November 25, 2016
This is a dance movie! Teenagers are dancing. They are popping, locking, tutting. The teenagers must stay loose, stay low to catch each step. To roll from beat to beat. The teenagers must be careful not to overemphasize the downbeat.
One teenager, a boy named Robert, is dancing down the street. Robert is practicing. He is snaking his arm. He makes it fluid: shoulder, elbow, wrist. Or tries. Several times. The audience feels his pain. The audience knows Robert must master this move. Robert and the other teenagers must win a competition. Robert, in particular, must win this competition in order to get a scholarship the girl laid. Robert must get laid. This is a dance movie!
Robert must get laid by a deadline. To win a bet? Possibly. In this way, this dance movie is also a teen sex comedy. Except this comedy isn’t so funny. Or maybe it’s funny. It’s sort of funny. Its funniness depends upon the audience’s appreciation for schadenfreude. The problem is Robert is likeable, making it harder to laugh at his expense. Or rather, likeable to certain viewers. Robert is likeable because he’s pretty, making him likeable to girls and gay boys, this movie’s target demographic. Most teen sex comedies are about ugly straight boys. Critics rave about these movies because, being ugly straight boys themselves, they identify with their protagonists.
This is a dance movie! This is a dance-movie montage. Robert and the other teenagers, all of them pretty, each prettier than the last, are dancing in a lacquered gymnasium. At first, they dance shitty. As frames change, their outfits change, the seasons change, their dance improves. Robert executes a complicated combination and smiles like a Tiger Beat pinup. His smile says, “Pin me up!”
This is Decker, dancing beside Robert. Holy crap, this movie is poorly edited. You should’ve already known about Decker. You should’ve met him before the montage. Decker is a sportsman. Decker plays football basketball lacrosse. Decker nets balls with his stick. Like real-life athletes, Decker’s cut and virile, only with more symmetrical features and way better skin. Decker is in the dance montage because Decker joined the dance team. Decker joined the dance team because it looked good on his transcript the coach said it would help his coordination he likes to dance. It’s true. Decker likes to dance. But don’t tell anybody. Decker is macho, yo.
Because this is a dance movie, Decker moves like something smooth. Like liquid? Like butter? Like a snake? Decker gots moves. Because he moves like a liquid butter snake, Decker curses the audience, the girls and the gay boys, with fantasies of sex they’ll never have, not with bodies shaped like his. Decker’s got secrets. For instance, Decker dreams about boys who look like Robert. Decker pins their faces to his bedroom wall. He pins them underneath other pictures, pictures of famous sportsmen, so his parents won’t see. At night, he unpins one. He holds him in his hands to kiss his face.
This is a dance movie! But this is also a gay coming-of-age romantic comedy. This is why Robert is so likable. He’s the likable everyboy lead. The gay boys in the audience like boys like Robert, because boys like Robert are just like them (or so they tell themselves). They are boys next door. Not too femme and not too butch. Not too faggy. Lovelorn boys with sparkly eyes. “I’m a Robert!” they’ll say, on their way out of the theater. “So what are you?”
Because this dance movie is also a gay coming-of-age movie, Robert and Decker will fall in love. But we already knew that. I mean, Hi! Look at the fucking poster. And because this dance movie, this gay coming-of-age movie, is also a teen sex comedy, maybe they’ll have sex. Or hold hands, which since they’re gay boys and this is a dance movie is, like, practically just as good. At the beginning, Robert is gayer than Decker, but by the end, Decker’s gayer than Robert. After the big dance-off, after the best of the best of the dancing, Decker will chase after Robert screaming, “You gave me courage, you stupid faggot. Now it’s time I returned the favor!” Except Decker won’t say faggot, because that shit would never fly. I mean, This is a dance movie!
In a scene shot outside the high school building, Decker asks Robert to teach him to dance. Wait, huh? Isn’t Robert still learning himself? Maybe not after all. Maybe actually, Robert’s the expert and always was. And what about Decker? Isn’t he a liquid butter snake? Maybe not yet. Maybe snakes come later, after Robert shows him how. That way, we’ll get more montages: Robert showing Decker. Decker’s arm on Robert’s torso. Decker’s breath on Robert’s neck.
Later, Robert is running. He is running-dancing. What a feeling! A dancing run. He is pumping his fist, like “Yes! Yes! Yes!” What’s got Robert so excited? Maybe Decker kissed him. (No he didn’t. Holding hands, holding hands, never fucking, holding hands.) Maybe Robert aced his quiz. What quiz? The quiz his mother told him he needed to ace if he wanted to stay on the dance team, close to Decker. Robert and Decker will encounter obstacles, many obstacles, but we know they’ll always find each other because This is a dance movie!
