Music

Monsoon Dance

Rain dancing in India's long awaited Monsoon to OthrSdeOf80's R&B tracks.

4:30. Back inside to the A/C. It’s raining outside and I’m out of breath. Out of breath but not hopeless. I exhausted myself dancing under the rain on the rooftop. I danced- rehearsed -- on the rooftop and made out with the rain. I can do this here in India; folks probably chuck it off to monsoon dance. Unless it’s immediately money-making, unless I show quick returns on investment, then this behavior would be considered crazy back in America.

My neighbors here in Delhi have heard monsoon ragas, perhaps since they’ve known life. And knowing this heat...! Really!!! The break is dynamic. I, too, celebrate the rain (I worship the sun in winter).

There’s little better than dancing in the rain. Yet, somewhere through my creation -- fumbling with my earphones, which I keep pulling out as I move, so I have to restart. Somewhere in this dance I do, the rain forces me to arch my back. This choreography is truly inspired. It comforts me knowing that man others are dancing beneath this force, too, perhaps even right now. Yet, I see no one else and all rooftops are emptied. Yet, this is Delhi, there are people everywhere and someone is bound to be watching.

I bow back and let the rain fall on me. My hips are fully pressed forward, legs absolutely straight, knees locked; neck stomach, back and thigh muscles fully engaged. This beat has me going. And the rain, the rain, lightly but briskly slapping my concrete rooftop, silences this city. And I am calmed.

This beat has me going. I pause to switch my portable digital music player to my back pocket, and run my earphones behind me over my back where they won’t be in the way. Hopefully, I can keep from yanking the plug out the jack.

I am not splashing, so jumps are few. And I do not resist the rain, I welcome its sensations. I extend my arms as far and as wide as I can stretch, palms faced forward, shoulders completely out exposing the maximum amount of skin to the pouring rain. This becomes a strenuous movement as the rain further encourages me to move slowly, wait for it, allowing it to pour.

"If you run to avoid rain, you get just as wet as when you go through it slowly; rain is coming from everywhere," that ole saying went. I have waited for this monsoon -- the whole city has -- and it truly feels good. I stand there, swaying with the rain. The air is otherwise still, birds are in retreat as are the kids who were playing cricket on the field which I overlook. I articulate every muscle, offering each drop the chance to find its own place.

I hold this pose -- reaching further and further as it stretching my fingers would allow more rain to reach me. We have waiting for rain since the end of the year, save for that tease over a month ago. We have waited a long, long time for this drizzle. Others would be worried about getting wet, and instead are back inside like me, enjoying the A/C and working really hard.

OthrSdeOf80's

I have encountered few people here in New Delhi, who have heard of the majority of these tracks pushing in my ears as I move to the rain. I imagine two dancers I know performing what I am doing with my feet- a boy and a girl; but I’ll probably end up rehearsing first with the guy and wondering how to convey to him the dialogue between the beats, the lyrics, and us listening- then and now.

I have encountered few who would get as excited about 1985’s Hanging on a String (Contemplating) by Loose Ends, 1981’s Yearning for Your Love, or the Gap Band live in Atlanta. Lead singer Charlie Wilson is a total trip, and I have truly missed out in missing soul music in concert. Whoodini gives a fab concert, too. The last New Orleans Jazz Festival I attended was the last before Katrina; I almost betray my alma mater by not stopping back through the Quarter where a professor took me for fresh oysters and beer with lime. Call it funk, freak, hip-hop, R&B, it’s all soul.

This soul is as pronounced in my own soul, and on my body under this rain. Reflecting on the few cultures that have just met on this rooftop -- my jazz-improv and Chou lessons for example, layered upon years of West African, ballet, Ailey and even theoretical studies on the black aesthetic or years in Dogon country all converge in the here and now. This rain and this dance reach back to a place as base as this feeling. We dance at home.

This dance takes me to a feeling I find that even my soaked leather shoes start to feel good squishing under these beats. And my kinky hair adores the humidity -- it enhances, not ruins my natural shea-butter infused ‘do’. TUFR (Thank the Universe for Rain).

OthrSdeOf80's is one of my oldest playlists, and includes plenty of Shalamar (although Girl is really hard to, uhm, download), Pointer Sisters, Midnight Star, SOS Band, Timex Social Club, Mtume and Ready for the World (Oh Sheila!). Sade’s 1988 Never Turn My Back on You is in the mix, too. Yarbrough and Peoples, whose cuts Don’t Stop the Music, and Don’t Waste Your Time are the meanest classics of those times -- it’s definitive OthrSdeOf80's. Still, it’s Skyy who may have introduced some of the nastiest (as in Miss Jackson, ‘cause I’m nasty) sets of lyrics, ushering in terms like Haters. Here’s a refrain from the group’s 1982 Call Me:

Well, I been watchin’ you boy


And I’ve got what you want,

Got what you need


Though your girlfriend’s a friend of mine


Here’s my number and a dime, call me anytime

I increasingly choreograph to music from this side of the tracks, though have avoided this song- as I actually know a young lady who has busted up a few households. I can’t get her out of my head when I hear this song and am not ready to perform her dance as her story is incomplete. Still, the polyrhythmic music genuinely gets me going.

I dance to this beat-driven, riff-heavy, lyrics-rich music and get just as excited about the film versions of my favorite cartoons from that era: Transformers, and Speed racer; and I avidly look forward to the Thundercats and He-Man. I am not even nostalgic for the dances that went with this music -- the Headache with Club Nouveau’s Why You Treat Me so Bad, or the Cabbage Patch to that pre-commercial hip-hop. Yet, this music goes well beyond an early '80s fixation; these grooves move me as smooth and as redeeming as this Monsoon.

Rene and Angela were fierce, and their break-up is still one of the most tragic heartaches of the OthrSdeOf80's, which, includes none of the tunes too-commonly sold as “early '80s". It is so incredibly ill that pop music had less of a label then, almost refusing to call itself pop -- but that was when the race line was more pronounced and Michael Jackson had to actually protest to get mainstream video airplay before going on to be that network’s undeniably brightest star. Though itself quite pronounced through it’s trends like new wave, or the rip-off syncopated riffs of works like Madonna and George Michael, pop was less identifiable and proud of itself. Now even those artists claim their own styles. Moreover, now that black music dominates pop music, pop seems to really be coming into its own. We’ve given ourselves permission to enjoy the music like monsoons.


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