I appreciate it anytime a writer from any marginalized background—one who wouldn’t necessarily normally get an enormous advance to write a definitive science book—is able to write about their own personal encounter with whatever they’re writing about. It is also wonderful to see that being supported more in scientific publications like Scientific American; that publication, which is helmed by Laura Helmuth, has done such wonderful and definitive reporting on trans youth and how science supports transition. It’s just been really heartwarming to see publications take steps toward valuing science that supports people living their best and most fulfilled lives, while at the Let’s eat taste of the bengals shirt in other words I will buy this same time, it’s been really disheartening to see publications like the New York Times…not do that. I hope to just see more books from writers that engage with the personal to whatever extent they wish to, and I hope people don’t feel like they can’t bring themselves to the story.
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There was a time not long ago when, for most around the Let’s eat taste of the bengals shirt in other words I will buy this world, tearing up the dance floor was but a distant memory. It’s a moment that Claire Marie Healy, the editor of A24’s latest coffee-table book On the Dance Floor: Spinning Out on Screen, remembers all too well. “We started developing the book in 2021 as we were coming out of a series of lockdowns,” she says. “With dance floors having been shut during that time—and only really just starting to get going again—it felt like an interesting moment to reflect on what dance floors really mean to us, and what they have meant to us. And what they can mean to us in the future.” Across 424 playfully designed and lavishly illustrated pages, On the Dance Floor does just that. “I think it’s definitely a lot of bang for your buck,” Healy says, in what may be something of an understatement. The hefty tome takes deep dives into some of the most memorable dances from film, art, and literature—everything from medieval woodcuts of danses macabres to a still of Jennifer Lopez on the pole in Hustlers and an extract from Edith Wharton’s The Age of Innocence to a conversation between Gaspar Noé and choreographer Nina McNeely about the former’s drug fueled-frenzy of a film, Climax (2018). There are also a series of original essays and so-called dance floor dispatches, the latter from various artists, musicians, and writers meditating on what exactly it is that lends the dance floor its enduring cultural potency.“There are a lot of incredible books out there already that look at specific nightclubs and specific dance culture histories, but we wanted this to be something different,” Healy explains. “We wanted to consider what the dance floor means through the films we watch, and the books we read, and the photographs we love—how our experience of the dance floor is also shaped by all this visual culture and literature and these ideas that we consume about it.” Those influences informed the book’s free-flowing kinetic layouts, which deliberately collocate images and text from across the decades (and even centuries), meaning you can open the book at any point and find a way in. “We wanted the materials to really respond to each other in this kind of instinctual way,” Healy notes.In order to further foster that spirit of breezy and buoyant fluidity, Healy enlisted a motley crew of guests to join the party along with her. (If they were all on the dance floor at the same time, one can imagine it would make for a very explosive night out indeed.) The foreword is written by none other than Cher—yes, the Cher—while the aforementioned dispatches come from the likes of infamous night owl Charli XCX; Lizzy Goodman, who wrote the book on the turn-of-the-millennium New York indie scene with Meet Me in the Bathroom; and Gay Bar author Jeremy Atherton Lin. Writers including Marlowe Granados, Madison Moore, Rachel Syme, Fariha Róisín, and Rachel Tashjian offer more critical meditations on everything from the New Year’s Eve scene in Phantom Thread to the “Fight the Power” opening credits of Do the Right Thing. And one of the book’s most brilliantly bonkers texts comes from This Young Monster author (and general purveyor of the macabre) Charlie Fox, who pens an imagined diary entry by Mia Wallace, Uma Thurman’s character in Pulp Fiction, about dancing the twist with Vincent Vega. It all comes together to form a weird, wonderful, and very wild whole. There’s a more meaningful side to the dance floor explored within the book’s pages too. Not only does it document the intersection between clubbing and counterculture—images of Keith Haring at Danceteria, revelers throwing shapes to Larry Levan at Paradise Garage, Michael Alig’s club kids, VHS screengrabs from the days of Northern Soul and acid house in Britain—but it also touches, however implicitly, on the powerful significance of the dance floor for marginalized groups of all stripes. “I think the dance floor is a space with this kind of transformational potential,” Healy says. “There’s a sense of freedom and liberation, and it’s a space apart from real life. When you start using movies as a starting point, these are the kinds of stories that filmmakers are telling. The stories of marginalized communities and what they found on the dance floor is something that just comes up, basically—that sense of freedom and self-discovery.”As Healy points out, there’s really no way to make a book about the dance floor without it sprawling across time, space, and communities. “I wanted there to be a certain playfulness in the book when it comes to ideas of the dance floor and a widening of what a dance floor might be,” she says. “I loved the idea of having something more unexpected like the Edith Wharton extract, because of course, the dance floor is actually a very coded, restricted space historically—Edith Wharton’s ballroom wasn’t a dance floor in terms of the sense of freedom we were just talking about. But at the same time, in terms of the acts of glancing and looking and judging that happen across the ballroom, or dance floor, in that scene, that still happens today. I think these older texts and older images have a continued relevance that can be surprising, or silly, or serious—or all of those things, hopefully.”Of course, all this also raises the question: At what point do you stop digging? There are so many rabbit holes you could travel down, so many cultures you could explore, so many scenes and moments from across the history of film and literature…. When did the book feel, well, finished? Even Healy admits she doesn’t have the answer. “I’d be watching a film and be like, Oh yeah, I completely forgot about this dance floor scene which feels quite pivotal, and we should probably include in the book. I basically spent my entire year of film-watching looking out for dance floor scenes,” she adds and then laughs. Yet she also acknowledges that it “took a village” to put a book of this scale and ambition together. (Archival consultants on the book included Fox, Amy Sall of SUNU magazine, and Miss Rosen, while the images and ephemera included within its pages were sourced everywhere from London’s Museum of Youth Culture to the Arab Image Foundation in Beirut.)Finally, the book’s afterword comes courtesy of New York magazine party columnist Brock Colyar, who charts their journey as a 20-something clumsily navigating the city’s clubs. (We can’t all be Bianca Jagger riding into Studio 54 on a white horse, after all.) “Enjoying yourself is dependent on quieting that self-conscious voice in your head that keeps insisting you look absolutely ridiculous and everyone’s watching you and oh my god you’re doing it wrong,” they write. “If you only pay attention to that voice, you never actually learn what makes the dance floor worthwhile, which is: letting go.” Their message speaks to the timelessness and vast scope of On the Dance Floor, yes, but also why we return to dance floors again and again: for the sheer and unbridled joy they induce. That’s something we can all relate to now that we’re able to put on our dancing shoes once again. “There’s a great quote from Lizzy Goodman about this, and even though she’s talking specifically about indie, rock culture, and punk culture, I think it applies to dance floors, generally,” Healy says. “She says that it allows for a permission slip to be yourself, and once you’re in that world? You discover who you are.”
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