If titles were any indicator of the dance they’re attributed to, if they had any truth at all, I might expect different kinds of parties at the blue room on different nights. But quite contrary, in crude, blatant rejection of all themes, these dances are always frighteningly the same.
I walk down Bates hill as two friends carry a drunk, mumbling girl past me. I knowingly, enthusiastically say “hello” to someone I don’t care about. They respond with fervor, feigning a friendship that’s really shallow and dull. And further, near Mead Way, people congregate in circles—a grimier, smokier version of any bourgeois banquet, God-fearing citizens exchanging pleasantries and gossip on Sunday outside the church.
Though this contradiction is often talked about—it’s the butt of jokes, or blamed on the inadequacy of student government—the fundamental strangeness of the blue room dances and their titles is largely ignored. I submit that the reality is not only upsetting, but it’s also a microcosmic example of a much larger Sarah Lawrence phenomenon: so much of social life that introduces itself by its difference soon falls desperately, idiotically, into sameness.
At the pub when I order a sandwich the cashier asks me, “To stay or to go?” This a simple, practical question that befits a simple answer and should facilitate a very reasonable convenience (a plate or plastic container). But every day it pathetically fails in its function. No matter what I answer, which technically should provide two opposite results, my sandwich is either given to me on a plate or in a plastic container at complete random. This example may differ significantly in content from the blue room, but it is formally representative of the same exact problem. At Sarah Lawrence, nobody in the realm of social life takes language, the infamous mediator, the everyday exchanged commodity, very seriously. Our words mean absolutely nothing. This is upsetting everywhere, but especially in a school that boasts its intellectual integrity.
Maybe this is a purely social ailment. We are not stupid people. Maybe we are victims of an impoverished social structure that we drunkenly accept and endure with temporary, feverish contentment. The strain of more serious academic/professional pursuits takes up all of our useful energy.
The hope would be that this is exclusive to the less intimate social situations (i.e. parties and dances/a market place setting like the pub). Unfortunately, the issue goes deeper than that. Conversations between two individuals and private sexual experiences are subject to the same exact banality.
There is so much conversation that is unbearably stock. “What classes are you in?” I ask the question all the time. I remember absolutely none of the answers. “What classes are you in?” amounts basically to, “I don’t know how to communicate with you” and “I don’t know how to communicate with you, either!”
Incidentally, this conversation can happen between people who claim to be extremely intimate with one another. I’ve certainly had this conversation with people I care deeply about. The poverty of our language isn’t reserved for passing acquaintances. It can torture the closest friends.
Sometimes, we enjoy a night with a stranger. Before they leave, we pause at the door. We say, “I really enjoyed that. Let’s do that again.” We kiss the other, our bodies entwine: it is the striking image of a couple profoundly in love. Then we open the door and they leave. Most likely this will never happen again (with the same person; it’ll happen, scene for scene, with someone else). We all know very well how to imitate poses of love. Very few of us can go any further than that.
There is no easy alternative. Perhaps there isn’t any alternative. But it pains me everyday to pretend. Instead, “what seems beautiful to me, what I should like to [do],” is throw a party, a dance, have a conversation, invite a girl to my room, for “nothing.”
Featured Image: L’absinthe, Edgar Degas