STEP 1 - FIND A SHOW!
This is probably the hardest part. Ska, as a genre, is not very mainstream; shows are often smaller in size, and admission is usually somewhere between $5 and $15, paid at the door. Most shows are all ages, but some are 18+, 19+, and 21+, depending on local alcohol laws. Expect the show to last a little over an hour for every band playing, and keep in mind they don’t always start on time. You won't see a ska band selling out Madison Square Garden or the Hollywood Amphitheater or something like that. Think smaller - local bars, nightclubs, college campuses. Mapquest is your friend.
As I said, finding a show can be kind of tricky, especially if you don't know too much about the local scene or don't have any friends who do. I, for example, have a friend who has some sort of super ska radar; he knows about every upcoming show for months. Not everyone is this lucky.
If you know of a ska band you like, hit up their website and check their tour dates. Chances are they'll be passing through your general area sometime soon. You could also check out www.skasummit.com; their regional show search feature is free and surprisingly accurate. If you're into the whole MySpace deal, try searching for a ska group in your area. It's a good way to connect with locals, swap pictures and stories, and learn about upcoming shows. With a little detective work, finding a show is not all that hard. In my area (South Florida), we usually have a good show or two every month.
The only major ska tour I can think of offhand is the Ska Is Dead tour, now on its third iteration, scheduled for September 2005. The Vans Warped Tour (July - August 2005) also hosts a number of ska bands, depending on your area. If you can't find a ska show by now, stop reading this node and go buy tickets for the Cher Farewell tour or something.
STEP 2 - DRESS THE PART!
Actually, you don't really have to dress up to go to a ska show. Dress down. Generally, a T-shirt and jeans will do. You want to seem laid back and relaxed. Ladies, you don't have to overdo the makeup or perfume or anything. Look good, but don't worry too much about it. Just wear something you’re comfortable in. Sneakers are good dancing shoes; I personally stay away from flip-flops because I like having my toes attached to my feet after a long night of dancing in a large crowd. As a rule of thumb, if you can dance in it, it's fine to wear.
STEP 3 - SURVEY THE CROWD!
From my experience, 99% of the people you will ever meet at a ska show are awesome, upstanding, fun-loving people. Total strangers you can dance with and talk to all night. Ska shows attract an eclectic bunch, mostly young people, teenagers to twenty-something, lifeguards and photographers and students and musicians and cool, laid-back people in general. The only people I’d say to watch out for are the punks/skinheads, a crowd often prevalent at shows or venues that feature ska in conjunction with punk music or harder, faster, louder ("Ska-Core") ska music. These are the loud, rowdy, often drunk people with high spiked mohawks or shaved heads, almost exclusively wearing red plaid, leather, chains, spikes, rivets, nuts, bolts, locks, body piercings, and anything else your mother wouldn’t approve of. Some of them are jerks who start fights and ruin good, clean fun, but most of them just go for the look - learn to distinguish some ninth grader with an identity crisis from an angry drunken thug with a switchblade and a bad attitude. If you don’t mess with them, they won’t mess with you, so don't let them deter you from going.
Another thing - bring a friend or two. It’s more fun that way. There is usually a pretty good ratio of guys to gals, so everyone’s happy. A ska show is actually not that bad a place to bring a date; it’s cheap, fun, and different (Just make sure it isn’t a hardcore crazy punk crowd or anything.). Give it a shot, you just might impress her.
STEP 4 - CHECK OUT THE DANCE FLOOR!
Usually, a smaller local band (or a series of them) will open for the headlining band. The crowd will often be restrained or distracted during this time; just look cool. Get a feel for the music. DON’T STAND ALONE IN A CORNER! Stake out a spot (Near the stage!), cross your arms, and bob your head to the beat. Look serious, like you know what’s happening, you do this all the time. Tap your toes, add a little swing to your hips. Make yourself visible. Be known. Be cool. Between bands, mingle. Don’t be afraid to start random conversations with people. Have a drink or two. Have fun.
