Mixing it up on the dance floor

Nov 15, 2011

On the dance floor at Stiletto’s nightclub in Inkster you will find nurses, hair stylists, factory workers, fast food employees, students, professors, and business people. They come from tight-knit neighborhoods in Detroit, ritzy enclaves in Royal Oak, and from university campuses.

People in their twenties dance next to senior citizens, and there is every shade of skin tone in this place.

The club’s personnel manager Carolyn Sopko calls the crowd diverse and inclusive.

“You walk in the door and everybody's equal. It doesn’t matter how much you make, where you live, where you grew up, nobody cares.”

Stiletto’s is a lesbian nightclub, near the Detroit Metro airport. Although the majority of patrons are bisexual or lesbian, plenty of other people including straight folks and gay men dance here (Sopko is straight).  Part of what happens when a bunch of gay people hang out together is that they share something in common, and other differences take a back seat.

I wanted to know more about this, so I spoke with Nadine Hubbs. She’s a professor of women’s studies at the University of Michigan. Hubbs says being gay can be stressful and dangerous, and that gay folks sometimes think of themselves as “comrades in wartime.” Hubbs says in gay spaces people tend to avoid treating each other cruelly, but instead treat each other kindly and often with humor.

At Stiletto’s these tiny, friendly interactions happen all the time, between people who might not mingle in the outside world.  

A mix of hip-hop and top 40 hits thumps through the speakers and onto the dance floor, but at Stiletto’s the lines dances (known as hustles) are king. DJ Urbn told me people approach her DJ booth all night long and beg her to play their favorite hustle.  (Hustles are similar to country line dances, but with more urban/hip-hop flavored music.)

During one of my visits to the club, I hovered at the edge of the dance floor while studying the steps to a line dance. A woman approached, gave me a long friendly handshake, asked how I was, and then waltzed away. She was African-American and sharply dressed in a blouse and vest. I am white and was decked out in slouchy jeans and a t-shirt.

Deeper connections can evolve from these small, casual interactions. This might be one of the reasons why gay folks have more cross-racial, cross-ethnic, cross-religious, and cross-class friendships and relationships. 

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