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Dancing and drinking are quite the pair. There are so many reasons to drink in the social realm of dancing.

First, there is the responsibility we all need to take for sustaining the venues who pay the musicians we love, and in turn pay the musicians who  learn our musical form when there are other more profitable things they could be doing with their life.  Without money, swing scenes cannot sustain. 

Buying a drink for yourself or a friend at a live music event is not just a way to keep from looking like a cheapskate, it’s a crucial part of our economic ecosystem. If you get something of value (ie a dance floor, permits, insurance, a place to see your friends, staff to set up, music, lights, security, staff to cleanup after you), then you need to exchange something of value for that, i.e. money.  You need to pay a cover charge, buy refreshments, and / or tip the band, sometimes all of the above, otherwise you are just taking up space and contributing to your scene’s demise. 

Second, as we develop our tastes and become better dancers and more discerning connoisseurs of jazz and we spend more of our life in the dance world — our friendships develop as much as our swing-outs do, then we find that the social hours before/after a band, or during the break become as important to us as the dance.  We need a context to nurture our friendships, an alternative for the times we aren’t “feeling it”, and standing at a bar with a fancy cocktail in our fancy threads feels nice. The ambiance of the bar and good friendships are good for the soul, add a little alcohol to release all the endorphins and it puts a perfect soft lens on our experience.

It seems like alcohol is here to stay in the swing dance world.  Dry venues aren’t very compelling to many advanced dancers, and without something to do (like drink), the general public is unlikely to come in, watch and become a part of the next wave of dancers. 

It’s pretty much a way of life for some. We head out to dances, we see our friends, hear the jazz band strike up, and with a cocktail in our hands we’re ready to hit the floor and let the good times roll. 

“But now I discovered the wonderful power of wine. I understood why men become drunkards. For the way it worked on me was not at all that it blotted out these sorrows, but that it made them seem glorious and noble, like sad music, and I somehow great and revered for feeling them.”

C.S. Lewis, Till We Have Faces

 

One huge issue with this is that the first time we start our evenings like this, we generally don’t need to much alcohol to get feel the magic of the music and the moment. But each time we go out (especially if you are going out multiple times a week), you are going to need a little bit more and a little bit more alcohol in order to achieve the same state of magic.  

Continuing to need more stimulus or substance to achieve the same state is problematic.  But ultimately it’s a personal decision if those actions don’t affect anyone else. However the problem comes in that not everyone is lucky enough to live within walking distance of their venues, and suddenly it’s no longer a personal issue.  

Some scenes are lucky enough to have ample public transit, and some places like Seattle have most dancers living in one neighborhood. But not all places are that lucky. 

Either way, it’s always good to remind ourselves that drinking is a personal decision, however, driving is something that affects others, possibly in an irreversible way.  So let’s talk about a few things: 

Don’t go by a chart… 

You’ve probably seen one of these charts before.  Here’s the thing about those charts:  They were made in the 1970s, pre cocktail craze, pre craft-beer craze, using domestic bottled beer (ie, Bud light), 5oz pours of wine (5 glasses to a bottle), and single shots.  Today’s craft beers, giant wine glasses, heavy pours and fancy cocktails often represent 2-3 (or more) drinks on this chart. 

This chart means one weak-ass drink, not an Old Fashioned poured with a tip in mind.  In other words, 2 Old Fashioned’s might easily count for 4 drinks in the traditional Blood Alcohol Content chart. 

A fancy beer could represent two drinks on the chart, by itself.  So you really can’t go by “number of drinks”.  Cops call this a “free-pour DUI”.  A person who has legitimately ordered 2 drinks at a bar may have consumed far more than two drinks according to the BAC chart, since most bars do not pour with respect to standard serving sizes, and that person may be in the 4-5 drink territory despite having ordered two beverages. 

You should make plans to get other rides, not measure your consumption by a chart, and certainly not by how you feel. 

Are you a better dancer?

There’s lot of opinions here.  I will definitely say that for me, I experience the “Ballmer curve”, a place that lies between 1 and 1.5 drinks in, where I feel looser, more creative, and like a better dancer.  Most musicians, actors, and social dancers I’ve met experience this in a similar fashion.  

On the other hand, there’s been study after study where people do a skilled task while sober, rate their performance, then redo the same task inebriated, and finally rate themselves on how they felt that they did.  On the whole, most people feel they did as well or better intoxicated, while objective analysis tells the opposite story.  

While I’m not against drunk dancing in the right (safe) contexts, if your goal is to be a good dancer, the science tells us that we can’t have too much if we want to stay in the zone of our best performance.

Driving

I’ll just say it here as plainly as I can:  In the age of Uber’s, Lyfts, nearly ubiquitous cell phones, LimeBikes, rentable e-scooters and 1,000+ of your closest friends a mere click away – there is absolutely no excuse for driving intoxicated.  (bicycles and DUI laws vary state to state). You’re really really dumb if you get a DUI with all the other options out there.  With busier roads, smaller cars and faster acceleration capabilities,  driving gets more and more dangerous every year. But yet, people still drive intoxicated, and people still get DUIs.  What can you do? 

