Thais May Not Have Rhythm, But They Sure Can Dance

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by Kate Mrotek

Image courtesy of ArunWho.com

Comparing the Brick Bar Club in Bangkok, Thailand to your average nightclub in the States would be like comparing a tear-down-the-walls house party to a country club social. Beyond the thick wooden doors leading into the Brick Bar is a seismic wave of chest thumping bass, heat, and kinetic energy opening up to a room possessed. The club is sardine-crammed with young hipsters dressed in their finest secondhand fashions, and everyone is dancing like it’s the last party on earth. The group in front of the stage jumps up and out in unsyncopated rhythm like the decibels on a stereo, or beans on a hot plate.

by Kate Mrotek

 

COMPARING THE BRICK BAR CLUB in Bangkok, Thailand to your average nightclub in the States would be like comparing a tear-down-the-walls house party to a country club social. Beyond the thick wooden doors leading into the Brick Bar is a seismic wave of chest thumping bass, heat, and kinetic energy opening up to a room possessed. The club is sardine-crammed with young hipsters dressed in their finest secondhand fashions, and everyone is dancing like it’s the last party on earth. The group in front of the stage jumps up and out in unsyncopated rhythm like the decibels on a stereo, or beans on a hot plate. The crowd spills over onto the tables where groups of ten or more dance on six-seater picnic tables. Sweat-drenched clubbers try to keep pace with the live band, who is blending Jamiroquai and hip hop covers with an unrelentingly ska beat. One impassioned clubber stops to clink every glass around him before returning to shaking an invisible fire from his head. People hang off the rafters on the second floor, yelling song lyrics and pounding their fists toward the stage. Two club-goers carry their friend between them, stopping their uncoordinated dance every couple of minutes so he can puke into a bucket.

One impassioned clubber stops to clink every glass around him before returning to shaking an invisible fire from his head. People hang off the rafters on the second floor, yelling song lyrics and pounding their fists toward the stage. Two club-goers carry their friend between them, stopping their uncoordinated dance every couple of minutes so he can puke into a bucket.

Westerners are unanimously overwhelmed by the Brick Bar; while some are drawn in by the excitement, others are repelled by the chaos. Heather is a 22-year-old exchange student from Sweden: “I’ve never seen anything like that place in my life, there were so many people having such a great time.” 23-year-old Andre Cuwellis gives his impression: “People have an awesome time there, but it’s just too hot, crowded, and too crazy for me.” Sarah Barnes is an exchange student from Boston; she comments on the differences between the Brick Bar and clubs in the U.S. “There is a manageable amount of people, there’s space to move around, and people are much more restrained. Also, I saw a lot of people at the Brick Bar acting nuts, but I didn’t really see a lot of dancing.”

Image courtesy of ArunWho.com

A Westerner’s idea of dancing has a t least some respect for rhythm and probably involves something more structured then the apparent randomness of the movement at this club. In the U.S., whether a person is waltzing or headbanging, they will at least make an attempt to follow the rhythm of the music, if not do it without thinking. People are very conscious, and self-conscious of this. Some people will only dance in their cars, or in front of their bathroom mirrors for fear of being judged. By and large it is said that if a person doesn’t have rhythm, then they “can’t dance.”

But the Brick Bar is only one club in Thailand, and there are other forms of dance to be found in the country. For instance, in the traditional Thai Dance the performer will twist and curl the hands and fingers in intricate patterns, paying meticulous respect to rhythm. Still, it’s almost certain that the kind of party that takes place at the Brick Bar every night simply wouldn’t happen in the West. Social anthropologist John F. Embree applies the term “loose” to Thailand’s social system, and remarks on some of the cultural differences between Thailand and other countries:

“When two or three Thai walk along the road together there is no attempt to keep in step or to swing the arms in rhythm… a marked contrast to cultures such as the Western European, American, and Japanese.”

Whatever people do at the Brick Bar, they have the time of their lives doing it. And surely, the all out surrender to music and the moment that the clubbers achieve is something that all dancers strive for. Being a country that has had democracy for only 78 years, one is left wondering how the Thais have so much freedom: freedom to belt the lyrics to songs that they may or may not know, freedom to embrace their friends with no reservations, and the freedom to dance like there’s no tomorrow. It seems that Westerners could use a lesson or two from the Thais, maybe not on how to dance, but how to loosen up.

 

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