831 [tales From The Area Code]
Dancing to Be Free: At Chautauqua Hall's Friday night freestyle dance jam in PG, dancers let it all hang out.
Thursday, November 6, 2003
It''s a Friday night, Halloween, and like just every Friday for the past seven months, Chautauqua Hall in Pacific Grove is hosting a Freestyle Dance Jam. The lights are low except for a pulsing strobe near the DJ and some warm, dull lighting from the high ceiling. People in the middle of the room gyrate and jolt in whatever way pleases them; some people look like they''re at a typical club, others like they''re choreographing an interpretive dance. Being that it''s Halloween, many people are dressed up, but I wonder how many of them would be anyway.
The drafty building is lined by benches that almost no one sits on for long, and as the evening progresses, the floor is covered by a growing trickle of faithful attendees.
"We''re trying to build and offer it as a Friday night, going into the weekend, letting it all hang out thing," says co-organizer Heike Be. "It''s about honoring your body. It''s like a sacred dance temple for whatever you want to dedicate your dance to." She''s thrilled to have such a nice place to host the event as well, saying, "We''re trying to honor the space. There''s a lot of sharing and communicating in different ways here."
Guests bring refreshments (no alcohol is allowed) and the DJ keeps it interesting by playing everything from blissed-out trance techno to C&C Music Factory''s "Gonna Make You Sweat," a song that was insanely popular in 1990 and reminds me of being nine. Personally evocative, perhaps, but it''s also got a killer beat that the evening''s participants, who range in age from Generation X to the geriatric, seem to be able to move along to.
The universality of the event''s appeal seems to stem from its welcoming attitude toward people of all ages. Very young children come with their parents, while the event also seems to greatly appeal to middle-aged women in flowy clothing.
"It''s an opportunity for people to come and express themselves through movement," says co-organizer Donna Kaufman. "It''s my opinion that everyone is an expressive artist."
The people on the floor tonight seem to greatly enjoy the opportunity to move as they see fit in what Kaufman smilingly informs me is "a place to come to express yourself without judgment." Along with Be, Kaufman began putting on the weekly event in February to provide an environment that Be claims is "a place where there''s no right and wrong. She explains, "People are allowed to connect with people and parts of themselves they usually don''t, and move their stagnated, frustrated energy out of their system."
A typical turnout is somewhere around 35 people, with the most ever attending 65 people. Kaufman explains that the event is steadily growing through word of mouth. "You can get into your own spirit but also get into the spirit of community," she explains.
Both of the women who run the event are enthusiastic about its mission and growth. "We''re allowing playfulness without judgment to come through," Be explains. "I think that''s something that''s really needed. People realize that there''s an essential part that wants to come out."
The people tonight seem to be in that playful groove. Some of them, like the hosts, have a bit of a hippy vibe, while others appear to be mostly there just to move their bodies.
Andrew Shoneberg has been coming since the beginning, and says the Dance Jam is "a major resource for the community, because it gives you freedom to do whatever you want." I check out Shoneberg''s moves, and notice that his style is very rhythmic but also rather controlled, stylized--unrehearsed, yet distinctive. He also uses a lot of space, something that would be out of the question in a club environment.
The organizers invite different DJs each week from all over the area, and lately have been inviting guest artists for the purpose of facilitation, most recently Vinn Marti. These guest artists lead the group in their movements, trying to open people up to move freely.
For the weeks when it''s only music, many people come alone and meet friends there--or make friends. Kaufman explains, "People come alone or with a partner, and on the floor there''s a lot of interaction. So even if you don''t come with anyone, people wind up dancing with one another."
The word that comes to this writer''s mind is "groovy." In fact, I get so caught up in the flashing lights and bumping beats, I misplace my car keys. At the end of the evening, at least a dozen people help me scour the room, to no avail. Another twenty-or-so people gather in a circle, chanting and sending what Be calls "good vibes" to help me find them. It doesn''t work, but I get a real sense of the affinity that flows so freely between these people. Whatever Be and Kaufman wanted their Dance Jam to accomplish, it seems to be working.
FREESTYLE DANCE JAM IS HELD FRIDAYS FROM 8:15-10:15PM AT CHAUTAUQUA HALL, 16TH AND CENTRAL AVES., PACIFIC GROVE. $9/ADULTS, $5/YOUTH, FREE/UNDER 11 WITH ADULT. 641-0814 OR 375-2312.