M isn’t for monkey

I cannot remember a time when I was not aware of the Village People. Their songs were in regular rotation in the Bay Area of the 1970s, where I was born. I played Donald Duck’s Village People cover, “Macho Duck,” repeatedly on my record player in my grade-school days.

As a teenager, I frequented One Edge Up, an all-ages gothic dance club on K Street, where the DJ always played “Y.M.C.A.” at midnight. After hours of self-conscious posturing in black clothing, being careful never to crack a smile while spider dancing to Nitzer Ebb, it was always a relief to throw up my arms in a carefree “Y” and watch even the coolest, least approachable goths doing the same.

There’s just something irresistibly silly about six grown men dressed like a cop, a soldier, a cowboy, a biker, a construction worker and an Indian, singing songs that are either pointed homosexual come-ons or simple tributes to American institutions like the Navy and the Young Man’s Christian Association, depending on your frame of reference. No doubt because of its catchy choreography, “Y.M.C.A.” has transcended its origins as a bathhouse hit, sung by men in loincloths and chaps, to become a celebratory staple at even the most conservative weddings and corporate parties. It is my generation’s “Hokey Pokey.”

So it was no surprise to find the Village People headlining California’s most mainstream event, the State Fair, last Friday. The sextet was in full leather and feathered regalia, singing seasoned hits like “Go West” and “In the Navy” to thousands seated around the Golden 1 Stage.

Yes, seated. An unfortunate happenstance of concert feng shui left fans without a place to dance or form block letters with their arms amid an ocean of tightly regimented folding chairs. That might fly for Ted Nugent’s gig, but disco is a genre made for boogying. A disco concert without a dance floor is like a construction worker without a silver-glitter hard hat—still doable, but nowhere near as fun. A smattering of enthusiastic fans wearing Army caps, cop glasses or feather headbands danced anyway, but the majority of the crowd simply was glued to its chairs in a mass lethargy, brought on by deep-fried Snickers and the centripetal force of the Tilt-A-Whirl.

This didn’t stop the Village People from giving it their all. They performed cheerfully under flashing club lights to a recorded soundtrack. They cracked jokes about the days when they were a boy band and executed synchronized choreography in slightly more conservative versions of their original costumes. For example, Felipe Rose, a.k.a. the Indian, has kept the feathered headdress but added jeans and a fringed vest over his disco loincloth. (Another sign of the times: The group’s Web site now refers to him as the “Native American,” in deference to evolving standards of political correctness. He’s also Puerto Rican, but that’s another battle.)

The entire presentation was comfortably nostalgic up until the last song, when I was confronted with the shocking revelation that I have been dancing the Y.M.C.A. incorrectly my entire life. The fact was called to my attention by David Hodo, a.k.a. the construction worker, who also happens to be from Sacramento and is a CSUS alumnus. (Take that, Deftones!)

“We’ve been traveling the world,” Hodo said from the stage, “and we’ve seen some pretty shaky interpretations. So we’re going to have a brief lesson.” As he moved through the letter poses with the efficiency of a flight attendant demonstrating seat belts and oxygen masks, I realized my “M” was all wrong! I’ve been dancing like a monkey with my arms over my head. In fact, the “M” is made by bending the elbows from the “Y” pose so the fingertips meet over the chest. So graceful! So simple!

I’ll remain forever grateful to the Village People for warming Sacramento with its disco flame and for honing my Y.M.C.A. I promise to spread the gospel of the “M” at every office party and family reunion I attend for the rest of my life.