I’ve always been a bit of an awkward dancer, far more comfortable tossing my body around in a crowded concert pit than following any sort of rhythm. Being a closeted homosexual for nearly 20 years certainly didn’t help, fueling my anxiety over my outward image — constantly battling the “faggot”s spewed my way throughout my teenage years, the “Still no girlfriend?”s from my family, the urges to belt out some Britney Spears lyrics at the top of my lungs.

It was, in no lesser words, exhausting.

And then I moved to college and I began to go to house parties and then bars where dancing is the social norm, and I was absolutely mortified (unless my BAC was a bit higher than what is considered “healthy,” of course). I was mostly conservative on the dance floor, moving only one foot at a time, never daring to risk the fluidity, the natural ease of two feet. The deeply internalized homophobia of my youth, steeped in Catholicism, was a fickle venom, infecting all my actions with “What if this is too gay?”

Making the full leap from punk and indie to pop was a bit of an awkward period in my life. Spending my high school years as a “scene” kid whose playlists consisted heavily of Passion Pit, A Day To Remember and Modern Baseball, I only began to really explore my love for pop music during my last year living in my parents’ home; I waited for eight hours in line for a Marina and the Diamonds concert, accompanied by flashes of embarrassment with an outfit on that was far better suited for Warped Tour.

Lorde’s Pure Heroine, Taylor Swift’s Red and Lana Del Rey’s Born To Die were absolutely critical albums during this volatile period in my life, helping me get in touch with a vulnerability I repeatedly swallowed out of fear. Lorde’s “Ribs” helped me make peace with growing up; “All Too Well” gave me a glimpse of the intimacy I denied myself during my adolescence; “Off To The Races” showed me the power in femininity.

Slowly but surely, I began to surround myself with people who made me feel more at ease in my own skin, mostly fellow queers who helped me find my rhythm in my newfound love of pop. Without even realizing it, I began to dance with two feet, to allow my hands to rise above my head and fall to my knees. After living years and years on a tense ledge threatening to crumble beneath me at any moment, it was like having lungs that fully inflated for the first time. I had finally learned to love the music that had always drawn me like a magnet.

I mentioned before that I didn’t notice when or how I began to dance with two feet because it was like learning to ride a bike. Now, the occasional instances of homophobia don’t hurt me the way one would expect anymore, like a slap to the face or a dagger to the heart. Rather, it now serves as a reminder to shake my ass the second I hear the deep bass of Ariana Grande’s “Into You” burst through a speaker, to share a drunken screech of excitement at the opening saxophone of Carly Rae Jepsen’s “Run Away with Me” and let it all go when Lorde’s “Supercut” rings through my ears.

I went out to Rick’s a few days ago, possibly the most oppressively anti-queer establishment in Ann Arbor, and rather than feeling the effects of the old venom that haunted my veins, I finally noticed just how comfortable I finally was on the dancefloor. Like learning how to ride a bike, the hypervisibility that is inevitably forced upon me in a space like Rick’s didn’t cost me my newfound rhythm rather reinforced it as a life skill.

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