Dancefloor Zen

(March 27, 2006; true and not-true, all at once)
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You're walking down Bloor Street. Perhaps your hands are weighted by bags of groceries; perhaps your legs are burning with the satisfaction of knowing that they've been strolling away from your office for the past forty-five minutes. Whatever the case, you're a bit distracted, your mind flitting between minutiae but holding on to precious little of the scenery around you... when you hear it. It's a pulse, low and even and inviting, and it's coming from a smaller street to your left.

You wind around with the curve of the sidewalk before any conscious thought makes its way into your mind, leaving the broad concrete and well-lit stores behind. This little avenue is sparse at best, decorated in the vague wealthier-than-average-student standard of The Annex, and you wonder briefly if you've made an unsafe decision. However, there is an overwhelming sense of peace, a quiet muffling of the city noise that puts you at ease. You press on, glancing around and knowing you're looking for something even though you have no idea what it might be.

You see it about half a block north, on the right-hand side of the street. It's a two-storey building, narrow and unassuming, with a canopy of lights across its front and precious little else to advertise its existence. The noise is definitely issuing forth from that address, though it's hardly more audible from this vantage point, and you find yourself heading for the front door. It doesn't seem to take many steps to get there, and the few cars on the street just flit past you like you're not there at all. Before you know it, you're knocking politely, knuckles bouncing off of the peeling paint.

No one answers the door, but that's all right; it swings open, admitting you into darkness. You walk in, widening your eyes as if that's going to make a bit of difference, and if you happen to be carrying those grocery bags of narrative possibility, you leave them on the top step so that they don't pull you down. It takes a moment to adjust, but you're guided by a few scraps of light that shine out from under a second door just ahead of you. The sound is coming from there, and, well, you've come this far - how could you resist?

You give the knob a twist and the wood a shove, and the pulse that had called you here suddenly envelops you, as perfectly symmetrical and unflagging as the undercurrent of the universe would be if it had been programmed. Inside the room are strobing lights covering the visible spectrum and then some, but blacklight dominates; it shines on the UV-reactive robes of several dozen Buddhist monks, setting them ablaze as their owners dance.

The monks are perfectly recognizable, but they've shed the saffron you've come to expect thanks to National Geographic in favour of shades of hot pink and white (the better to glow with, my dear). A few have painted their shaved scalps with orange and blue dyes, causing holy symbols to flicker to life as they duck and whirl; you're aiming for cultural tolerance, but that doesn't mean you don't stare. Trust me, you do. No one seems to notice or to mind; you're silently invited to take part or not as you see fit.

You glance forward and notice the DJ booth. It is empty of all equipment, a small picture of the Dalai Lama hanging above the vacant space, and the men seem unaware of its existence. A quick glance around confirms what you've gathered: the music is coming from the monks themselves. As they move in patterns that are freeform yet as precise in their way as a metronome, they chant, a low-pitched and endless "krah-thuh-krah-thuh-krah" that rumbles across the floor and urges your muscles into action.

How odd, you think to yourself. I never would've thought Buddhists would prefer gabber.

It doesn't take long. No matter how odd the scene, you can't help but ease yourself into the melee, mingling with the flapping robes and taut sinews with no introduction and no questions. You're a bit awkward at first, but once you really think about the fact that you're surrounded by venerable individuals in varying states of decrepitude all raving and singing their hearts out, that lingering bit of embarrassment evaporates. Your body already knows what to do, and you fall into the non-music, one movement per beat: it is thoughtless, it is below and beyond thought. The chant and the dance represent sheer kinetic simplicity, and after a moment or two, the whole exercise becomes clear to you.

Of course, by the time it does, you're not paying attention. The focus is on the sound, on the emptiness full of meaning, and your only pressing desire is to continue lifting your feet. It has as meditative a quality as anything else you've ever tried, and as you lose yourself in the experience, the monks cease to look so silly. They know what they're on about, even if you're slightly afraid Richard Gere's going to stumble by with pupils as big as saucers at any moment.

Yeah. That's why.