Dancing Bears

  • Barbarella

With time, even a bear can learn to dance.

-- Yiddish proverb

David doesn't dance. Sure, he may bob his head to the music here and there, and, if he's had enough wine, he might even sing along to something and tap his foot. But despite my attempts to talk him into it, David, not unlike John Lithgow's character in the movie Footloose , simply refuses to get down. Since nothing short of surgery could separate me from my other half, it's no wonder I haven't been dancing since we became attached. I forgot who suggested it first, but it doesn't matter -- once the idea was out there, it took on a life of its own. On Saturday night, my girlfriends and I were going dancing. Location was crucial. Downtown was briefly considered but tossed aside due to the prevalence of hip-hop music (way too hard to dance to) and irritating regulars (starving wolves in shiny shirts and bleached-blond sheep in halter tops). For a group of women who want to dress up and dance to techno music without being molested or drooled upon, Hillcrest was the only way to go.

Nostalgic reveries of countless Thursday nights spent dancing to the heavy techno beats of resident DJ Jon Bishop's Club Hedonism led me to suggest Rich's as the venue for our dance therapy. Hedonism drew a mixed crowd -- girls and guys, gay and straight -- everyone resplendent in glitter and feathers, sucking on pacifiers and twirling glow-sticks, or whatever happened to be the rave-y trend of the minute. The music was fast, the drinks were strong, and the majority of the clientele were fun-loving gay men. It was perfect.

Rosa and Amy were to be my dates for the evening. We rendezvoused at 10 a.m. with Janet and Jen for an hour of pre-dancing pampering in the new nail salon on Sixth Avenue. The old salon doesn't hold a flower-painted talon to the new one, which, in addition to having a friendlier staff, nicer decor, and more comfortable massage chairs, tunes its stereo to some satellite radio station that might as well be named, "Barb's Favorite House Music Picks 2000." The music transported me back to my rave days. By the end of our mani-pedi party, I was in the mood to find something suitably elaborate to wear, so we went in search of accoutrements and found some fabulous black feather lashes at Flashbacks.

"I'm a little concerned," I said to David while he was lacing my leather corset.

"You're always worried about something ," David sighed.

Ignoring his comment, I continued, "What if I get sleepy?" It was a rhetorical question. I had already popped a Yellow Bullet High Velocity Energizer -- a canary-colored capsule containing 300mg of caffeine that I got at a vitamin store -- to stave off lethargy. I used to be a night owl. I once frequented a club that opened its doors at midnight and didn't close them until six in the morning. But in the past few years, I have morphed from night owl into red-bellied robin. Accustomed to leaving my house at first light to go work out, I spring to life at 6 a.m. each morning without the aid of an alarm clock. Though my regimen endows me with abundant energy during the day, I'm usually tuckered out by ten.

Rosa arrived on time at 8:30. We were both dressed in black. Amy soon showed up, illuminating my living room with her light blond hair, snowy white dress, and strappy, ivory heels. As we sipped our wine, Amy looked like an angel flanked by two dark, red-lipped devils.

Amy had brought with her a bottle of sublingual B-12s that dissolve in your mouth for a "fast-acting energy boost." At least that's what our friend Jen said they would do. "My expectations are high," Amy said as she opened the bottle and doled out the little pink pills. We waited for what seemed like an eternity for the things to disappear in our mouths. Rosa lost her patience and chewed the rest of hers. Amy and I were steadfast. We finished our wine, and I asked Amy if she felt anything that could be attributed to the pill. "No," she answered. "Jen made it sound like ecstasy, but I don't know why I got so excited. For God's sake, they sell it at Henry's for ten dollars." I gave her a Yellow Bullet and then the three of us headed out.

I didn't know if the club opened at 9 or 10. Either way, we all agreed that showing up at 9:45 would be terribly uncool, so we ducked into Bite, my current culinary crush, for a sake cocktail. My scalp started to tingle from the caffeine and ma huang mixture that had filled the yellow capsule. Without my glasses (which I'd traded for the two-inch long feathers on my lashes), I was as blind as a two-day-old kitten, but by staying close to my cohorts, I managed to make it to Rich's without stumbling.

There are as many types of gay men as there are straight -- the sensitive guy, the party animal, the intellectual, etc. We entered the club expecting to be surrounded by searing hot flamboyancy, hoping for a massive dose of that spectacular mix of masculine energy and feminine wiles all wrapped up in sinewy, impeccably dressed packages. But we didn't get boys. We got bears.

Even sans specs, it didn't take me long to grok the scene. Over the dance floor, red and blue lights mingled with blackness, creating a color scheme evocative of the leather pride flag; a paw print -- the symbol of the gay "bear" community -- was emblazoned on a banner. I grabbed a flyer and held it close to my face. Apparently, it was not only the monthly party for bears (giant, furry men), but it was also the DVD release party for Mr. Leather .

Amy looked confused. Unlike Rosa and me, she had never partied with this particular faction of men. I think I made it worse when I tried to break down the gay-male-fetish community for her by briefly running through the nuances of drag queen vs. transvestite, top vs. bottom, leather vs. rubber, and B&D vs. S&M. "Forget it," I said in the end. "Let's dance."

Sandwiched between dozens of exposed fuzzy potbellies, we shook our groove thangs. Rosa swung her head like an '80s rocker girl, Amy's moves were slow and sexy, and I gyrated to the beat like a kid stomping in a rain puddle.

To cope with the aggressive-looking bears towering above her, Amy, an itty-bitty thing, downed a few of the strong vodka concoctions for which Rich's is known. When the music became redundant almost two hours later, I suggested a change of venue.

"We'll do this again soon," I said, as we walked back up University Avenue. "Only, next time, I'll check to make sure the crowd is more our style."

"Yeah!" said Amy. It was after one and the street was closing down. Amy was irritated when we were turned away at both Wine Steals and Baja Betty's.

"I guess it's for the best. If places were open later, people would just keep drinking," I said. My opinion surprised me. I used to crave New York's up-all-night mentality and lament San Diego's early-to-bed policy. But now that I've come to appreciate the joys of early rising and down comforters, I couldn't get home soon enough to brush my teeth and swath myself in Egyptian cotton.

Amy, teetering on her heels, said she'd leave her car at my place and catch a cab home. When she tried to get into a taxi that was already taken, and then needed reminding that her house keys and wallet were back at my place, I insisted on driving her home myself. Rosa perked up at the idea and asked if she could ride along. After we'd dropped our angel by her front door, Rosa turned to me with a guilty, impish smile on her face and spoke the words that are meant to be spoken after clubbing -- words I hadn't heard since the last time I'd been dancing at Rich's over five years ago: "Hey, let's go to Jack in the Box!"

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