July 8, 2008

My Dance Story

I am a house dancer. I haven’t always been a house dancer – I haven’t always even known what house music is – but now I’m a house dancer. Lately, I’ve been running into a lot of people from my dancing past. It’s made me reflect on my dancing history, so while it’s on my mind, here’s my story . . .

The early years

I grew up listening to hip-hop, reggae, and soca, but I was not much of a dancer. As a young teen, I never went to clubs and the parties my friends threw usually involved a bunch of us hanging out at someone’s house, so I never danced in public. I didn’t start dancing in public until I started visiting colleges toward the end of high school. Some of the colleges I visited threw parties for their prospective students – I can still remember awkwardly two-stepping through those nights. Once I started college, I got more comfortable on the dancefloor.

Until my second year in college, I never did more than two-step. Over the summer after that first year, I visited Barbados with my family. While I was in Barbados, I saw a guy dancing to soca, and something clicked in me. I suddenly understood how to move my waist to the music. After that, when they played reggae or soca at college parties, people knew to find me on the dancefloor. The girls loved it because they knew I could dance and that I did it because I enjoyed it – unlike some guys who simply see dancing as flirtation and foreplay.


I was living in Philadelphia in the summer of 2000. I was still learning the city and I was just getting used to the idea of going to clubs. One night, I went to 700 Club with some friends. It was a while before I realized this, but it was really a life changing night for me. Now, 700 Club is known as a hipster club, but back then it was a lot more mixed. Cosmic Cat, who later became one of my favorite Philly DJs, was spinning that night. One of my friends introduced the group of us to a girl that she knew. At some point in the night, I was feeling the music and I started doing this step I had learned from watching breakdancing on TV as a kid. I only knew the one step. The friend of my friend came up to me and yelled over the music.

“Do you battle?”

I wasn’t really sure what she was talking about, so I just yelled back, “No.”

I don’t know if this girl misheard me or what, but her response was, “Aight! Let’s go!”

She stepped back with her arms wide, pushing people back as she moved. Within seconds, there was a big circle cleared in the middle of the dancefloor. She jumped in the circle and started dancing. I had never battled before, but at that point I would have felt stupid backing down, so when she stepped back and looked at me expectantly, I jumped in and did my thing. Looking back now, I can’t imagine myself not looking silly that night. I did my one breaking step and I did horrible imitations of the cartwheels I had seen Capoeristas do. I have no clue what else I did, but the two of us went back and forth several times, so I guess I did throw some other moves in the mix.

At the end of the night, as we left the club, random people kept walking up to me, congratulating me, giving me pounds, etc. I had an amazing feeling – it was one of those times when I can say I was truly high on life. While I was battling that girl, I was caught up in the music and the moment, but it was the ego stroking that came afterward that originally made me fall in love with the circle. When I walked into that club I only knew the friends I went there with and the one girl I was introduced to. When I left, I was the center of attention and it felt like everyone loved me.

After that, I started going out to clubs regularly. At first I’d go with my friends, but they never wanted to go out often enough to satisfy my dance craving, so eventually I started going out on my own. When I started going out on my own, a whole new world opened up to me. I’d walk into a place full of strangers. I’d see a circle or I’d spot other dancers and we’d form a circle, and then suddenly we were friends. It was instant community. Once you share a circle with someone, there’s some kind of bond. You might know nothing about their personal life, their home life, etc., but you know something important about them. You might not even know how they look – there were plenty of times when I didn’t recognize someone, but then when I saw them dance, I instantly remembered our last meeting.

House Music

Over the time that I was getting used to dancing in circles, I gradually became aware of house music. As a child, I never heard of house music. Later, I was under the impression that house music was like techno – excessively loud, mind-numbingly repetitive, and annoying. When I finally understood what house is, it was kind of like watching a movie that just had a plot twist. You start thinking back to things that happened earlier and understanding them in a new light. I realized that many of the songs I had heard on the “urban” stations as a kid, songs I loved back then, were house music. Some of the music that Cosmic Cat was spinning was house. That Baltimore club music I had gotten into a few years earlier was a particular style of house. Some of the music I loved so much at Crimson Moon was house. The more I thought about it, the more I could see that throughout my life I’ve been in love with house music even though I didn’t know what it was.

Before I was aware of house, my aim was to learn to breakdance. When I saw breakdancers, I tried to study and learn their moves. At home I would try to learn to stand on my head and to do the six step. As much as I tried to learn, I never felt comfortable with many of the movements. My awareness of house music ushered in a new stage in my dance journey. I realized that house was the music I felt most comfortable moving to. It inspired me to try things I’d been unable to do when I was trying to breakdance, and now they felt right. I started learning Capoeira, which has greatly influenced my style of dance, around the same time that I was becomming aware of house. Also around this time, I stopped caring about being the center of attention when I danced. If I was surrounded by good music and other dancers, I was happy. When a good DJ spins house music, you feel the music in a spiritual way. When you’re in a circle of dancers, you know you’re sharing that feeling with others. The world outside of the circle starts to disapear.

And Now

There are people would be shocked to hear that I don’t dance to reggae anymore. Now, it’s strange for me to think that it’s been 8 years since I first stepped into a circle. I’m constantly growing as a dancer as I learn from other dancers and try new things. After a three year break, I returned to Capoeira this year. Capoeira is making me stronger and more flexible. Capoeira and dance, they each help prepare me for the other. When it comes to dancing, I have no idea where I’m going. I’d love to continue to learn and develop, but outside of that I’ve never had goals. Dancing is just something I love to do.


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