Sittin' to the Rock of the Bay

What accounts for the alarming shortage of happy feet among South Florida's rock crowds?

Electronic media, from the earliest days of radio to Alternative Nation-era MTV, have further emphasized the gulf between audience and performer. Cantrell cites the example of old-time square dancing: "Fiddlers and strings and dancers were playing off each other, and they knew they were all working together to produce an event." When broadcast radio entered the mix, Cantrell notes, the dynamics between performer and audience fell apart. "No matter how much the dancers wanted to dance with the fiddlers, they weren't going to see each other."

Interwoven with these historical developments is an underlying human need for order and rules, whether they guide our behavior in line at the supermarket or when a band is on stage at the Talkhouse. Don't believe the hype: Despite the massive self-delusion that's taken hold in America, where nearly everyone considers themselves to be hip with a capital H nowadays -- rebels with mortgages, cellular phones, and ponytails -- most of us are still prisoners of convention. "If it's a formal situation where someone has already set it up so that the space is set aside and the public has paid the money to come in, in many cases, especially with Anglo crowds for example, they don't know what the rules are," says Cantrell. "Are we supposed to dance, are we not supposed to dance, can we dance, can't we dance?"

Coral Gables sociologist Bob Ladner concurs. "If you look at the various types of dancing when I was a kid, ballroom dancing, the twist, the frug, there were still identifiable steps and movements for urban contemporary dancing," he says. "Even if you're doing things like the mashed potato, the frug, a lot of disco from the 1970s, essentially the songs were recognizable as dance tunes. But if you go to a club where an experimental band is playing, people don't know if they're expected to dance or sit there and listen to the words.

"I would hate to be a rock musician today and have to depend on the audience. It was so much better when it was drug induced."

Author and local-rock aficionado Jeff Lemlich, for one, has taken rock and roll rebellion to heart A and feet. "The thing about rock and roll dancing is it doesn't matter if you dance well," he says. "Who cares? That's what disco's about. I deplore disco, I absolutely hate it. Anything where you have to take lessons to learn how to dance, that's not natural. Dancing is about moving. If I look silly, I don't care.... They're going to say 'that guy's enjoying himself.'

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