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Just Dance to the Saddest Song You Know

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Hot Bod is a weekly exploration of fitness culture and its adjacent oddities.

Puttering inside with my nonessential roommates, the world comes in through a pinhole. Inside it’s slow and contained and watchful; outside, everything ricochets at an impossible speed. One roommate is delaying her band’s tour and teaching us poker, I’m making endless batches of soup stock, we listen to a podcast about the supply chain failing local hospitals. The sense of parallel realities is like being tucked into a drawer and stretching our necks to glimpse the world through a crack in the wood. It doesn’t feel possible to be cozy and terrified, to be distanced and essentially helpful. But impossible things are happening all the time, both things at once. The both-ness is maybe why the most connected and alive I’ve felt recently is DEMON DANCING TO SAD-ASS SONGS alone, with my roommates, with my partner, alone again.

Within these current limitations, DEMON DANCING TO SAD-ASS SONGS recalls a sense of collective catharsis I miss so much, while surrendering to the peculiarities of carousing alone. It lets me go wild in both directions at once. As a qualifier, SAD can be any mood in the mopey pageant of yearning, heartbreak, disaffection, disappointment, loneliness. As an action, DEMON DANCING should be evident, but I can’t describe it, because when you are DEMON DANCING there is no accounting for how your limbs join to the rest of your body. You will only know you’ve been DEMON DANCING after you’ve done it because you’re panting and your hair has sent you a postcard from a Santa Ana wind tunnel. Your heart will have left your body and replaced itself with a brawny double.

Being both overly sensitive and overly social, this current crisis isn’t my first rodeo with DEMON DANCING TO SAD-ASS SONGS. I’ve deployed “Running Up That Hill” on a playlist at a birthday party where I didn’t know anyone except the friend who brought me. For years in fitness classes, I’ve tracked dance remixes of late-1990s melancholia (e.g., the DJ Miko remix of 4 Non Blondes’ “What’s Up”). Aerobic instructors, in their infinite wisdom about BPMs and breakthroughs, invariably queue up this micro-genre at the end of classes. I get it. It takes the right atmosphere — depleted, exhausted, receptive — for the SAD-ASS SONG to work its alchemy.

That exact atmosphere is immutable right now. The atmosphere is very exhausted. It’s very thirsty for heightened sensations. I miss the presence of people who I love and people who I don’t know at dance-y parties and sweaty dance classes. So in their simulacra online — Zoom parties by nightclubs, dance parties by DJs, fitness raves by favorite instructors — I have a gross romantic craving to be inconsolable. Wallowing in my feelings, moving my body so it seems deliberate. That’s what DEMON DANCING TO SAD-ASS SONGS is all about and Cyril Hahn’s “Say My Name” remix is its essential soundtrack. It excavates the frustration and defeat that were there along and brings them to the head.

I call a favorite instructor from Madre, Shantani Moore, who used to instruct me to bounce on a miniature trampoline with firm encouragement and deviantly good playlists. “To get that cathartic sob on the trampoline, you start really deep and simple and continue to build. ‘Say My Name’ is a great place to begin,” Moore says over the phone. “It’s got a lot of depth and a good beat. The lyrics are simple enough to wrap your head around in three minutes and specific enough to poke at a wound, if you need to poke at it.”

Moore knows me: DEMON DANCING TO SAD-ASS SONGS is a desire to poke at the wound. By design, the current situation is very removed from things. I want to get closer to something that connects me to it. Skin is thin, emotions run deep, restless energy runs high, and like a newly heartbroken person, my brain skitters to find little wisdoms everywhere, to understand it enough until I’ve gotten past it. Not for the first time in history, I’ve had the amazing idea to use songs as bait for feelings, and movements as a stand-in for action.

To pick the SAD-ASS SONG that will evoke the best DEMON DANCING, first consider the tempo. If it’s reasonably slow for a SAD-ASS SONG, check SoundCloud for an unreasonably paced club remix. Stray from the standards. Unquestionably, Robyn is the queen mother of DEMON DANCING TO SAD-ASS SONGS, but as queen mother, she’s a little too traditional to tap into new unexpected depths. Moore recommends leaning into forgotten familiar tracks. She unexpectedly revived the pop-punk of her youth for a run: “It’s not what I regularly listen to, but I was like: This is a mood. Now you just allow yourself to feel the thing.”

It’s not quite poking at the wound, but it is ripping off the Band-Aid, airing it out. The wound is getting worse and it’s healing. Or really, it’s too early to tell. DEMON DANCING TO SAD-ASS MUSIC lets everything be both things, the world is terrifying and it’s filled with all the things we care about. Go forth and be in both places, dance and shudder, think about everything and forget about everything.

Some recommendations to get you started:

HyperBody, one of the only people who can get me to willfully do an ab series, recommends a heartsick Kill Them With Colour remix that threads Enya with Destiny’s Child. (Hyperbody is leading remote classes here.)

Ryan Heffington, of emotional dance-party lore, recommends Tracy Chapman’s “Fast Car” — a “Workout Music” remix here:

I’m very quick to play a variant on “Wicked Game.” I heard a perfect clubby remix like five years ago and it has been my white whale ever since. These two aren’t it, but will suffice.

This is a reminder that if a SAD-ASS song crosses your mind, like Paula Cole’s incomparable “Where Have All the Cowboys Gone?”, you can search “dance remix” and find something like:

Shantani Moore, at Madre, and my friend Emma both mention Brand New. Emma suggests “Seventy Times 7.” Something fast to move and scream to!

Just Dance to the Saddest Song You Know