I have written Communist go-go dancers. Not in a comedy, either. Technically, they were recruits among honors-level university students, but they broke into go-go dancing as the Party’s party night deepened and the drinks mounted. The setting was early ’70s Budapest, and the Happiest Barracks in the Iron Curtain reveled in its post-crackdown decay.
Our POV Helena takes it from here:
For the next hour I danced with every man who asked and every man who cut in, a parade of faceless political officers with tobacco and vodka on their breaths. Some were bolder than others, but none too bold. When the folk music stopped and the newer records began, we changed to whatever fast dance went with the song. I twisted, I ponied, I did the loco-motion, I thrilled at the heat of it all, and when the men tired the other girls and I go-go danced for them.
It was after the go-go dancing that Typhon approached. He brought with him two coupes of sparkling wine.
“You must be thirsty,” he said over The Byrds. He reached out the wine as if completely certain of my accepting, kissed my offered hand, and said, “The Socialist Workers’ Party appreciates your contributions to dance.”
–“Sparks to the Bear’s Hide” (MWA’s Ice Cold, Grand Central, 2014)
Now, I have no idea if such recruiting events ever devolved into Marxist Laugh-In cutaways. Mine did. For good reason: creative license. A little swinging worked best for the story whole. Especially so if swinging violated Party rules.
Hey, I’m a storyteller, not a historian.
Research and vetting fascinates me, when it doesn’t vex me. Where and how to find accurate sources? When is there balance enough to write with authority? How to pluck the precious few telling details that belong the page from the boring chaff? Crucial stuff, and hard work. Research can feel like a chore, but it’s as central a part of writing as grammar.
Importantly to Communist go-go dancing, research can feel like a paradox. Get it right, our inner editors demand. And that’s not wrong. Facts are the story bedrock on which fiction’s credibility rests. Woe be a crime writer who gets a gun caliber or forensic detail wrong. Or any writer who misses relevant points of culture. But facts, in fiction, ultimately serve a greater master: the truth.
As in a given story’s truth, fiction being a constructed reality. And to be true, in the Papa Bear sense, is write honestly. Sometimes (and Hemingway would slug me here) the most honest thing a writer does is to make stuff up. More charitably, to tell the facts slant. Fiction’s purpose is going deeper than facts, to something more compellingly human.
Enter go-go dancing. It added verve to what could’ve otherwise been a chitchat affair. And a dull evening would have been my fault as a writer. “Sparks” is about decay, to include of politics and morality. The openness of sex and booze and inattention to protocol were advanced symptoms of the regime’s post-ideological disease.
But “Sparks” is about more than that. It’s Helena’s story. A Rolling Stones fanatic, our closet rebel listened non-stop to a bootleg Beggar’s Banquet LP that filtered behind the Curtain. She’s fixated, repressed, damaged. Her spin on the dance floor is her release, a final one she thinks, youth for mortality.
You’ll never find those truths in history books.
Which isn’t to say no research was involved. I read multiple histories on the Cold War and communist theories. I Googled rafts of articles and found documentary bits here and there. I studied city layout, street car systems, service revolvers. Rolling Stones discology. I wrote all of that as accurately as my abilities permitted.
Research presents the writer with a constant flow of choices: rewrite to avoid the unknown or keep researching until reliable material emerges. Both are fine answers. What’s not fine is half-BLEEPing it. To settle for wrong when it could have been right. Readers are as smart or smarter than writers, and nothing bursts the helium of suspended disbelief like a pinprick of doubt.
Alas, no one ever wrote the go-go history of Party socials. Or if they did, alas, it’s locked deep in library tomes or microfiche, lost to the ages. Or in prohibitively expensive expert trawling. The writer’s choice shifts: does the story need a go-go dancing moment? “Sparks” came alive there, with Helena’s last moment to express ruined youth.
I couldn’t make her truth strictly accurate, but I could make it real. That may be a lame excuse to work go-go into a scene, but hey, I already said I was a storyteller.