This past weekend I listened to one of my favorite public radio shows, This American Life. Every week they run a roughly one-hour show based on some theme. Last week’s show focused on, of all things, middle school. The drama, the angst, the turmoil of young people evolving into their post-pubescent selves.
Inevitably the discussion turned to the middle school dance, which is fraught with tension as the kids transition through that awkward stage where they pair off and slowly two-step with each other before the lights come on and people scatter like roaches. It made me think — the last time I had a slow dance, like a real one, was my sophomore year in high school. It was magical. My date went to the nearby military school and looked like Usher. I believe I still have a picture of us somewhere, hugged up and sweaty, slow jammin’ at the end of the night. That, my friends, is what the game is missing. A serious, mean slow dance.
When was the last time you were body-to-body with someone? With your clothes on? (Being mushed between Germy Patty and Armpit Al on public transit doesn’t count.) Don’t get me wrong. There is certainly space for fast-paced booty dancing (and music), but a lot of slower songs are, shall we say, hard to dance romantically to. These include the “my man done done me wrong” heartbreak songs (cc: Melonie Fiona) or “I’mma bleach that mickey fickey’s clothes and go crazy” anthems (cc: Jazmine Sullivan). These joints have me trying to choke my man out instead of wrapping my arms around his neck, luxuriating in the beat.
Essentially, the slow jam addresses heartbreak, loss, love, and everything in between, but without the bitterness. Sodium-free songs are essential to being able slow wind accordingly. Luther Vandross is and will forever be the King Of Slow Jams (KOSJ). Barry White is the Duke of Slow Jams, Royal Order of the Jheri Curl. Sade is Empress Supreme. Maxwell is a modern slow jammer, but he’s still *technically* a ’90’s artist. What is it about their songs? They capture the precious nectar of love in audible form, and inspire you love up on somebody. The world needs more of that. Someone turn on the Quiet Storm and get the Body & Soul CD collection.
What’s baffling to me is the fact that nobody is shocked or saddened by the fact that the slow dance has been basically made extinct by sheer virtue of the lack of club-playable slow jams. It’s a delicate ecosystem. And the virtues of a slow dance are critical: when else can you suspend time, feel another person’s heartbeat, possibly gaze into their beautiful eyes, and savor the moment? Also, if you twerk it like I do at the club then you may want to use the slow drag as a nice cool down for your muscles so you aren’t hobbling to work the next day. Sometimes it’s nice to ease into the end of the night. So DJs, the next time you think of throwing Mary Mary‘s “God in Me” on as the wrap-it-up music, consider putting some audible love on the speakers and encouraging people to draw each other close. The crowd won’t mind, I promise.