I'm Happy Just to Dance With You
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I'm Happy Just to Dance With You

"Just please ask first"-- John, Paul, George, and Ringo

I'm Happy Just to Dance With You
Lydia Bailey

If you had told me five years ago that one day I would be in Spain, I would have probably believed you.

If you had told me five years ago that one day I would go to a Beatles cover band concert, I would have probably believed you.

And if you had told me five years ago that one day a middle-aged woman would make me do something I hadn't signed up for, I probably would have believed that too.

But if you had told me that one day I would be physically coerced into leading a conga line by a sixty-year-old woman at a Beatlove concert in Madrid, well, that I would have a harder time believing.

"Lydia," you ask thoughtfully. "Huh?"

Let me explain.

Now that my official university program in Salamanca has ended, I have been exploring Madrid by myself. I was nervous at first, but everything has been going swimmingly. My hostel is comfortable and clean, the city is easy to navigate on foot, and Madrid offers plenty to do.

There are a few challenges for solo travelers, however. I have to ask a stranger for help whenever I want a photo that's not a selfie. I've started taking reading materials to restaurant meals. And it's on me to entertain myself at all times. During the day, that's no problem. But after 8 PM when museums are closed and I'm tired from eleven hours of walking, I need to be more deliberate about filling the time I once spent chatting with friends. As a way to occupy myself while staying off my feet, I've taken to going to shows. On Sunday I watched Piaf: El Musical. On Monday I went to the movies. And on Tuesday I saw The Beatlove in their concert entitled "Showbeat."

It was opening night for The Beatlove at the modest theater. As I expected, I was one of the younger people who showed, although by no means the only twentysomething. Attire was casual, and the theater was probably two-thirds full. I took my aisle seat towards the back, ready to hear some of my favorite tunes.

The curtains opened as the first beats of "Please Please Me" rang out. Classic! There they were, four guys in suits and early Beatles wigs, positioned in the standard formation: Ringo on drums in the back, George and Paul sharing a microphone on the left, and John to the right. I couldn't help but grin at the spectacle of it all. Throughout the song Ringo bounced his head in just the right way, and John and Paul nailed the tight harmony at the finish. The last drum beats sounded and I clapped heartily.

"Thank you, thank you!" Paul said. He had an accent, although I really can't say it was Liverpudlian. "It is first time in Madrid, and we are very happy that we are here." He paused. The audience responded with a heavy silence. "Eh, our next song is of 'Meet the Beatles' LP."

Ringo counted them off as they segued into "All My Loving." I started to sing along. "Close your eyes, and--" but I cut myself short as I realized the rest of the audience did not match my energy. The woman next to me stared forward with dead eyes, unblinking and unamused. What was up?

The band finished this song solidly as well. This time John spoke next. "Hello! Thank you all. We are going to sing a --erm, Ringo do you have problem?"

Ringo was on his hands and knees crawling around the drumset. "One minute!" He called out.

John looked around. "Erm, yes, it is our first time in Madrid, so we are still getting things worked out. Right, Paul?"

"Yes, John." Paul affirmed. "Uh, it's very hot here in Madrid. Right?"

"Yes, Paul. Very hot."

There was a lengthy pause.

"Not like in London," John continued.

"No, not like London. Too hot."

"My God, they're bad at improvising!" I mused.

"It is, how you say, caliente, in Madrid!" George contributed.

Another pause.

"Does you like beer?" Paul asked. A half-hearted clap sounded from the front row.

I reflected on their odd grammar. "Do they actually speak English?" I wondered. Then it occurred to me. Whether or not the members of The Beatlove knew English didn't matter, because the audience sure didn't! As George had astutely pointed out, we were in Madrid. But the band couldn't address the audience in Spanish without breaking character. They were left to fill time in a language neither they nor the audience had mastered.

"Oh boy," I thought. "This one's gonna be interesting."

Fortunately Ringo surfaced soon thereafter. "Ok!" He shouted. The band members looked at each other. John gestured to George, who shook his head and motioned to Ringo. Were they actively deciding what song to play next? After apparently reaching a consensus they plunged into the ever-popular "I Want to Hold Your Hand." But despite the upbeat crowd-pleaser, the overall atmosphere remained tepid.

I thought back to when I saw Rome, Georgia's The Beatless about a decade earlier. There everyone had a great time singing, dancing, snacking, and laughing at the outdoor venue. I realized that a Beatles cover band concert isn't meant to purely replicate the Beatles discography; it's for celebrating the Beatles together. Here, we were strangers and the unnecessarily formal theater seating offered limited mobility. It wouldn't matter how much the band looked and sounded like the Beatles if people refused to play along. One man tried to get the rest of the audience to clap in rhythm, but he petered out after a few measures. A few enthusiastic spectators rocked back and forth in place, unable to stand up and dance without gauchely blocking the view of those behind them.

