It's another Friday night at Club M, and another local band throws down a hard-rocking set to unfazed regulars. Despite the swaggering, white-boy funkitude coming from the Bittercups -- helmed by New Times staffer Jason Budjinski -- the crowd reaction consists mostly of arched eyebrows, crossed arms, and trips to the bar. This is how Hollywood rock 'n' rollers show their love: Nobody moves.
Nobody except Dancing Rene.
If you've been hitting the scene over the past year or two, you've seen him. From Churchill's to Respectables, he's out at shows usually two or three nights a week, every week. His unofficial nickname is "Dancing Homer." His real name is Rene Blanco. But most probably know him just as That Crazy Dude Dancing His Ass Off.
And there he is, strutting in front of Club M's tiny stage, leaning back in a limbo-like bend, arms pumping the air. Dark hair trimmed short, smile pulling back his cheeks, unstylish in a white T-shirt, khaki shorts, and sandals, Dancing Rene comes off more like your ex-hippie uncle than the local -- and sometimes controversial -- legend that he is. Like most things in life, appearance is deceiving: Rene is South Florida rock's number-one fan. To him, the bands are worthy of worship, and the dance floor is his altar.
"I just love the crowd and all the musicians and the music," Blanco says, standing in the kitchen of his plush southern Boca beach villa. "The musicians have been great to me, and I just feel so good hanging out with that creative group of people. It just it makes me wanna do great for them."
Blanco is a 52-year-old cheerleader for local music. His website, reneblanco.com, lists the scores of bands he's danced for; almost every local group of the past two years -- from Remember the Ocean to Mr. E -- is represented. He might not be the most discerning fan, but he certainly is the most ardent.
It all began in Boston, where he grew up as the son of an MIT professor and returned in the early '80s after college in California. Working for years as a financial consultant and real estate broker ("Yeah, you take a lot of shit, OK?" he laughs. "Just about everybody tries to mess you over."), Blanco found his outlet through music. Not surprisingly, he was a passionate Deadhead; it was within that community that his full-body, ecstatic dance steps first took shape. Still, something was missing. "I never had this real tight circle of bands and people that knew about me and that I knew about them and that we all just wanted to put on a good show for the people."
That's exactly what he got when he moved to Florida in '96, pursuing a decades-old dream to live on the beach and become a writer. "It just makes me really happy that I've found all these great bands here," Blanco says. "Everybody just works very, very hard to put on the shows. They come from miles around, they practice, they drag their equipment around and collaborate and cooperate, and they go out there, and they really belt it out. I just really feel every note and every beat and all the work that goes into it."
Rene's infectious energy doesn't always go over so well with fans, and anyone so outwardly carefree perched in such a visible, stage-stealing position is bound to attract detractors. "Once at Gumwrappers, one guy was heckling me: 'Will Gilbert Grape get out of the way -- I wanna see the band!'" he remembers. "I think he was half-joking." But most musicians know who he is and love what he does.
"If everyone went crazy like he did, we'd blow the roof off the joint," says Steven Toth of Mr. E and the Pookiesmackers. "I feel like Otis Day and the Nights when Dancing Rene hits the stage, then I look out, and only one person is doing the work. Some people think Dancing Rene gets in the way. I say Dancing Rene is the way!"
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Now that he's published a book of short stories (Pleasure on the Run), works part-time as a licensed therapist and a well-to-do beach bum, and has become a renowned figure on the local music scene, Blanco seems to have life arranged exactly the way he always wanted it. Yet if you talk to him outside the club, away from the music and the moves and the fun, you can't help but notice a wounded look in his eyes. Perhaps something deeper than a good time motivates him to let loose every night.
"He does have a great, still-ongoing sadness in his life, which I am absolutely not at liberty to discuss," says Dave Heikkinen of the Livid Kittens, one of Blanco's first friends in the area. If it's there, Blanco doesn't want to talk about it. He'd rather dance it out, which gives his jubilant-jester routine a far deeper dimension.
"I can dance or not dance," Blanco says. "But [the bands] have to put on the show, and they wanna be great. They live for that moment, when everything comes together and they're jamming hard and the audience is into it and there's people dancing and it's all going on for them. It's like that vibration of the universe going great great great great. Most people crave that, but they don't know how to get it."
Here's one person who does.