As the music picks up, you will probably notice the crowd form into a loose circle. There will be people inside this circle, marching around, wildly flailing their bodily appendages, probably looking pretty funny if you’ve never seen this before. A few brave souls at first, with more and more adding in every song. These people are doing the traditional ska dance, called the “skank”. They are “skanking”. People who do this are “skankers”. It’s a funny word. Skank skank skank. Get used to it. Note that this isn’t “skank” as in slang for a dirty or promiscuous female. It’s spelled the same, but it derives it’s meaning from the rhythm played by the guitar in a Ska/Reggae band, (specifically, the two and four downbeats) onomatopoeically referred to as the “skank”. If a shady character ever approaches you in a dark alley late at night and threatens to kill you if you don’t know the etymological evolution of the word skank...you’re welcome.
That’s neat, but how exactly do you do this skank? When everybody at a show is dancing and having a good time, skanking for the first time can seem pretty intimidating. Most people just stay on the outside of the circle, watching and cheering on the people inside. While that’s certainty not a bad idea to start with, it’s not too helpful, either. Sooner or later you gotta learn to skank. It’s really quite simple. That’s where I come in.
STEP 5 - SKANK IT UP!
The skank looks something like the bastard child of the twist and a Marine force-march on crack. Look serious, or look really happy; just don’t look boring or stupid. Bend over a little. Not a samurai style kung-fu bow or anything, just curve your spine a little bit. Relax your shoulders. Keep your elbows bent at something like a 90 degree angle, let your arms hang loose around your sides. Now, the general idea is to kick forward with one foot, while moving that arm back, and the opposite arm forward. So if you kick with your left foot, your left arms goes back, and your right arm flies forward. As you do this, twist your body or hips slightly to the left. Alternate, and repeat.
There, that’s the skank. Don’t be intimidated; just do it. You may think you look stupid, and...you do. Everyone does. It’s a wacky, silly, stupid dance, just have fun with it. Nobody is gonna judge you. I never really enjoyed a ska show until I got up the confidence to skank; now I’m an addict. You can mess around with the general formula a little bit and alternate styles...here’s a few ideas to get you started.
- Keep your fists balled together, and keep your arms connected as you swing them. Instead of kicking your feet, lift them high and stomp them. This, a rougher, wilder version of the skank, is commonly called the “skinhead stomp”.
- Bend over lower than usual, and kick your feet higher and farther than you normally would (Just don’t get elbowed in the face!). Minimize the arm movement; the emphasis is on your wacky kicking and hunchback posture. Do this if you have the room, it can look pretty cool. Because you’re all sleek and low to the ground, I call this the “stealth skank”. If you can come up with a better name, by all means, let me know.
- Many girls retain a more upright posture, with more swing in the hips and a smaller kick. Instead of swinging their arms forward, they alternate throwing their hands up in the air. There is no formal name for this, so I guess we can call it the “girly skank”.
- If you’re quick enough, try to skank double-time, twice as fast as everyone else. Don’t just skank faster, skank proportionally faster; for every step they take, you take exactly two. Done well, one guy in a crowd moving way faster than everyone else really draws attention. I call it the “double skank”.
- Mess around with the footwork, and skank backwards (moonwalk skank!) or side to side, or slowly rotate as you skank. Skank facing someone, skank in a line, skank holding someone’s hand...it can be an easy and painless way to introduce yourself to that guy or girl across the room you had your eye on. Use your imagination!
STEP 6 - LAUGH! EAT! SLEEP!
By the time the show is over, it should be late, you and your friends should be laughing, and you should be tired, sweaty, and hungry. Walk around outside for awhile; cool off, hang out. Talk to some people you met at the show, get some phone numbers or AIM handles. Make some friends. When that’s over, go and eat. You should be hungry as hell by now, with all the shouting and skanking and whatnot. Since it’s late at night and your options may be limited, I’d suggest Steak And Shake (it’s open 24 hours, and the Frisco melt rocks!), as is Denny’s, and most 7-11's.
Congratulations! You are now a super cool part of the totally awesome local ska scene. I hope you enjoyed the show, and I hope my advice helped you feel less awkward or intimidated if you’re just getting into ska for the first time. If you have any questions, comments, or concerns, drop me a PM, I’m a nice guy, I don’t smell too bad, and I’d be happy to hear from you.
Now get some sleep!