“…sweaty bodies everywhere, hands in the air like we don’t care.” – Miley Cyrus’ “We Can’t Stop”
We have to admit that we’d had more than our fill of Pride by the time we dutifully cabbed it down to Pier 26 in TriBeCa to attend the 2014 Dance On The Pier, but we were still excited to check it out. Among pride events, the Pier Dance is legendary among gay guys for different reasons. Some guys do it for the suspense of seeing which (if any) “legendary” diva will follow in the footsteps of Janet, Cher and J.Lo and make a “surprise” appearance. Some guys truly love the music and the outdoor setting. Some guys like to get truly wasted on alcohol (and other things) while desperately scanning the crowd for someone their stilted and jerky dance movements may attract (there weren’t signs posted on the porta-johns warning against using “G” because someone thought they’d be an interesting design decision). As for us, we were doing it because after six years in New York City, it was about the only thing we hadn’t done yet.
The first thing you should know about the Pier Dance is that walking into it is a complete and total sensory overload. The thumping beats of the techno music assault your ears, the bright strobe lights play on multiple screens surrounding you, and all of this happens while a barrage of brightly colored corporate logos blaze on yet another large screen directly above the entrance to the dance floor. Citibank, Stoli Vodka, AXA Equitables, and a host of other corporate overlords really, really want you to know that they support your shirtless, sweaty, fist-pumping homosexuality on the biggest day of the year for gays. We didn’t care about Demi Lovato before tons of PR money began being spent to brand her into some “next generation gay icon” and don’t now, so staying for her headlining set was never really an option. However, we soldiered on into the Pier Dance in hopes of getting a glimpse into what it was all about.
Once you pass the tired, sweaty and crying gay and his dutifully texting friend sitting right outside of the medical tent tending to a personal crisis that may have a little something to do with the lovely signs on the porta-johns (and walk through the lines of people 10-12 people deep waiting to use them), you hit the holy mecca of the dance floor. There is something about dancing under the sky that has endless appeal. Even guys who aren’t into the circuit party scene can be dragged out to an event like this, and for good reason: dancing sweaty and shirtless under the NYC sky with hundreds of other gay men while surrounded by impeccable views of the city is an honest-to-God, once-in-a-lifetime experience. Sure, the experience of sweaty bodies rubbing against yours while the sun sets over a body of water and the crisp wind cools you down can be had at multiple cities all over the world, but this is New York Fucking City. The fact that you’re doing this in the place where the modern LGBT civil rights movement was born means something.
Is it an experience that is tainted by some uncomfortable truths? Well, duh. What started out as an event about visibility and community building is becoming, year by year, an extremely corporate experience. Yes, some guys were very obviously on drugs. Yes, the intensity of the tonsillectomies some of them were performing on each other were a little jarring. But you know what? The event is a fundraiser, and a big one at that. It’s good to know that all of this corporate sponsorship and dollars spent on pricey tickets is in some way going to the greater good of LGBT folks. What people sometimes forget is that there is a family-friendly, alcohol free, and completely free event on the same pier just two days before called the Pride Rally, and it is always a great time. Basically, the Dance On The Pier is whatever you think it’s going to be. If you think it’s glaring reminder of some major problems with drug and alcohol abuse in the LGBT community, you will definitely find those signifiers. If you think that it’s a space where everyone (who can afford a $60+ ticket) can be free and open to be themselves and dance like nobody’s watching, it will be. As for us? Well, it’s something that we put on our bucket list, and like the men who danced shirtless while sweat ran down every inch of their exposed bodies, we have absolutely no regrets. We’re sure the organizers wouldn’t have it any other way.