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At this year's holiday parties, don't forget to dance

Back then--"then" being a foggy expanse of time beginning in the notorious '60s and petering out sometime in the '80s--the message, "If it feels good, do it," contributed to hordes of young people abandoning themselves to hedonism in a rollicking funhouse called carpe diem.

Sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll ruled. Nothing's changed; everything's changed. Today, sex and drugs are an even larger part of the picture. Sex is a gazillion-dollar industry; pharmaceutical companies are pushers with a PR department; and the music has definitely died a discordant death. So while we're still partying, what's going on in 2006 resembles--with the exception of dance--what went on in 1969 about as much as Viagra resembles peyote.

It took drugs and disco to get most middle-class white people--particularly those pale faces with ancestors from the frosty parts of Western and Northern Europe--to attempt to dance, "attempt" being the operant word here.

I recall a Christmas party from the early '70s. In an apartment packed with an assortment of then-cutting-edge folks, people were indulging in a cornucopia of illegal substances while loosened libidos led to lust gone wild and a whole lot of sweating going on. But not much dancing.

Except in a corner of the living room where a small group of blacks--and a few token whites--had succeeded in remaining vertical (despite the horizontal bent of the night's festivities), and were actually DANCING!

It's difficult to "do your own thing" (another '60s mantra) and dance. Sure, you can flail around in a stoned stupor, but we're talking dance.

Someone once said, "If I can't dance, I don't want to be part of your revolution." Though there was plenty of drama in those heady days, along with a lot of dumb actions and a blather of so-called revolutionary slogans, I began to suspect still another failed "revolution" when I noticed, over the decades, parties becoming even less about dance and more about chatter. No surprise there: If the '70s, as Tom Wolfe characterized them, were the "Me Decade," I'd have to call the years leading to our current millennium "Me Decades on Steroids."

Dance is an endeavor involving all sorts of things largely foreign to the aforementioned frosty folk. These include (but are not necessarily limited to and in no particular order): cooperation, body awareness, sensitivity and responsiveness to a partner's moves, and a willingness to make a total ass of oneself in public. And forget about flowing with the rhythm. Dance is magical, because it mixes letting go with holding on.

The holiday season--I'd call it Solhankwanzmas if I knew how to pronounce it--is a little like dance. Traditional steps may change over the years, and new forms develop, but one enduring characteristic is a mysterious urge driving people to get together at events commonly known as "holiday parties." It's not unusual to find ourselves talking with people we see only on an annual basis, or chatting up a storm with strangers we'll never see again. At least we're not expected to show up with frankincense and myrrh.

On the surface, most of these get-togethers appear similar: Crowds of people alternately milling around the food, drifting away in order to avoid looking rude, or making a quick visual scan of the scene. Then there are the "sippers," those folks clutching drinks and wondering how long before they can slip away, preferably unnoticed. Let's not forget the "early birds." These individuals hate parties, have always hated parties and are disinclined to ever go to a party, but make a brief, "political" appearance before scurrying off to their nest. One hundred eighty degrees from them are the "late bloomers." These guests stay ... and stay ... and stay and are blithely blind to the host's bleary eyes.

And what's a party without music? Well, not much. The only exception to this rule is the party-wannabe hosted by academics, though the more daring ones have been known to pipe in Muzak-sounding drek at, mercifully, a barely audible volume.

Lest you, gentle reader, reach the mistaken conclusion parties are not my cup of spiked eggnog, permit me to set the record straight. Solhankwanzmas parties are terrific, especially if I get to hear "Adeste Fidelis" sung entirely in Latin.

I'm looking forward to a couple of parties this month, and I hope you are, too. And I hope you'll dance.

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