Be a friend

Over the course of an evening of drinking, your ability to drive declines.  Your perception of how you “feel” about your driving, however, remains the same.  Basically, you are not a good judge of whether or not you are a good driver.  This is because of the quality of alcohol to lower inhibitions.  Another way of saying “lowered inhibitions” is that things that would seem wrong to you when sober no longer seem wrong. 

So, if you see a friend heading for the door after one-too-many, you should stop them from getting behind the wheel. Their life and other people’s lives could depend on it.  Like I said, a person who has been drinking is not in a space to judge if they are a good driver or not.  

They’re probably going to think you’re a ginormous jerk.  They might protest, fight you, even hate you.  But if the unthinkable happened, you would never forgive yourself. 

Remember too that most people will lie on the conservative side when pressed about how much they consumed.  “How many have you had?”  Drunk people say “1 or 2” which probably means 8. Sober people can offer up an unambiguous number.  Offer to buy them an Uber.  Offer them a place to crash. Do whatever it takes, jut don’t let them drive. 

Buy a BacTrak

No, this isn’t a paid advert.  Just advice from someone who would like to see you around in the future. I value our friendship. There’s some really good, simple breathalyzer products out there in the $100-$150 range, that can save you money, hassle and even your life.   They fit in a dance bag and they are by no means gospel, but they will give you a point of reference. It’s always good to double check.  I’ve used mine after one Old Fashioned and by the rules of the old drinking chart I should’ve been at .02, but I was more in the .06 range.  Good bartender.  Good night to Uber home. 

To use them, just wait 10-15 minutes after your final drink of the evening, these little marvels of technology will let you know where you sit with respect to the laws in your area.  

However, keep in mind that many states can give you a DUI, even if your breathalyzer comes in under the legal limit, and still others have already, or are introducing legislation to press charges against drivers involved in accidents after _any_ blood alcohol is present.  

Best plan is to drive with “0” blood alcohol.  But how do you make that happen when you might get caught up in the moment, or you’re not sure how much you’ll be swept up in the moment?

Plan for a night out 

In going out for an evening, it’s very tempting to cite the trouble of getting one’s car back home as a reason to “chance it”.  If you live a long way away from a dance venue and you have to make a judgement call about whether or not to drive home, chances are that you are not going to err on the safe side if the pain of getting your car back home is substantial. 

In these cases, plan for not driving home at the beginning of the evening when your judgement is good.  Don’t take your car to the venue if you know you’re not the kind of person who will leave your car near the dance overnight. Just get there another way. 

Also, if you live in a place where it’s possible, bike riding can be a pretty nice way of getting around.  As an added bonus its good training for dancing.    Just make sure you take care of you on the bike.  While your risk to others goes down, your risk to yourself can go way up.  

Set yourself up for success 

If you know that you like to drink (no judgement here), I recommend hotel events. Many events require a lot of driving.  If you are an event drinker, this is something you can easily avoid. 

Carpool with others, and use a good old designated driver system.  Be cool and pitch for gas ahead of time.  No one likes a freeloader. 

Make sure you install all the latest ride-sharing apps.  New ride-shares offer promotions, which equals free rides, and then you really don’t have any excuse. Talk to a friend ahead of time and ask if you can crash if you need to, that way you have a plan in mind. 

Share Uber and Lyft promo codes with your friends.  Again, there’s no excuse if it’s free, right?

Substitute a drink with a seltzer or tonic water with a twist of lime. It feels just as fun, no one will think you’re not having a roaring good time, and you’ll stay hydrated.  This is also my go-to on airplanes. 

On that note, it’s common for people to think that others are judging you for not drinking – however I assure you that most people won’t notice, and are probably too self-involved to care.  Be the non-drinker sometimes, why not?  I always say “I’m in training”, which is accurate and sounds cool to my ears. It’ll flip the script, and maybe you’ll even practice more since you told people you would be. 

Also, check out Seedlip, a non-alcoholic distilled spirit that can be used as an alternative in cocktail-making

Last, remember that the stomach is generally not a great delivery mechanism for intoxicants.  There is often a fairly long lag time after your last drink before the full effect hits your bloodstream.  So how you feel when you leave a venue might not be the whole story – it can sneak up on you.

Dancing can lead to love

Last, it’s worth noting that if your night of dancing and drinking leads you down the path of romance instead of driving, then remember what I said above about inhibitions.  People say yes to things after drinking that they wouldn’t say yes to when sober.  People also say yes to things after drinking that they would say yes to when sober.   Problem is that you don’t know which it is, and you have to err on the side of caution.  So, in effect a drunken yes is not the solid yes that it might be otherwise. 

Walk home together, offer up a safe passage to their doorstep or couch to crash on, and talk about it over brunch.  If love was meant to be, you can start later.  Make a better world. 

Why?

I say this all out of love and a desire to see all the people I know (or don’t know) avoid dying too early, or finding themselves with crippling life problems.  Life is literally priceless.  You can’t put a value on it.  A cab might seem like a lot of money, but it seems like a pittance when you lose someone you care about.  

Be safe out there!

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