I hate soda but I’m drinking it anyway. Beads of sweat from the glass bottle cool my hands. This club is called Pontoon, and the air is a salty soup of dancing bodies and booze, sweat and sticky floors. It’s a Friday night in Labasa, Fiji, and I just want to flail.
My strategy for dancing in clubs is to find a gay guy or friendly girl to dance with, or just to walk out into the middle of the floor, close my eyes, and pretend I am dancing alone.
This always fails. A guy grabs my hands, my hips, taking my independent, moving body as an invitation to force my focus on one thing: him. I don’t go out for the purpose of dancing with strange, straight men. I dance to free myself.
It veers into uncomfortable territory very quickly.
It’s not my idea to go out, but I do, convincing myself that an Argentine club would have to be relatively tame. Argentine men are gentle, right? Lithe tango dancers? Not aggressive creeps?
Nope. It’s everywhere, this dance club abomination. This lack of respect for my moving body.
The club is tiered. Within five minutes in the black light cave, I’m craving fresh air. I wander alone upstairs to the balcony, on my way to the restroom. A guy pulls at my arm.
“Quieres joder conmigo?”
Angered, he knocks into my shoulders as he drunkenly bursts past. I almost lose my footing and have to grab onto the railing for support.
Tuvalu’s one dance club is in a converted chicken farm. Angie brought me here, insisting that I had to celebrate my last weekend in Tuvalu. Four-foot tall speakers blare the great classics at max volume––“Move, bitch, get out the way” (ugh) and “Turn down for what?”––plus an improbable mix of Latin American pop songs that Tuvaluans sing along to without understanding the words.
I down a beer, make peace with necessary hearing loss, and dive onto an empty floor to dance with Angie. In less than twenty seconds we have a crowd of men vying for our attentions. They grab my elbow, my wrist, and hold fast.
“Stop! Let go!”
This is the first time my “no” has not been respected. I struggle against their grip, but it is futile.
I don’t know whether to feel relieved it has taken this long to be violated (well, I made it for 22 years, that’s not so bad) or just outright afraid.
One guy, Angie’s cousin, seems kind enough. Almost. His lean frame is an inch shorter than my own and he doesn’t grab at any part of my body. It’s a promising start.
We dance for three songs, after which Angie leaves me in his care while she jets home on her motorcycle to check on her one and a half year old daughter.
When she is out of sight, Angie’s cousin grabs my wrist (there, the concealed force. Shit.) and leads me out to the airstrip. I focus on naming the constellations above the tarmac, making up new ones when my knowledge runs flat. A kite unrolling spools of footprints onto the sky. Rock candy. Orion. My whole body tenses.
Is this how I am raped.
I try to calm myself but nothing works. I am hyper alert of shadows on the runway, a pack of wild dogs fucking, couples sitting with their legs intertwined.
The cousin asks where I am from (the states) and if I am married.
I tell him I am not interested in men. He presses.
“Why not? Why don’t you come closer?”
He scooches his bum towards mine on the gravel. I look up at Orion and scooch away.
“I’m just not. Please respect that.” I consider dropping the L-word on him but don’t.
He talks about himself to fill the space. I learn that he works at the Public Works Department, installing water catchment systems on the island’s north end. He is 19. He has two sisters and a brother.
Keep him talking.
He has never heard of Boston. Everything he knows about America comes from Hollywood. He likes action films best.
“Does everyone have a gun in America?”
Angie comes back in time for the three of us to ogle at the rising moon in the east, a waxing gibbous, orange and low on the horizon, open like an eye, staring back.
Dear Dudes Who Feel Entitled to my Body in Dance Clubs,
I prefer to dance in wide-open spaces with no one around. I dance where there is air to breathe. I dance barefoot. I dance without music.
Once, in an hour-long line of cars to enter the USA from Canada, I danced my way across the Rainbow Bridge, mist from Niagara Falls cooling my face.
I only dance when I feel safe,
and it fcking sucks that there are so few spaces where I do.