Like Tina Turner's unwilling "Private Dancer," I was dragged without consent across the glitzy Nevada ballroom. The clinks and whistles of nearby slot machines were silenced by Gloria Estefan's red-hot nuptial standard, "Conga," which blared at top decibel through the now-tattered hall. I was sandwiched between sweaty strangers and pranced about the room like a Reno concubine.
But "Conga" wasn't the only forgotten masterpiece retrieved from the vault that night. The DJ spun a string of wedding classics: the Isley Brothers' "Shout," Billy Idol's "Mony, Mony" and "White Wedding" and Sir Mix-a-Lot's "Baby Got Back" -- and, of course, the Electric Slide. But to be honest, we got off easy. There was no Chicken Dance, so I wasn't forced to school everybody on the floor with my mad Chicken-Dancing skills. But even without it, the whole affair had the feel of a wedding reception from 1988 -- at least when it came to the music.
Of course, it'd be easy to blame the DJ for the '80s dance debacle and the ensuing involuntary conga. After all, he was spinning the wax and seems the most likely culprit. He even urged conga line participants to physically force non-congaing patrons to participate against their will. But in his defense he was merely adhering to a winning formula that has served wedding DJs well for years --that is, pile on the cheese. Besides, the dance floor was full most of the evening, and you can't argue with that.
I think the fault falls on no one in particular, actually, but instead on the larger wedding culture. To investigate this I contacted local writer, radio personality, arts and entertainment editor of Rocky Mountain Bullhorn in Fort Collins and kick-ass wedding DJ Josh Johnson. According to Johnson, a zeitgeist with a sweet tooth for Velveeta takes over once the vows have been exchanged and the keg has been tapped.
"There is something about weddings where people want to hear cheesy music," he says. "People seem to lower their tolerance, like if you play, 'Livin' on a Prayer.' If you suggested to somebody that you were gonna play that, they'd get upset. But when you play it, everybody's singing.
"A wedding is the worst format for playing music -- at least the dancing part," he continues. "People take it seriously at the beginning when they pick out their first dance songs and the song that they enter on and their wedding song, stuff like that, but at some point it just all falls apart when the Dance Party USA starts. That's when you can play Cyndi Lauper and they think it's the best song in the world."
Deep down, even the most cynical of wedding-goers (read: me) would have to admit cheesy wedding music is a good thing. I would even go so far as to say that playing cheesy music at a wedding reception is a unique and endearing Western tradition. Hey, in the Middle East they shoot guns in the air to celebrate. In Greece, they break plates. Here we just pump out the Michael Jackson jams, line dance and get tanked. And if we're lucky, we hook up with a member of the other team's wedding party.
According to Johnson, even the DJ scores the occasional banquet-hall booty.
"People want to pick up other people at weddings, and if you're not a total cheesy wedding DJ, the DJ can be their last-ditch option," he says. "You're usually there by yourself, and you can't walk away. You're stuck there, so you just check their ID and move on."
Line dancing, the Moonwalk, even the Hustle. Whatever smooth moves it takes, so long as they lead to the hallowed act wedding-reception favorite Billy Idol alluded to when he not-so-metaphorically sang "Ride the pony" while the wedding party danced and laughed and drank and ate cake. And somewhere in between, a conga line was formed.
Vince Darcangelo is the arts and entertainment editor of Boulder Weekly. Domestic Bliss, which usually occupies this space, will return soon.