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From Prog Rock to Progressive House: Reflections on Music, Community, and Finally Dancing

Music was once a huge part of my identity. My music taste was a concoction carefully crafted to amaze others—mostly men, at the time. I would go to shows three times a week on average, occasionally saving up for a bigger name but mostly handing over 5s and 10s at Denver dive bars for local bands and lesser-known touring acts. When I talked to others, smoking cigarettes outside with an IPA in hand, I prided myself on the obscurity of my tastes. A flirtatious dance of “have you heard of ___?” would unfold, my studded and patched denim jacket backing me up, and someone’s manic pixie dream fulfilled.

At one point years ago, I was embedded in the Denver music scene. Beyond frequent attendance, I began putting together line-ups for shows and creating poster art for friends’ bands. I had vast connections in this world, always running into familiar faces at the numerous local haunts. Even though I didn’t have many deep or close friendships, I felt surrounded by a vast number of people who would smile “hello” and who shared at least one common thing: music. All of that has fallen away now, and while I still listen to music regularly, it is no longer a cornerstone of my selfhood.

What changed? I suppose, as for so many of us, COVID. As the shows stopped, we were relegated to connecting online from our separate apartments. With some distance from it all, it became clear who my true friends were. Over time, I would continue to unravel the web of harassment and abuse and troubled relationships that haunted me each time I scanned a crowd for a number of people that made me feel unsafe. It wasn’t just fears of COVID that kept me from returning to that community—it was the realization that it was hardly a community for me at all. I made a handful of solid friends during my years in mosh pits and graffitied bathrooms, and for those I will always be very grateful. But for the most part, I realized that all these people I thought I had around me were barely acquaintances, and the thin thread of commonality that had strung us together snapped.

Shifting into 2021, I found a new community, and a new music taste. I finally gave myself over to the joy of listening to pop music and dance hits, simultaneously surrendering to the care and support of an entirely new group of friends. I danced again in ways that I hadn’t in years. I opened my heart up to the softness of joy and love and movement and community.

There will always be a place in my heart for the dark, heavy music of my younger days. I occasionally indulge in the emo songs of my teenage years, and maybe one day I’ll return to the punk and black metal and more obscure dissonant genres of my early twenties. In the mean time, I am embracing what feels good. I dance in supermarkets, gas stations, banks—every public space that has music playing, I’m no longer afraid to sway and sing along to something that’s on the Top 100 charts.

More recently, my partner has been introducing me to an array of electronic music that I never knew existed. I think I’ve surprised us both with how much I’ve fallen in love with it. Last night, Leo and I went to a psytrance show, and our sleepy little town really showed up!

Going into it, I thought to myself, “I have no idea how to dance to this stuff,” based on the little bits that we’ve listened to in the car or the kitchen. But as soon as the first DJ started mixing tracks, I was out there grooving as enthusiastically as anyone else. We spent the next three and a half hours (!) dancing to techno and trance beats. I smiled nearly the whole night, and I had an absolute blast. It used to be difficult for me to let go and dance at a show (most of the shows I went to were more about the mosh pits anyway), but in the last year or two I’ve finally found that reckless abandon that I’ve heard so much about. I grin at others dancing around me, but I don’t care what they think. We’re all just having a great time, sharing the space and feeling the music together.

My ability to dance and embrace all different kinds of music is even more amazing to me given my sobriety. Younger me would hardly believe it if I told them what I’ve been up to. I think that I can take some pride in that. You never know which way you’re going to grow, but you can count on the growth taking place regardless. Life never stops throwing new challenges and new delights our way, and I’m happy to remain open to whatever comes next.

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