I had almost resigned myself to disappointment when I saw a group of older women leave their seats and head towards the back. Sure enough, true Beatles fans always find a way! I watched as they started dancing and singing in the true spirit of the event.

I glanced over at my neighbor, who still hadn't cracked a smile, and did some quick mental calculations. I am not much of a dancer, but there was no way I was going to sit there stoically while Beatles music was playing. When The Beatlove transitioned to "She Loves You" I abandoned my seat and made my way towards the back. I aimed for the aisle behind the dancing ladies, but they intercepted me, signaling for me to join them. I obliged.

This arrangement was much more fun. Half of the lyrics to "She Loves You" are "Yeah, yeah, yeah," so the Spaniards had an easier time singing along. While normally I might have been a little more inhibited, in the back of the theater I sang and danced next to my newfound friends with abandon. I was alone in a foreign country, after all. Who did I have to impress?

"Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah!" The Beatlove finished. The audience clapped a little more enthusiastically this time. Ringo took the floor. "This song is from our film in black and white--" he said, but was immediately interrupted by the famous first chord of "A Hard Day's Night." "It's been a hard, day's night, and I've been working like a dog!" Paul sang, the irony of the lyrics lost on most folks. Nevertheless, there was another uptick in enthusiasm and a few people towards the front headed for the aisles. The crowd was now sufficiently warmed up, and when the band finished, they garnered the first solid applause of the night. "Maybe this won't be so bad after all," I thought.

John leaned into the microphone. "For those of you in cheaper seats, please clap your hands. The rest just rattle some jewelry." The quote was bastardized, but I doubt anyone knew the original in the first place. John gestured to Ringo, and then the recognizable guitar intro of "Twist and Shout" filled the theater.

Now this was a dancing song! (The chronology was off, but hey. Still early Beatles.) Those in the aisle seats sprang to life and started twisting. The same try-hard started clapping again, and this time the audience followed suit. I smiled. We were getting into it!

I was jolted from my analysis when I felt the hands of the woman next to me clasp firmly on my waist and push. What the what? I took a half-step forward and looked behind me. Six other ladies held on in a row behind the woman attached to me. The terrifying realization dawned upon me: I was now the leader of The Conga.

I took a few steps forward down the aisle to test the waters. Yup, I was definitely stuck. The woman did not decrease the pressure from behind, and there was no way to get loose without forcefully wrenching away. Bad optics all around. I stiffly continued down the aisle, terrified.

Comedian and philosopher James Acaster has a stand-up routine about a similar predicament. "No one is truly free… in the conga." He smartly observes. "You let go, and then what? You're the leader of a rival conga!" Oh, how I had laughed upon hearing that joke! How removed from my life this theme was back then. I was so innocent, so pure. Never had I really, truly felt the weight of his theme until now. I was trapped! It was a small indoor theater! The audience was not ready for this level of hype! What was I doing?

As I made my way down the center aisle I pointed to the left and headed towards the side entrance. After reaching the door I tried to turn left again to aim us towards the back of the theater. But there was no pulling one over on the woman behind me. She anticipated my funny business and leaned her weight to the right, forcing us down to the front of the stage. Please no! Alas, there was no choice. I paraded past the front row, my mortified visage on display for all to see. As I headed back up the center aisle another woman jumped in front of me to take the lead, undoubtedly a merciful response to my obvious discomfort. But we were on the last few seconds of the song, and it was too little, too late. The damage was done.

"Thank you! Now we take a break," George announced as the band headed off-stage, and a filler video about fashion in 1965 started projecting. I returned to my seat and the woman behind me patted me on the back, as if to thank me for being a good sport. The darkness hid my flushed cheeks.

I stayed firmly seated for the rest of the concert. This decision did not prove to be a problem, because later Beatles material is more complicated and less danceable. (You try two-stepping to "Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds!") The rest of the concert entailed several costume changes to represent three more phases of the Beatles careers. John forgot some of the lyrics to "Come Together," although who can really blame him? The transitions between songs hit peak awkwardness when George said "John is sad. He misses Yoko," and then proceeded to try and get the audience to rhythmically chant "Yoko" as a means of introducing "The Ballad of John and Yoko." (Inexplicably, this was the first song I saw my original unsmiling neighbor sing along to. Maybe she has a thing for sacrilege?) Fittingly, the band ended with a mashup of "La Bamba" and "Twist and Shout," a high note for the evening.

So there you have it, folks. The concert wasn't exactly what I expected, but at least no one had to know. (At least not until I formalized my humiliation and disseminated it online.) And you know what? I'm a sucker for the Beatles. If an non-consensual conga line is the price to pay for an evening of their music, I'll take it.

It was just a day in the life in Madrid.

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This article has not been reviewed by Odyssey HQ and solely reflects the ideas and opinions of the creator.
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