All right. Stop whatcha doing, cause I’m about to ruin the image and the party that you’re used to. I’ve been partying hard since 1978 when they called me “Tina Travolta.” It went beyond staying alive for me and I didn’t need people or sidekicks to have a ball. I have always been a party of one, shy but expressive. I was that kid undulating my little wiry frame in my grandma Angeline’s dark, dank, lonely basement singing off-key, “If you want my body and you think I’m sexy…” to my Uncle Klantz’s Rod Stewart album. Yes, mildly inappropriate, but that’s not the point here.
I was a dancing goddess and I knew it. Music was my world and I was the wind, blowing whimsically and rhythmically through it. From old-school popping cheers to Janet Jackson style moves where I’d jump off of rickety folding chairs like I was part of the Rhythm Nation, I found my pleasure center, a life-giving way to socialize without being social. My body spoke for me through its tempo, its physicality, and its insistence on being free. I graduated from grammar school sock hops and roller rink jams to pre-teen basement parties and epic house music soirees at various clubs and high school auditoriums across Chicago. There was no party like a Chi-Town party, cuz a Chi-Town party didn’t stop. We jacked, wopped, stomped, twirled, bobbed, percolated, and swayed from the moment we arrived until they turned on the lights telling us that we didn’t have to go home, but we had to get the hell out of there. This type of vibrant, groove-centered partying followed me to college where house and hip-hop collided, then meshed. My body balanced house music’s free form, live and let live style of movement with hip-hop’s more regimented B-girl expectations of breaking, cabbage patching and doing the Booty Up or the Humpty Dance.
By this time, I’d earned the moniker, “Belly Dancing Tina,” and a reputation as one not to step to unless you could throw down on the dance floor because I was going to give you what you came for and a lot more. If I got invited to a party, I had certain expectations — great music, space to jack, and maybe some refreshments for the parched. A host was being fancy if food was served and I was appreciative, but it wasn’t what I came for. I came to see the faces of folks I cared for, get some hugs, catch up for a quick minute about how they and the fam were doing, and then I made my way to the dance floor. I’m what you’d call a classic extroverted introvert. I’ll dance and perform before a crowd or audience, but I freak out at the thought of prolonged conversations with any and everybody, especially if all you want to talk about is work. Weren’t we just there? Leave it alone, man. Call it socially inept. Call it weird. Call it anti-social. Call it what you want, but don’t call me if you don’t have space for dancing or other activities where small talk isn’t required at your “party.” I had these expectations for most of my young life and then I got a damn job. Did you hear the record scratch?
There is a different kind of party on the scene that I’ve been getting invited to for the past nineteen years (I’ve attended four already this season with a few more on the roster): the work party, during non-work hours. Usually, it’s a house party invite from wonderful friends at work. It still classifies as a work party, in part, because I have to put in work to get through it. Remember, I’m an introvert, people. Remember, that culturally, my expectations of a party are really, really different. Where I’m from, there’s loud ass music, laughing, some fried food with hot sauce on the side, a few homemade desserts, bid whist tables, cheap liquor mixed in with some hidden high end bottles that not everybody can partake in and lots of dancing or unified drunken swaying and crooning, depending on the hour. Now back to this work party. Let me start with I love y’all and I rock with you or else I wouldn’t even consider coming to any work parties (like my husband, a fellow introvert, has warned me against for years). And thanks for the invite. Sincerely. But clearly, you don’t know me very well, so let me help you to understand my inner workings and musings because I can’t suffer in silence any longer, despite me loving you or your company.
I feel like you’ve bamboozled me. Like Rakim said, “You thought I was a donut; you tried to glaze me.” But like Cube said, “I ain’t the one, the one who gets played like a poot butt, see I’m from the streets, so I know what’s up” with a real party. There are two problems (unless you count the fact that I’m socially awkward) that I see — definitions and expectations. Tina’s definition: a party is a pleasurable social gathering where there is dance-grade music, lots of sweaty gyrations and arm movements, and generous smiles, unless you’re in a stone cold groove, then the mean mug is totally acceptable. Most of all, there is limited conversation unless you’re talking shit or unless you haven’t seen your man one hundred grand (look it up cuz I’m venting, not teaching) in a long time then y’all might kick the willy bo-bos for an extended period of time.
I know it sounds rude, but my inner Luther has escaped on this first day of winter break where I actually have time to think, reflect, dance (which I did all alone in my bedroom this morning), and write. So, let Luther, I mean, let me tell you how I feel about your disrespectful misuse of the word “party” and the party itself. First, your use of the word “party,” though it holds up in the dictionary (but who’d ever want to attend a dictionary party), is a horrible misnomer. What you have going on in it’s best version is more like a get-together, a cozy, lively gathering, a glorified book club, a kick back or a hip philosophy conference in Champaign, IL. And that’s cool, but say that. Don’t say “party” because in its worst form, what you really have can be categorized as a jazz-laden wallflower support group, a prattle fest, a committee meeting with booze, or a poly sci conference in Springfield (discussing Trump will never put me in a party mood). And it has an impact on me, on your girl. It’s painful. All of this relentless gabbing, pontification and questioning feels like a purgatorial investigation, so I’m forced to keep chewing so I don’t have to talk much or I constantly sneak away to the bathroom for a quiet reprieve.
And here’s where I insert: It’s not you, it’s me. Seriously, don’t be sad and try not to be too offended if you’ve sent me an invite and I actually came. It’s hard not to be offended with Luther-esque honesty, I know. But we can’t solve the problem if we can’t acknowledge it, now can we? These standard work parties are soul-crushing (and I see it on the faces of other introverts across the room and it’s like we need an impromptu support group of our own but we don’t want to have to talk to each other to do it). This type of “party” (which I refuse to take out of quotes because it isn’t really a party as this whole diatribe has tried to get you to understand) takes so much work and it exhausts me way more than grading essays at the end of the semester or dancing until 4am ever could. I actually enjoy the latter type of exhaustion. If you really want to get to know me or spend time in my head, read my writing, invite me for a one-on-one thingy (notice I didn’t use the “p” word), come over for Kwanzaa or let your body do the talking on that dance floor. I’ll open up and show you who I really am, drenched in sweat and a trance-like elation. We’ll have fun, unless you hate to dance like I hate confabulation. Let a DJ save our lives. And together, let’s save the life and legacy of the party. Now, for real, where the party at?