This is the dance movie’s coming-out scene. Don’t roll your eyes. I mean, we gotta have one, don’t we, if we’re serious about hitting every beat? Here’s a close-up on Robert’s mother, after Robert says, “Mom, I’m a total fag.” Her hair painstakingly matted, red but graying at the roots. Maybe we see her eyes beginning to tear. Or maybe she’s all flinty, rigid lips and sucked-in cheeks, portrayed by an aging veteran and holy shit, this actress is underrated. Remember how she carried that sitcom in the ’70s?
Robert’s mom says, “Ever since your dad left, I’ve been working around the clock. If only I’d been around more—” And Robert says, “No, Mom, no, it’s nobody’s fault.” Or maybe instead Robert’s mom goes all PFLAG poster mom, says, “No shit, congratu-fuckin-lations, what took you so long? Now can I buy you a motherfucking drink?” Then maybe it turns out Robert’s father is in the picture after all, and maybe Robert’s mother says, “Let’s not tell him yet, let’s give him some time.” Or maybe it’s not Robert’s dad, maybe it’s Decker’s. Decker’s dad, himself a high school lacrosse champion, passing on his legacy. His trophy and photo in the high school’s case, staring Decker down. Or maybe he failed, maybe the night before the big game, he had a terrible accident, and Decker is his second chance. “Dancing,” he says, “What do you mean you’re fucking dancing?” But then later, there he is! Decker’s dad, walking into the gymnasium just in time for the grand finale. Decker dances with Robert, dips Robert, spins Robert, carries Robert aloft and Decker’s dad watches, clapping, claps thattaboy, that’s my boy.
This dance movie is not without its antagonists. Like Patti, the musical-theater queen, who covets the dance trophy for herself. Patti’s jewish blond a redhead definitely a soprano. Even though she doesn’t actually sing in this movie, we can totally tell. She keeps a photograph of her idol Patti Lupone pasted and framed inside her locker. She sabotages Robert and Decker by spreading olive oil all over the soles of Decker’s dance shoes. Luckily, Robert’s got a spare pair. Patti’s probably a regressive stereotype, but without bitches like Patti, who would all those gay boys in the audience identify with? I mean privately, secretly, when they’re not pretending to be Roberts.
Maybe Patti wants Decker for herself. Or maybe it’s Robert she loves, maybe Patti and Robert are actually best friends since grammar school. “You’ve changed since you met Decker,” Patti says. “I organized a John Hughes-a-thon and you didn’t even show.” “Is this what you want?” she says. “To change who you are for a boy?” Actually, yes. That’s exactly what Robert wants.
Meanwhile, Decker’s got his hands full with his best bud Kyle. Kyle’s on the lacrosse team, says lately Decker ain’t been on his game, asks did dancing make him soft? Decker forgets Kyle’s graduation kegger because he’s busy practicing with Robert. And, oh! This is also the night Robert and Decker have their great big fight. “It’s not that complicated,” says Robert, “You either want this or you don’t.” And Decker says, “You don’t understand, it’s not that easy for me.” And Robert says, “You think it’s easy for me!?” Then Decker goes to Kyle’s, but he’s already too late, he missed everything. Kyle’s sitting on the stoop with a beer and a glare, all, Well look who decided to show his face—why you gotta do me like that, bro?
But everything’s resolved in time for the big performance, and Patti and Kyle, they’re in the audience, seated at either end of a row of folding chairs. They’re bobbing their heads and they’re clapping their hands, watching Robert and Decker’s pas de deux. Now they’re eyeing each other across the row, and Kyle’s smiling, and Patti’s smiling, and how perfect! How cute! Why didn’t anybody think of this sooner? The teenagers will dance into the sunset by twosies twosies, everybody happy, everybody smiling because This is a dance movie!
Somebody’s mother will of course find porn in somebody’s room. Or maybe both mothers simultaneously, maybe Robert’s mom and Decker’s mom, maybe they’ll both find stacks of naked dudes under their son’s bed in their son’s dresser drawer in his backpack between the tattered pages of his diary. Sorry, his journal. Even Robert’s a little macho, yo. In the back of Robert’s closet, Robert’s mother finds a life-size cardboard cutout of the actor Taylor Lautner. Taylor who? It’s that boy from the Twilight movies. No, the other one. The werewolf. Robert stole the Taylor Lautner cut-out from the video-rental store where he works part-time. He works at a video-rental store because he loves movies. Robert loves dissecting movies’ plots. He loves recognizing their tropes. “Am I a trope?” he wonders, examining his BOP-ped and Tiger Beat-en face in the mirror.
