Why Doesn’t Seattle Dance?

That’s the wrong question.

The right question is: Why does Seattle dance?

Despite dunderheaded conventional wisdom and rote overgeneralization, Seattle dances. You know it’s true because at some point you’ve been in the right place at the right time.

Lately, that place has been at live performances by the top three bands on our list: At the Neptune last month when Allen Stone pitted one half of the room against the other in a heated dance off (the left side won). Or last summer at Doe Bay Fest when Pickwick fans rushed onto the wooden platform stage and pogoed ’til it cracked. Or at the whiskey-soaked house party in the U District that Don’t Talk to the Cops played in December.

These are the best of many dance-inciting bands around the city, part of a long, motley lineage that goes back to the beginning of Seattle’s history. Because even here, certain universal, quantifiable conditions inevitably lead to dancing in public.

What day of the week is it? Are you drunk? (These two questions are inextricably linked.) Are you high or have you ever been high? (Drug experience never fully wears off and, over time, wears down self-consciousness in public.) Are you with a romantic partner? (Couples dance together.) What’s the weather like? (You’re less likely to mosh if you’re holding a parka.) How old are you? (Youngs are less inhibited than olds but more affected by peer pressure.) Are you at a dance club? (Probably not, because not a single, viable dance club exists in Seattle [except the gay ones.]) Are you listening to dance music? (Not just the untz-untz kind.)

In other words, if you’re dancing, you’re probably a drunk, high, young person with a romantic partner listening to dance music at a gay dance club on a warm, rainless Saturday night.

What you really need to worry about is the overarching, entirely relative intangible known as the Fun Quotient. Some places and occasions are more fun than others. Saturdays are more fun than Tuesdays. New Orleans is more fun than Newark. Eating ice cream is more fun than going to the dentist. Broad terms with certain exceptions, but ones we can mostly agree on.

Seattle fun is complicated. Seattle fun is productive. It’s playing in a band, or hiking up Mt. Si, or home-brewing beer. It’s not so much diversion or entertainment as it is unpaid work the worker enjoys. It’s unfrivolous. Seattle is the most unfrivolous city in America. Here, having fun is the same as having responsibility.

Dancing is the opposite. Dancing is not productive—which isn’t to say it’s useless, because dancing can save the world. But only in a passive way that Seattle—self-serious, unfrivolous—has a hard time embracing. So when we say Seattle is less fun than other places, what we’re really saying is that Seattle is more productive. Which is great when it comes to imbuing our lives with meaning but a major hurdle to inciting a spontaneous dance party.

The spontaneous dance party—that Shangri La of mindless abandon—exists on the far side of a line of propriety, a line that’s tacitly determined by the people present at any given gathering, be it rock concert, book reading or NASCAR race. On the side where we usually dwell is self-conscious decorum. Seattleites will shimmy across the line, but not without pondering it first. To see this process play out in real time, to witness the awkward, endearing unraveling of Seattle diffidence, go see Allen Stone or Pickwick or Don’t Talk to the Cops. Regardless of the conditions, these bands make people dance. Maybe even you, if you stop thinking about it already.

Photo by Christopher Nelson.

We need your help! City Arts is becoming independent—and we need your support to make the transition. Join The NEW City Arts as a Founding Member today to secure the next chapter of the magazine you love! » LEARN MORE