Brace yourselves — it’s a long post.
I’ve been traveling a bit between communities for the past couple of weeks — spending all my working hours with raft guides, then going to Atlanta for some dancing. Honestly, it’s sometimes like a culture shock — one minute I’m among those who cuss and tell rancid jokes and flash their titties…the next minute, I’m among…well…let me explain.
On the Rafting Community:
Well, it’s a bit of a circus. Not the kind of amazing, fantastical circus my brother participates in, but the crazy, comical circus of raft guides. The other night, there was naked jousting on top of rafts filled with water using paddles padded with pillows as jousting sticks — kind of like a jam circle, with the clapping and cheering…but with naked girls battling it out on a slippery raft. Not that anything like that has ever happened here, of course. Also, lots of titty flashing for mardi gras beads. Here, we bond over insulting each other and drinking every single beer in a 6ft long cooler, even if it means staying up until 4am to finish them all. We don’t really touch much — barely even a fist bump or high five, let alone a good, bone-crushing hug, some friendly back rubs, or just leaning against each other — if a guy’s rubbing your back to help with the aches and pains, it’s because he wants to sleep with you. Actually, if he’s just touching you, it’s because you’re female and he can’t resist the allure of your girly body parts.
But despite their often crass attitudes and their high respect for personal space, they’re incredible people. Locked out of my car? JJ lent me his keys. Can’t take a lunch break? Ken got me something from the general store. Guy giving me trouble? Suddenly, I’m surrounded by three 6ft, tan, buff men who are all very protective of my girly body parts, and even in a mostly non-sexual way. We take care of our own — we are the Five Hole Gang, and we are proud and protective of our people.
On the Dance Community:
Monday nights with raft guides is volleyball night — but among dancers in Atlanta, it’s time for Hotjam. Though we dancers have our lewd moments, they don’t quite compare to guides. Instead of flashing our titties, we dress vintage. Instead of naked jousting, we have jam circles. Instead of naked bellyflop championships, we have exchanges and workshops and everything in-between. And though the modus operandi is different, the end result is the same — we have our cultural bonding moments, and it forms this strange, hap-hazard community made up of people from all different backgrounds and all over the freaking world! I mean, I see some of my best friends only once or twice a year because they live cross-country…but their cross-country status doesn’t change the fact that they’re a huge part of my life.
Of course, there’s a lot more hugging in this community, which I love — even those who have the highest level of personal space give fantastic hugs and high fives, and of course, there’s a whole bunch of touching when we dance. Those who give you back massages — well, most of them are really just giving it out of their good nature. Of course, the more time a man spends working the knots out of your shoulder, the more likely it is he wants to work your muscles in other ways…but still!
We may not have a catchy name like the Five Hole Gang, but I always feel like I’m part of this rag-tag, loving community. Need a ride to the grocery store? To the next dance? To the airport? No worries, the dance community’s got your back. And don’t even get me started on the sleeping arrangements — I’ve never felt more welcome in more beds, couches, and floors — without any expectations of services to be rendered, of course!
On where I fall between the two…
A guy I once dated (read: slept with regularly) once said that in a crowd, I always put myself in the “other” community. When I’m with raft guides, I’m a dancer. When I’m with dancers, I’m a raft guide. When I’m at Rabun Gap, I’m a college student, and when I’m at Emory, I identify more strongly with my high school. Even as he said it, I knew it rung true. Among a crowd, I’ve always identified myself to them as already part of a different group — as if I wanted them to know that I was already included somewhere, and they should really include me in their group because I’m awesome, but if not, it’s cool — because yeah, I’m already part of something huge and cool that you should be jealous of. At least, that’s how it was when I was in high school, and even leading into college.
But as I’ve become part of the dancing community, I’ve just been…well, part of it. To raft guides and Emory students and Gappers, I identify myself as part of the dancing community…but when I’m with the dancing community, I just…focus on dancing. And my friends. And those awesome swivels from that girl who’s passing through town. And yes, rafting and Emory and Rabun Gap are all still part of my life — especially rafting, with some many friends coming to visit the Chattooga lately — but really, dancing is first. And I feel like I’ve found my community. The one where I just fit in, without volunteering to be the designated driver so that it will be easy (and accepted) to turn down drinks.
The other day, I had my first day off in nearly a week, and it was the first day I was able to go dancing in two weeks. So I road tripped to ATL for some Hotjammin’, and I must say — it was fantastic. Hot, crowded, and muggy…but the music was pushin, everyone was hugging, and Terrace and I rocked out some two-forty-something bpm swingouts. First real jam in a jam circle, barring balboa (which I don’t really count, because it doesn’t swing out). And then we all went to Fellini’s — fifteen of us! Oh, if that pizza didn’t just hit the spot…Driving back 2 hours, starting at 12:20 pm, I didn’t even feel tired — and I’m almost always so tired I’m about to doze off and into the ditch on that drive. I was just so pumped about seeing my friends, getting some good hugs, and swinging out.
As I’m getting comfortable in the dancing community, it’s really allowing me to get more comfortable in the rafting community. I’ve always had trouble fitting in with raft guides, especially at parties. But now, I’m more confident about my decision not to drink, and when people ask me why I choose non-alcoholic beverages, I don’t feel like the sideshow attraction that the no-alcohol and no-smoking policy makes me into — and among a circus of raft guides, that really is a strange sight.
It’s a relief to know that I have one community where I truly feel I belong — even if all it does is show me how I can belong in other communities as well, just by being myself. I believe that everyone should have that feeling…because honestly, the world would be a lonelier place without it, and I don’t think I even knew the extent of my loneliness until the dancers had already banished it.