Sometimes, alone in his room, Robert imagines Taylor on top of him, behind him, and outside, out the window, the moon is rising full, and Taylor, Taylor’s changing, Taylor’s haunches, they’re growing hair, and Taylor, Taylor’s humping, Taylor growls, Taylor nibbles. Robert has never seen these movies, never read these books. Robert hates vampires, but Taylor! I mean, look at him! How, even though he’s Anglo, his color’s kind of caramel. And his lips! And his body! So big so built so fast so young so bulging beneath his skin, his skin so soft.
Robert fantasizes he’s walking into the men’s section of a high-end department store and a man selling perfume says, “Can I help you find your scent?” This man is played by Taylor Lautner. “I want something off the beaten path,” Robert says. “Something you wouldn’t think to recommend to somebody like me, but then, when you hear me ask for it, totally turns you on.” Taylor Lautner the perfume man touches bottles. Blue bottles, green bottles, bottles with graceful necks and bulbous bases. The camera captures the department store’s overheads glinting off the bottles, intercut with Taylor’s chin, Taylor’s fingers, Taylor’s lips. Taylor says, “Let me smell you,” thrusts his nose in close, now Taylor’s leaning, Taylor’s smelling Robert, Robert’s smelling Taylor. Taylor grabs a bottle and sprays Robert, sprays beads of odor all over his face. “Wolf musk!” Robert shouts. “Spray me with your wolf musk!”
Robert watches a video on YouTube—Taylor Lautner on a television talk show. Taylor loves football, he tells the host, Brett Favre is one of his favorites. “Weren’t you once an athlete yourself,” the host reads off his teleprompter. “Why yes,” says Taylor, “I was a martial artist at age eight.” Robert pictures Taylor, bare-chested, karate-kicking Brett Favre, hi-yah! And Brett, Brett blond and big and scruffed and broad, Brett grabs Taylor’s hips and spins him, Taylor falls, Taylor rolls, gets gravel all over his chest. Taylor rolls onto his hands and knees, on top of Robert. Robert’s lying on the ground, on his back, and now Taylor’s on top, Taylor’s rubbing dirt and grit and gravel all over him and in between, and meanwhile, Brett Favre looms, menaces, mounts Taylor from behind, pushes inside him, and Taylor’s howling, Taylor’s drooling, Taylor slobbers all over Robert’s face. “Help me!” Taylor’s screaming. And Taylor pushes his tongue into Robert’s mouth, and then Taylor’s mouth is at Robert’s ear, saying, “Save me!” Robert holds Taylor so tight he thinks his ribs might crack, kicks at Brett Favre, tries to kick him off Taylor, and Taylor’s shouting, “Save me, hold me, I promise I’ll never leave!”
This is a dance movie! …Or Robert hopes against hope it will turn into one. He stays up late every night to finish his homework. He tries to focus on equations, but instead he thinks about boys. Robert + b = happy. Solve for b. If this were a dance movie, it would all add up. If this were a dance movie, there’d be his solo, the climax, applause. Kiss kiss kiss. Hurry up and catch him before you lose him forever.
But maybe this is a dance movie after all. Maybe tomorrow he’ll learn to dance, dance with Decker. Decker in his uniform. Decker the lacrosse player. Decker scores. Everywhere he goes, Robert sees another Decker. Blond Deckers, dark Deckers, Deckers wearing hats. Deckers in the locker room, Deckers in home room, Deckers in the hall. What if he’s already met Decker, the real Decker, but he’s been too busy noticing Deckers to notice? Maybe Decker, his fated Decker, will be played by Taylor Lautner. Maybe there’s a key hung from a string rung ’round Decker’s neck, and it opens Robert’s insides to lather them with happy. Maybe Decker will carry perfume because This is a dance movie!
This is Robert, a boy in bed watching a movie. This boy, this boy named Robert, the movie he is watching is a dance movie. This movie is a dance movie! He recognizes its moves. This boy is moving. His toe is tapping. He wants to move like the boys in this movie. He wants to shimmy tango gyrate touch. Who is this boy? I am this boy, you are this boy. We might as well be named Robert, and we are moving. We are learning our moves. I am trying to reach you. We are trying to dance.
TIM JONES-YELVINGTON is a Chicago-based author, multimedia performance and nightlife personality. He is the author of two prose chapbooks, Evan’s House and the Other Boys who Live There (Rose Metal Press) and Daniel, Damned (Solar Luxuriance), and one poetry chapbook, Become On Yr Face (forthcoming from New Michigan Press, winner of the Diagram Chapbook Contest), and a full-length fiction collection, This is a Dance Movie! (Tiny Hardcore Press).