Where the party is

by Brianna Riplinger

Ground Zero/The Front

A Prince-happy DJ wearing a giant cowboy hat and tight, zebra-print shirt and skintight pants was spinning, and The Front revolved around his retro-fun set. He held a huge brandy snifter, and he frequently went behind the bar to pour himself refills of various liquors. I had no idea how old he was, due to the oversized sunglasses and hat. He was a walking caricature of kitsch, who refused to play ABBA, but happily threw on records by the Bee Gees, Stevie Wonder and the Jackson Five – never anything too obscure or questionably danceable. But by the end of the night, around 1 a.m., he’d started to change it up – he played “Hello Nasty”-era Beastie Boys in a move to drive everyone out on the floor. Everyone, that is, but the drunken frat-boy types – clad in white hats, stonewashed jeans and college sweatshirts – that were screaming the lyrics while throwing their hands in the air.

The crowd at The Front was wonderfully, sometimes comically, diverse. There were some sweet beautiful gay boys; some rude preppie straight ones; young women in glittery, strappy tank tops; neo-hippie guys in overalls and big, floppy hats. Then there were the two fabulously average-looking women in their early 40s, wearing big T-shirts and jeans, dancing together and whooping at and sidling up to cute boys that pass them by. They were, by far, the most joyful, naturally gifted dancers in the crowd.

Amazingly, the space was not too smoke-infested, and although it was extremely crowded, there were no truly obnoxious drunks, and everyone I encountered seemed to have good intentions: dance, drink and maybe meet someone. Although some men might be there to hit on women, they’re not lecherously determined to do so. The dance floor cozily runs next to the bar, and people were shakin’ it where others leaned or stood at the bar. Although there was no cover, the drinks were quite expensive and not the greatest. People bopped and shimmied to disco-era Diana Ross and Prince’s most sexually overt ditties until they were kicked out at closing time.

The Quest

Since I went to the Quest the Friday after the Rhode Island club fire, the management was very much on the defensive. After we walked through a big metal detector, a security guard searched our purses and jackets, while handing out little sheets of paper, which stated: “In light of the recent national tragedies, we wish to express that the safety and well-being of our clientele is at all times our highest priority.”

As I wandered into the vast, empty venue, the dance floor vacant, I attributed the stillness to the recent club tragedies. I felt sorry for the friendly, quick and talented bartenders. They wanted to dazzle with their flashy moves and tasty drinks, but it was after 11 p.m., and there were roughly thirty people in the large space. Many of the people there sat, drank and blankly stared at the NBA game flashing from the looming TV monitors on the ceiling. A smoke machine and roving search lights turned stretches of fabric that hung behind the DJ into hazy shades of green and purple. Slightly posh and determined to appear hip, everything in the Quest seemed to anticipate the arrival of glamorous pop or rap star “clientele” at any moment.

The music pounding from the speakers included a mix of rap and R&B. The young, deft DJ seemed oblivious to the empty dance floor, never looking up from his turntables. He looked intent and in his own world, as if he was spinning away in his own basement.

The first brave couple to take the floor, a man with a shiny bald head and a woman with big, curly black hair, looked like they were sedated, but still had the drive to dance. They continually danced the exact same way, never leaving their chosen spot. Their heads moved in perfect synchronicity, as if there was an invisible string connecting their foreheads: When one pulled back, the other was drawn forward.

Next up on the floor was a young woman who appeared completely wasted and very bold. She grabbed her female friend by the wrist, dragged her to the center of the spacious dance floor and put on a strangely captivating show. She had plenty of room to dance her odd, charming dance. The other woman barely moved while the fearless woman playfully, semi-sexually caged her in while her lanky limbs moved in a deliberate, menacing manner. She moved like a long-limbed bobcat, with a huge smile covering her face. She arched her back and took up at least 20 feet around her with every round of movement. Pretty soon, she had attracted several men to join her on the floor, stealing her away from her friend. At the same time, breaking the spell of the magnetic dance, a pathetic man sauntered by our table, sporting a Nelly-style Band-Aid on his upper right cheek.

The Gay 90s

As a subject of a recent media expose, the Gay 90s was forced to close their second floor due to alleged fire code violations. Again, the dance floor was not as hopping as it was a few weeks ago and bartenders looked bored. After paying a $5 cover, we handed our coats to a woman under a steel-latticed “window” and walked past signs advertising lottery tickets and pull-tabs for sale. There was a drag queen in a white fur coat strutting in the dining room, holding a microphone and cracking jokes. After the comic, a new drag queen, decked out in a red sequined dress and red wig, performed to Reba McEntire’s version of the class-tragedy anthem “Fancy.” “Here’s your one chance/Fancy don’t let me down,” she lip-synched, mesmerizing the crowd. We entered the dark, throbbing dance room. J.Lo’s “Jenny From The Block” and Missy Elliott’s “Work It” played and girls in vinyl mini-backpacks worked it next to women in their 40s while gay and straight couples chatted each other up over the blasting beats.

Since the floor was pretty open, there was a higher chance of being watched, which lead to the inevitable slow, awkward-start-to-dance moment. Much like the absurdity of a character in a musical suddenly bursting into song in the midst of a daily routine, so it goes on a spotty dance floor. People slowly walked to their places, and tried to “feel the rhythm,” shaking their bodies in ways they never do in their workplace or classroom.

But once the familiar echoes of Madonna’s “Die Another Day” James Bond song began to seep from the speakers, everybody around (including me) started dancing without a care. Sure, it’s no “Express Yourself” or “Holiday,” but, hey, it’s still her: goddess to straight girls and gay men around the world. Like me, they were all completely absorbed in her profound philosophy: a call to the dance floor that still resonates, even among the most inhibited.