an encore. The thought makes me long for home.

But the organisers have thought of everything, providing sanctuaries in the form of comfort zones organised around shared interests. I pop into my group and settle in an armchair opposite a couple of friends. We agree that this is an ideal way to meet like-minded people. Even if you are a bit niche you’ll find peers in this place – after all, the whole world is invited.

The other advantage of having private members areas is that they keep the synthetic moral high ground away from the main dancehall, thereby preventing the throwing of soggy fruit from the galleries. I can’t wait to waltz in the Facebook ballroom without stepping in food waste or the desperate mob  puddles that so often stain the Twitter floor. I know it’s nothing personal, but rotten eggs and group sentimentality always stink whoever they’re aimed at.

Well done, Facebook. I can get used to this. I’m even feeling confident enough to start giving points. Or so I thought. But the awards system is complex. A woman managing the slow foxtrot in her wheelchair can easily score lower than a drunk who is swaying from side to side on the spot. Points are elusive, even indiscriminate. Where judges and contestants overlap, awards take on a reciprocal, somewhat inflated quality.

And perhaps that’s the idea. The key question that lingers under the high ceiling is whether you are deemed deserving. And unlike other dance contests, which focus on grace and skill, this is a test of endurance.

Will there come a time when I’ll be brave enough to show my own moves in this place? The regulars seem to have no problems doing so. Some have even brought children and pets. Mood swings are epic. A woman twists and shouts aggressively across the floor only to follow up by miming songs of domestic triviality.

‘Yes, but I only share with my friends’, she says, boogying in her slinky dress (her child is in a yellow tutu; last night she was in a bathtub).

‘Of course’, I reply, determined to remain humble.

After all, I am the new girl who has shown up long after the ground rules were laid. For that I have only myself to blame. So I refrain from sharing that I suffer from a rare and yet to be named condition; the belief that this global ballroom has only two settings: Public and Forever. Inclusive to the point of the extreme, it is also the only venue I’ve ever visited that allows guests to continue dancing after they’ve dropped dead.

Mette Jolly is co-editor of Funny Pearls

Also by Mette:

Out of the Office