Last year, we spent New Year's Eve at a filthy, funny burlesque show at the Zipper Factory on West 37th Street.
Two years ago, we were at a Eurogroovy party in a Harlem brownstone.
Three years ago, we hosted our own celebration, which was so much fun that Zoltan, our sour neighbor downstairs, called twice to complain about the noise.
Tonight, we wandered in, quite by accident, to a dance party at the 92nd St Y that transformed this venerable institution into a nightclub in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, circa 1974.
While two burly guys played endless mixes from a disco reject remainder bin, crazed couples hit the dance floor, showing off their artistry. Arms were raised with dramatic flair, heads snapped in synchronicity, bodies spun like possessed dreidels, cheeks pressed side by side, dozens of legs obeyed one single brain, hands grasped each other lightly yet firmly, hips swayed and sashayed.
Male palms were placed possessively on the smalls of female backs; satisfied smiles played on the periphery of lips. Couples moved across the floor like terrifying two-headed monsters, claiming their space, marking their territory.
The idea was to dance and be seen. To own the dance floor through sheer technique...and ego.
But the dance wasn't the only thing. Styles from the Capezio catalog came to life; divas outdid one another, peacocks fanned their tails. Preening was as ubiquitous as breathing.
There were at least two women in midriff-baring outfits, one highly noticeable in a sports bra-like top and Cruella De Ville-like gloves that started at the wrist and ended at her biceps. The other one wore a flowing gypsy number which reminded me of my college wardrobe...attacked by a pair of gardening shears.
There were flamenco dresses, flaring out just above the knees, there were sequined numbers and racy red and lots of basic black. There were opaque Danskin tights, men proudly squeezed into form-fitting Ricky Ricardo pants and shirts or strutting in somber Sopranoesque suits.
Utterly oblivious to the changes in hairstyles and fashion wrought over the past thirty years, women with big hair -- overbleached or darkly dyed -- were everywhere. The accents were regional, basic Brooklyn, with some Staten Island tossed in to be democratic. Most notably, the crowd was decidely unlike most 92nd St audiences. I would bet money that HOBB and I were the only people from the Upper West Side.
The menu of the music was disco tempered with salsa. Alas, there were no recognizable songs, no "Le Freak," "I Will Survive," or even the pornographic, "Love to Love You Baby."
Two hours in, after three pathetic attempts to assert my own freestyle dance moves against the tyranny of the disco beat, I swam over to the DJ to ask him when rock music would be played. After all, the website had promised a "rockin' New Year's Eve party."
"Rock music?" He stared at me as if I had requested Gregorian chants. "Nah...this is a Hustle party."
So as HOBB and I sat out yet another endless dance mix with a chorus of women's voices repeating some inane string of words ("I wanna get with ya"? "I wanna get togetha"? "Why don't we get togetha"?) I was at least able to put closure on this most surreal New Year's Eve adventure.
In our quest to do something fresh and fun, we chanced upon an event hosted by a secret society -- amateur, or perhaps even professional practitioners and enthusiasts of The Hustle, that iconic line dance of the seventies.
Preserved in a time warp, the members of this society exist below the radar screen, lurking in the shadows of 21st century New York City, coming out when there is strength in numbers. I learned, as I was leaving, that the party was not hosted by the 92nd St Y after all. The building had simply allowed this seventies spaceship to land there, renting space for its Hustle-crazed alien crew.
These parties are their playground and in it, they are the alpha males and females, owning the dance floor with their deliberate, self-consciously orchestrated moves, pretending not to watch themselves in the reflection of windows and mirrors as they whizz and twirl past.
They dance for each other and hopefully for their own pleasure. They are the keepers of the flame ignited by The Hustle, which once burned bright in discos and clubs, causing untold numbers of individuals to fall into lines on a dance floor and perform the simple, repetitive steps in tandem with their neighbors.
While the rest of us stand on the sidelines, pondering the peculiar party we seem to have crashed, comforting ourselves with the knowledge that the very room containing this weird scene on the last night of 2008 normally features authors, politicians and pundits, people like Elie Wiesel and Nora Ephron -- architects of ideas, composers of concepts, advocates of individualism -- people who remind us of ourselves.