Rules For Moshers To Live By

Moshing (formerly known as slam dancing) has been around in various forms for several decades. It's only now that it's gone mainstream that people are getting hurt because they don't know the rules, let alone the culture that spawned it.As someone who's been slam dancing regularly for a decade now, here's my version of moshing history.My grandparents danced in ballrooms. My parents got stoned at modernized "folk" concerts and couldn't dance at all. Then came that strange generation of punks before me, who came of age in the late 70s and practiced a precursor of slam dancing called the pogo -- jumping up and down to the beat while flapping your arms out and lunging forward with your chin.Next came the 80s and the evolution of hardcore: music so fast, loud, political and abrasive as to be virtually unmarketable. If the mood was good at a hardcore show, the ungenteel didn't mind being jostled about, like at Carnival in Mexico or the festival of the Juggernaut in India (high-energy mass spectacles that also feature regular casualties).By the mid-1980s, the music had become so fast and tight that when it hit you, all you could do was let your eyes bug out, your knees bow, your palms clench and tear through the crowd, high on adrenaline, trying not to lose your balance. This, I think, was the beginning of slam dancing. Heshers -- who had long hair and listened to death metal and speed metal -- developed a similar dance, more galloping-like, which was called "moshing."Due to speed metal's commercial success, this was the term that came to the attention of the dominant culture when the arena-going crowd starting bumping into each other on purpose. Today, the "alternative music" enthusiasts who used to look at me dumbfounded when I would break into a slam dance want to mosh to every syrupy pop ballad that the guitarist plays through his distortion pedal.If novices must mosh, here are some ground rules to keep the rough-and-tumble all about fun:1) No gladiator spikes on the sleeves. They make you look like you spent a dollar apiece on them, you Hessian fashion queen, and although I don't mind a few puncture wounds, "It's all fun and games 'til someone puts an eye out" should ring an alarm bell.2) No personal vendettas. Slamming is a great way of transcending personal ego, getting a bash on the back of the head and returning it with a smile. If you want to get personal, that's a fight, not a dance. Take it down the block where you won't get the show shut down.3) Always keep an eye out for a comrade who has fallen. First, brace yourself near her with your knees spread out wide so she won't get trampled. Next, offer her a hand or a yank on the shoulder. This is a bonding ritual.4) No slam dancing to pop songs! The slam is to show the band that they are rocking hardcore. If they slap out a ballad, no matter how loud it is, they are probably not even trying to work the crowd in that way. Pull out your lighter or something.5) Don't be a careless idiot. Being an idiot is great, but if you get yourself injured you're just admitting, "I need supervision."Slam dancing does have its dangers, but let's get a little perspective. With thousands of people moshing to every song at every show by every band that plays music heavier than Mariah Carey, it's amazing we don't see more than a few hundred injuries every year. I'm sure that more people die driving to shows than dancing at them.SIDEBAR ONECONFESSIONS OF A MIDDLE-AGED MOSHER -- HOW THE MOSH PIT CHANGED MY VIEW OF GENERATION X"Moshing" is a menace to public health or it's punk rock's exhilarating defiance of gravity -- depending on who you ask. There's a well-publicized campaign underway right now to outlaw moshing at rock concerts. As a 42-year-old alternative rock enthusiast, I tend to be on the side of the "punks" (most of whom are half my age).I'll admit. Moshing is not for the faint of heart -- whatever your age. In the first place, it's something of a contact sport, a definite physical high. Participants catapult and boomerang against each other, pushing each other around the mosh pit like billiard balls in a free-wheeling melee. The melee temporarily subsides as moshers lift a partner overhead, and pass the "surfer" across the pit on a conveyer belt of outstretched arms. Daredevils hop on-stage with the band, then jump or dive into the pit. Their fellow-moshers catch them in mid-air, breaking their fall and raising them to surf the crowd.Obviously there's risk of serious injury. Television news and tabloid shows have sensationalized the risks, presenting them as commonplace: a young woman trampled to death after a fall; a young man turned paraplegic when moshers failed to break his dive. Is it not time, critics ask, to ban moshing at rock concerts?However alarming, the injuries are anything but typical. In the few dozen times I've moshed, no one has been hurt. In fact, unlike real contact sports, in which players routinely try to injure each other, the aim of moshing is to look after your fellow-moshers. When participants lose their footing, moshers clear a space and give them a hand up; when someone dives from the stage, everyone focuses on catching him or her. "We're all in this together," as a teen in baggy shorts and T-shirt proudly shouted to me on a recent foray.Moshing has given me a different perspective on a generation -- "Generation X" -- widely derided as uncaring. When I mosh at alternative rock concerts in nearby Fort Myers, scores of teens and twenty-somethings give me thumbs up and high fives. They delight in having someone their parents' age appreciate their music and join their ritual, and they take special care in looking after me.There is no generation gap in the mosh-pit. Had a middle-aged guy tried to mingle with teens at a 1950s sock-hop, he would have provoked a "What are you doing here, Pops?" My generation went a step further, with the admonition not to trust anyone over thirty. My moshing companions, on the other hand, embrace friendly cross-generational contact -- a counterpoint to the harassment many say they get from parents and police alarmed by their unfamiliar music, behavior and appearance.Incomes are low in southwest Florida, and many moshers come from less than traditional backgrounds. They can look and act rough. One guy I met had done time in prison. And there are the usual share of losers who use moshing as an opportunity to vent their aggression. But that is part of life, and moshing is nothing if not a metaphor for life. Time and again, I've seen rough-looking guys take responsibility for others, protecting them when someone else gets out of hand.What is it about moshing that brings out some of the best in people? A crucial element, I believe, is the almost total absence of posturing and affectation. Dancing is not segregated by couples. There is little cause for envy or jealousy since no one is left out. Think of it as a junior prom turned inside out.Moshing is communal without requiring conformity. There are few rules, other than to accept responsibility for the fate of one's fellow moshers. There is no discrimination, because one can't choose partners. True, the physical contact entails risks, but those risks lead to countless little miracles. For me moshing is more than a dance -- it's a life-and community-affirming sacrament.By Andrew Reding, Pacific News Service

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