If, somehow, you have managed to get to this point in your life and not seen Hot Shots Part Deux, you should correct that. In the late 80s/early 90s golden age of spoofs, this was my favourite as a young lad. It features Charlie Sheen and his Two and a Half Men co-stars John Cryer and Ryan Stiles, fighting to save hostages from Saddam Hussein’s evil grasp (remember him?).
Side note. Stiles was the tall, lanky improv genius on Clive Anderson’s simply brilliant Whose Line Is It Anyway? I miss that show. That, and Mock the Week, in the Frankie Boyle era, obvs.
There’s a scene in Hot Shots Part Deux where ‘Topper’ (Charlie Sheen) faces off against a Bruce Lee type. Surrounded by a baying crowd, the other man dips his bandaged hands into glue, and then proceeds to drop them into menacing piles of broken glass and shrapnel. When Sheen takes his turn to ‘weapon up’ he dunks his fists into chocolate fondue, and proceeds to deliberate over which bowl of ice cream topping to choose.
“GUMMY BEARS!” chants one half of the crowd
“SPRINKLES!” responds the other half.
He chose the sprinkles. Always choose the sprinkles.
I think the point of this scene, other than being damn funny, was to say it’s not always a fair fight, but sometimes you’ve just got to ‘knuckle down’ (PUN intended) and get on with it.
Tenuous segue at best here, but I reckon that leads me back to the events of last Saturday night, and the tale of the chocolate coated rave.
In my last post I described the pre-cacao ceremony exercises that had left me in a state of deep emotional discomfort. Next up. Let’s all stand around an unfolded picnic table, which has a small gas burner placed on it. On top of the stove is a large cauldron (it’s actually just a large saucepan, but work with me here and pretend it’s a cauldron).
We’re asked if anyone would like to sing during the brew process. Cue shifty glances amongst the group. One lady volunteers. You could picture this dark-haired raven selling wares in a Byron Bay crystal shop. She’s dressed all in black, contrasting with the rest of us in our hodgepodge of whites, light greys, creams, and my blue jeans. She sings a song with no words, just sounds, like a yoga class backing track. Her voice is chillingly good. As she sings, we take it in turns to spoon raw Guatemalan cacao into the cauldron, stating our intention for the dance. This was almost as hard as the staring stuff. When it came to my turn, I mumbled something about letting go of my worries, spooned that lumpy chocolate powder into that damn saucepan as quickly as possible and stepped back.
With the chocolate ‘sludge’ brewed by the master of ceremonies, piping hot and ready to drink, a shrine of sorts was positioned on the floor, covered in candles. We each drank a large glass of the sludge, which was very bitter, but not bad. We were told that the cacao would have a powerful effect on us. I think that was an attempt to induce a placebo effect.
Placebo or not, it worked.
The music started, the lights were turned off, with just some fairy lights left on so we wouldn’t kick each other in the face. The music was good. It was loud. It was uplifting, in a ‘ravey’ kind of way. The group started to move, some more openly and vigorously than others.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I like a cheeky dance. At weddings I’m normally one of the first, and last, on the dancefloor. I recently started taking salsa lessons, and am hooked. But I wasn’t relaxed, I wasn’t really going for it. I definitely wasn’t ecstatic.
Some of group lost their minds almost straight away. Which sounds like a bad thing when I put it like that, but this was the whole idea. To get out of our heads. And into our bodies. For me, it was after about 20 mins of dancing around, that shit really started to happen. I hi-fived a gentle giant of a man as we awkwardly danced past each other, he was howling with laughter and it was infectious. I too started laughing.
And then I started dancing. Properly, manically dancing. I’m talking running around the room, limbs flailing, rolling on the floor, almost break-dancing, but without the skills, and without the co-ordination. It was mad fun. It was mad. It was liberating.
After an hour of dancing like this the music slowed slightly and became more rhythmic, tribal almost. I took refuge in the corner pile of cushions to catch my breath, and to watch this bunch of strangers dancing like loons. It was hilarious. I had another weird sensation at that moment, possibly my third such sensation of the evening; I felt extraordinarily close to this bunch of people I hardly knew.
I think we can rationalise this quite easily. Humans evolved dancing, singing and laughing around the campfire in the evening. It should come as no surprise that dancing without fear is enjoyable. Dancing is core to who we are. I’d go as far to say, it’s what our bodies expect.
Fortunes are spent on corporate team-building exercises throughout the world to create high-performing teams. Human bonds are created through shared experiences. Whether these experiences are good or bad, the net result is usually the same. We get to know each other. We feel more like we belong.
This experience was corporate team-building on steroids. Which makes me think, in a world of (often) abusive big business, maybe we need more corporate team building that looks like this.
Would a corporate executive for a high street brand be comfortable with the working conditions for some of the people who make their clothes, if they had to spend 3 minutes looking that person in the eye, and then spent 2 hours dancing and laughing with that person?
Would a person be willing to eat a factory farmed beef burger if they had to do the same with a cow being held in dreadful conditions. OK, maybe not the dancing part, but you catch my drift.
Forgive me, but I think I’m on to something with this. It’s far easier to fuck someone over when you don’t know that person, when you can’t see their face.
We danced, laughed, whooped, stomped and vibrated at that frequency for about two hours in total. It flew past. After it finished, we had a period of lying on the ground. I found myself holding the hand of the tall, beautiful woman next to me. We then sat up and told each other what made us feel vulnerable. And then we hugged. For a long time.
I’m aware of how this all sounds. I can imagine what some people reading this will be thinking. It’s a bit, well, it’s a bit ‘woo’ isn’t it? It’s not going to the pub or the game, or out for dinner. It’s outside the box. But, here’s the thing; It was f**king excellent fun. I felt amazingly human and alive after. It didn’t cost much, and there was no hangover the next day. Where are the drawbacks?
There are none.
We were ordered back onto the cushions in the circle. Holding hands we sat in silence, invited to sway, or make noises if we like. One person started humming.
I started singing.
I know… What. The. Actual. F**k, Chris?
My friends and colleagues know I like to use my voice. But I’m a tenor and I rarely go anywhere near the top end of my scale, especially in front of people, unless maybe if I’m at a karaoke bar, and had a skinful. This was very different. There was no song. No backing music. No lyrics. No alcohol. It felt like I was using my voice to channel my subconscious. I’ve never sung like that before.
Bets now being taken on how long it is until I move to Byron, become a yoga instructor, and open a shop selling salt lamps and dream catchers.
Singing nonsense done, it’s back to repeating the exercise from the start of the night (described in my previous post). Look around the group and pause on their faces. Been here. Done that. COMPLETELY DIFFERENT RESULT. It was easy, it was enjoyable. The warmth for my friend which I talked about in the first installment, was being felt for the entire group, and it was being sent right back. Everyone looked relaxed, happy, relieved even.
The night was drawing to a close. One last twist. I was asked to sing the group a song. I sang the song I always want to sing.
Lady in Red.
Naff as they come. Like me, totally uncool. Rolling Stone magazine ranked it the third worst song of the 80’s. I couldn’t care less. I adore that song, and I sang it better than I’ve ever sung it before (which is many, many times). I’m putting it down to the uber-relaxed state of my diaphragm. I finished a verse. Faces beamed back at me. A wave of emotion rolled over my being. We were done.
The goodbyes were full of hugs (did I mention I like, correction, NEED, hugs?) and went on for ages. There’s a high possibility that I won’t see most of those people again, but we felt like family. I walked out of that yoga centre with my belly full of fluffy clouds, but my mind was clear as day.
I know now, I have to find a regular way of accessing that state of being.
Maybe I just need to eat more chocolate.