The people who know me best know that I’m kinda nuts, but it’s a kind of insanity that most people only notice once I start talking, usually after several weeks of silent observation of my surroundings. My idea of a good time is sitting in a room all by myself with a good book. Maybe I’ll invite a friend or two if they promise to bring board games or food or alcohol (or any combination of the three), but this room should never be crammed with eight hundred drunk people grinding on each other to obscenely loud music.
In case it wasn’t obvious, I’m socially awkward.
I’ve had roughly two decades to learn this about myself, and I know that I’ll probably never be the kind of person who walks into a crowded room and doesn’t feel at least a little bit nervous. I know this. I know it as surely as I know that ice cream is good and paper cuts are bad and that biting someone is not an appropriate way to tell them that you don’t want to share your ice cream.
I know this.
Really, I do.
So then why, why, WHY do I keep going to clubs?
In Córdoba, boliches (Argentine Spanish word for club) seem to be the main source of entertainment for the average college age human.
This is not good news for a paranoid shut in like me.
I wish I could say that I were immune to peer pressure, that I were somehow above the basic human need for social acceptance. In fact, before I came to Argentina I might have said exactly that. But you know what? Traveling alone to a foreign country may be one of the most amazing things I have ever done, but it gets lonely. Your closest friends are people you barely met, people you might not have even given a chance if your real friends were around. That might sound bad, but that’s the way it is. It’s amazing how you can miss home so much and at the same time be so grateful for all of the wonderful new people you might never have known. You realize that maybe you were a little bit more ignorant than you had thought before, and the realization of how far you’ve come and how much more you have to grow is bittersweet. The loneliness and the desire for growth is what drives introverts like me go out and do things that we normally would never do.
Like go to a club, for example.
Sure, there’s always the option of not going to the clubs, and that’s exactly what I did for my first two months and it might be what I’ll do for my last month here, but at least I can say that I tried it. Now I know what it’s like and I never have to do it again if I don’t want to. That counts as learning, right?
For those of you who love dancing at clubs, great for you. You’re probably not bad at it and it’s probably easy for you to fit into the modern college student culture. I bet you smell good, too.
For deeply unbalanced people like me, however, going to a club represents a cavalcade of social interactions that we’re just not qualified to handle.
Here’s how it starts: you’re talking to some humans that you actually like talking to and they invite you to a club. What do you do? They’re really excited about how much fun it will be and they’re inviting you because they want you to have fun too. Wait, you don’t want to go with us? What wrong with you, do you hate fun? Oh, you poor thing, you must not understand. Club = fun. You still don’t get it? Here, come with us and we’ll teach you how to have fun properly. Aren’t you lucky we’re here for you?
So now you’ve agreed to go to the club, partly to avoid hurting their feelings and partly out of morbid curiosity. Also, they promised you alcohol. It can’t be that bad, right?
When you walk in you’re blasted by stale air that smells like smoke and sweat and every single beat of music feels like a hadouken to the eardrum.
(That, in your ears over and over again for four hours straight)
You gaze at the grinding mass of gyrating bodies with horror, realizing that you’re expected to go in there and be one of them. Your first instinct is to run for the door, but your friends are already disappearing into the crowd. Wait, are you supposed to follow them? In there, where all the people are rubbing against each other? There’s a space on that wall over there. Maybe you could just lean against the wall and learn why this is fun by watching the others. You start to head towards the wall, but then one of your friends catches you by the hand. “Where are you going? Let’s dance! Wooooo!” And then you get dragged inside the mob.
Once inside you realize that what initially looked like chaos actually has an order. Yes, these people are waving their limbs and jerking their bodies in fits of musical ecstasy, but it follows a pattern. The movements flow with the music and even though you feel ridiculous when you try it, it doesn’t look ridiculous on them. These people know what they’re doing, and it’s becoming more and more obvious that you do not. Seriously, how do they all do it? Do they practice this at home?
And then you realize something else: most of these people are drunk. That must be it! That’s the secret! Maybe you’re completely sober, maybe you’ve already had a few drinks. Whatever the case may be, you are clearly not drunk enough to enjoy this. Quickly, to the bar!
You fight your way to the bar, trying not to think about the fact that you just had to press your entire body against fifteen complete strangers on the way there, and then you end up having to scream in the bartender’s ear to be understood. But that’s ok, because now you have what you need to survive the night.
It starts to hit you as you fight your way back to your friends. Your ears still feel like bleeding and there’s barely enough space to breathe properly, but suddenly it doesn’t bother you. Hey, this song sounds vaguely familiar. You might have heard it on the radio once. Let’s sing it at the top of our lungs along with everyone else! Yay, music! Everyone else is waving their hands in the air. Hey, let’s do that too! Wooooo!
If your friends stay together you end up spending the night eagerly trying out their dance moves. They’re professionals compared to you, the neurotic nutcase that tagged along, but if you’ve had enough to drink you no longer feel self conscious. You can wave your limbs and jerk your body without a care in the world and for a little while, at least, you can sort of understand why some people call this fun. But then (usually when the alcohol wears off) you realize that you’re singing along to Call Me Maybe at 4 am and that all you really want is to curl up under the covers in your bed.
I’ve done this maybe four times here in Argentina, but I only really enjoyed myself once. The first time I wasn’t drunk enough and the third time the music wasn’t too great. I think there has to be a perfect combination of being in a good mood, having good music, and good friends that don’t suddenly disappear and leave you dancing by yourself like an idiot. Once they’re gone, I revert back into a paranoid shut in who desperately searches for the nearest exit.
I’ve also noticed that if there’s anyone else in the group who also feels awkward dancing, I tend to feed off their vibes and we both spend the night feeling really self conscious. It’s easy to pretend to fit in when you’re the only one pretending, but if you know that someone else in the group knows that you’re both just going through the motions, it’s a lot harder to forget that you don’t actually belong there.
Another thing I noticed: club people are perfectly ok with rubbing their junk on complete strangers. This baffles me. Dancing is hard enough without having to coordinate my movements so I don’t accidentally have sex with someone on the dance floor. I don’t know how it is in the States, but in Argentina the men are extremely aggressive. To many of them, “No” actually means, “Please grab my arm and drag me onto the dance floor no matter how much I scream.” With some of them if you make any eye contact at all, even if it was only for a split second while walking past them on the way to the bathroom, they’ll grab your face and try to make out with you on the spot.
I’m not saying I regret doing it. Dancing is actually kind of fun once you get into it. But for me it costs a lot of energy and it’s just not worth it 90% of the time. Chances are, if it takes copious amounts of alcohol just to get you to enjoy something, it’s probably not healthy to do that thing very often.
***I feel like I should put this disclaimer for my club going friends (who always smell good): Please don’t feel bad. You taught me that dancing can be fun. =)