The Only Way To Be The Real Deal

Pamela Sisson
Pamela Sisson

I signed up for a set of DJ classes. I don’t like to sign up for anything. I don’t like to leave my room.

I don’t like to go on the phone. I don’t like to answer emails. I don’t like to look at the news or go outside. I don’t like to look at people in the eyes.

You realize that’s not what people do, Stephen Dubner told me on one of our podcasts. People don’t look at mouths when they talk. They look in the eyes.

I had no idea, I said.

By learning new ways to “express myself”, I want to learn to write better.

I went to the first class.

“A DJ can always play it safe. A DJ can read the room and see what people like to dance to and then just play that music,” Ellison said. “It’s easy to play it safe.”

He took the class in 2009. Then he took the advanced class. Then he became an intern. Then he started doing shows (“stores hire us. If you make a place feel joyous, people buy”). Now he teaches.

He showed us how to put together the turntables, the needle, what all the buttons meant. He showed us the basic scratch. The scribble scratch. More.

“But you’re not a true DJ until you can clear the dance floor.”

I didn’t know what that meant. Doesn’t a DJ want to fill the dance floor? Why would he want to do the opposite?

“You take what’s safe and you add something new to it. You’re good enough to try something new. You learn the confidence to try something new.”

“A good DJ is always taking a risk. Trying something new. Seeing what happens.”

And people might not like it. The dance floor empties.

“And trust me, when it’s happening, it hurts. You start to sweat. Your hands are shaking. Your heart’s pounding. How are you going to get people back on the dance floor?”

He gave a nervous laugh. Which I think basically means you give a small laugh while shaking your head “No” back and forth.

“But you aren’t a DJ until you’ve been through that. Until you’ve tried enough new things and some things don’t work. Until you’ve figured out what to do on the spot when you are most scared and you bounce back.”

“If you play it too safe, you’ll never get actually good. You’ll never be the real deal.”

People like to say they don’t care. They don’t care what people think. They just do their thing. Like it’s a badge of honor.

Unfortunately I’m not like that. I try to be like that. I try not to care. But I want people to like me. To dance.

But it’s impossible. I always seem to be making some people unhappy.

Every day is an exploration of the new. And sometimes the dance floor does clear, everyone goes, and for that briefest of moments, I’m all alone.


[photo credit by Pamela Sisson. I’m already doing something wrong with my hands in the photo. What is it?] TC mark

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