I first read Andrew Holleran’s Dancer from the Dance in the summer of 1995. I had just celebrated by 19th birthday earlier that Spring. Stretched across my single dorm room bed, having just broken up with my first serious boyfriend of only six months, I was at a cross roads in life. I’d only been out of high school for a year. I’d also come out to my mother and my sister a year ago. And I’d just moved away from home that very semester, just 76 miles from home but it seem like I was half a continent away. Like Malone in the book, I was all alone in the city and I knew no one.
In some ways, the book became an anthem for me. I got out. I met people. I went to clubs where I danced the night away and didn’t go home until dawn. I even befriended my own drag queen. At first, I rarely went home with strangers, though I regularly cruised through the park looking for them. And outside of alcohol, I was never a drug user. And of course the biggest difference would be AIDS, since the book celebrates a time when love was much more carefree. I don’t even think the word ‘condom’ is mentioned once.
Now, 16 years later, I have had quite a bit more life experience. More lovers. More relationships. At 35, the long nights of staying out dancing have gone, along with quite a bit of my hair and sense of fashion. In fact, I rarely go out at all, especially since I’ve been in a long term relationship for almost 9 years. One glass of wine at home and I’m sound asleep just hours later!
Rereading the book now, it had a completely different tone. Instead of admiring Malone and wishing I could either be him or be with him, I felt sorry for him. I wanted to reach into the book and grab him by the collar, and
tell him to stop being such a romantic. All the Shakespearean banter about love is the crap I said back when I was twenty! I wanted to be in love, and be loved, so badly but the numerous nights I went home alone broke my heart every time.
Age is a gay man’s worst enemy. We lose our physical attributes that made us attractive, and also cursed us. Our race to find love, or at least in finding someone who finds us attractive enough to fall in love with us, is quickly reaching the finish line, as did the generation this book celebrates.
I still find it to be a remarkable piece of fiction. I owe much of my youthful thinking and joy to the words of one Andrew Holleran, no matter how angry the book made me at 35 as apposed to when I first read it at 19. But that’s the joy of a book that we’ve read at the right time in life. When rereading it so many years later, we get to experience it in a whole new perspective. And that’s the beauty of it. I may be a different dancer myself, but the Dance certainly hasn’t changed.