Retro beat

A recent trend caught my attention in a way that made me laugh, yet also made me uncomfortable.

On TikTok and titled “Get your parents to show you how they danced to this song in the 80s,” it featured videos of people around my age dancing to the Bronksi Beat song Smalltown Boy circa 1984.

There’s nothing like the reminder of our school dance days to bring back memories of back-combed hair standing upright with enough Aqua Net hair spray to spark a forest fire. Pencil skirts on my pencil figure, with a high-necked blouse buttoned to the top, decorated with a long string of fake pearls, knotted at the midriff. 

My pointed flat shoes matched the patterned black lace stockings that made it look like floral vines were creeping up my stick legs. And the bracelets, all the neon and black plastic bracelets clumped at my wrists. Let’s not forget the ever important wisp of dark blue eyeliner, thick and wide at the ends, to set the look (hindsight: tiny almond shaped hazel eyes should never wear dark blue eyeliner).

I find it amusing to see people my age being judged for their dancing skills by their offspring, who record them and then broadcast it to the world so strangers can mock them too. Like kids today dance any better? This is why, at moments like this, I think it’s a good idea to draw up your last will and testament at the kitchen table, while the kids are around, so the reality of repercussions is clear. 

Here’s why this video trend makes me uncomfortable, though. I remember when Smalltown Boy was released, because the song had an immediate impact on me. Lead singer Jimmy Somerville’s rare high range was as haunting as the story he tells of a teen who is bullied and rejected by his community, and most heartbreakingly, his own family for being gay. Run away. Turn away.

Music videos were our new cinema in the early 80s. That video was one of the first depictions I’d ever seen from the perspective of a young gay male experiencing the violence and fear of homophobia. The Coles Notes version is, the boy gets jumped in an alleyway by a group of lads who beat him up badly because he’s a homosexual. When the cops intervene, he is the guilty one for being, you guessed it, gay, because in 1984, homophobia was a sport. Ask anyone who survived it. 

At 14, it never dawned on me to hate someone because they were different, but then it never dawned on me to be afraid of gay people. People with guns, yes. People who loved other people of the same sex? No. I wasn’t raised to hate, period. My faith didn’t give me a platform to cast judgement. I thought that went for other religions, too. I guess it’s open to interpretation. This is mine: love is love. And I don’t care who you’re dancing with, so long as you dance. 

I know the TikTok trend negates the importance of the song’s lyrics for the sake of a good dance beat, but for me, every time I dance to this song, I feel the lyrics. I hear the pain. I dance to the beat in solidarity with all the kids in my hometown who lived in fear. 

How far we’ve come. 

How far we’ve yet to go. 

Pride didn’t end in June.  

Keep dancing.

WriteOut of Her Mind