Free Public Dance 8/31 6PM @ Soroptomist Park (and Why I Dance)

On Thursday, August 31, 2023, at 6PM, my friend Aly and I invite you to dance with us in public at Soroptomist Park (Rouse and Main). There is no cost, no dance experience required, and no moves to learn. If you are respectful of yourself, other dancers, and the community in and around the park, we would be delighted to have you!

The rest of this piece is to tell you a bit about my journey in dance and why I am so passionate about reclaiming public spaces for it. All dance is good dance, and anyone, even if you can only blink, can dance.

You may have seen us dance in our vibrant colors around Bozeman or even well outside of it. We shake it most often in Soroptomist Park, but we’ve been spotted elsewhere downtown. You may have seen us at the traffic circle at College and 11th or at Music on Main. Perhaps, you have seen us dancing at Shakespeare in the Parks, Last Best Comedy, or The Filling Station. Not content with dance stopping at the city limits, we have been to other parts of Montana and surrounding areas, too! There we were lighting up the Montana Folk Festival in Butte. And over there we have been witnessed frequently in Yellowstone National Park and also West Yellowstone, Missoula, the Bigfork of Flathead Lake, and St. Regis. Most recently, we danced exuberantly outside the Seattle Art Museum.

While we appreciate the love we have received (and a little bit of hate) for street dancing, what really lights us up is when others join us. Sometimes, the residents of Soroptomist join and dance. Aly and I have had such beautiful moments with other Bozeman residents and tourists. Once, a man saw us and drummed the whole time we danced. At Music on Main, we have played a role in a beautiful culture of lovely people who now feel safe dancing near the front of the stage for the whole show. Children and people of all ages, genders, abilities, and races have consistently created with us a place where people feel comfortable enough to dance.

In dance, we find total freedom. It is as though we are in an old MGM movie, instead being in real life making our lives imitate our highest art. I am definitely no Gene Kelly or Fred Astaire, but my dancing is enough and adds so much color to my life.

However, while some join us, you sense that most people don’t think they can dance or feel too afraid of social judgment to join. We know many other dancers in town who absolutely adore it but who do not feel safe dancing unless there is a dedicated space for it. I am so thankful that ecstatic dances, such as the one I often dance at Emergence Movement and Wellness, exist each month. Yet, it is sad for me that most of the minority of people who do dance don’t feel safe to do so in public. This is something we want to change. We want a Bozeman and a world where people feel free to express themselves, be themselves, and dance in public just like they might in the privacy of their own homes. We also want it accessible to people no matter how much money they have, which we can offer by dancing in public.

Would you believe that I barely danced in my life before I was 38? A mere 11 years ago, I was one of those people who didn’t think he could dance and was too shy to put himself out there.

Back in 2007, some years before beginning my journey in dance, I had one of those life-altering experiences. I was living back east preparing a move to Bozeman, and I attended an outdoor showing of the concert movie Stop Making Sense, featuring the Talking Heads, a band I had loved since childhood. As I sat watching Talking Heads perform song after song, I noticed off to my right a dance party had broken out in the street. There I saw people of all ages, particularly this one old man, dancing wildly and ecstatically in a big circle. Something in me stirred, and I felt such a failing in me. I had such envy for how much fun they were having and particularly this energetic old man who did not look like he belonged in a sea of people in their teens and twenties. Somehow, I knew that some day I needed to dance.

My son was born later that year, and we moved to Bozeman right around Christmas. It took me a few years to act on that conviction – first through a 5Rhythms class – and from there, I have never ever stopped dancing (can’t stop won’t stop). I took a tango class (big fail), and then started swing dancing. I became a licensed Chakradance facilitator (curious? contact me). I studied some tap on my own – and then later with Aly. But mostly, I just danced ecstatically, and increasingly, I began dancing in public.

I remember that first time I went to Music on Main. There was this woman whose name I have never known who has been dancing there for years. She is, in my opinion, the true pioneer of regular public dancing there, but I did not know about her when I decided to go. I simply went to dance and expand the edges of my comfort zone. Each time I had in recent years, I felt more alive as a person, and I also saw that it often encouraged others. That first time went well, and so I went again. This time, I dressed up and had a beautiful time dancing with several people during Sweet Pea weekend. Well, it was beautiful until my mom called. She let me know that my cousin who was only 30 – and whom I had just danced with at his brother’s wedding just five days prior – had died of a suspected drug overdose. It was an incredibly tragic moment for our family. Fast forward about a month later, I was now in the Tetons with my son. A woman excitedly came up to me and said, “I know you! You danced with my granddaughter! We have you on video. You are famous in our family and made our night!” The girl was but a toddler, and this night was the same night as Sweet Pea – that is, the same night that I learned my cousin had died. Somehow, it filled my heart to know that his tragic death didn’t completely blot out the magic of dance. It still dominated, but for me, it did help knowing that my dancing provided a lasting memory for another family.

We also encourage art; in the future, street theater.

Dance has that power. If we can trust that we are enough and allow that to shine, it can reach others and encourage them. That kindness and love really can spread. I believe dance can do a lot more than that for us, but those are for other essays. What I’m really getting at is this idea that if we allow ourselves to express in the shared space of neighborhoods and communities, we can be like human flower gardens. If that is too woo for you, it’s really just a lot of fun. And it’s a lot of fun to share. And it’s fun to reach people outside our circles. Even when people say something negative, that somehow is enjoyable. It breaks the mold of the norm where people keep to themselves and exist in very predictable patterns of behavior.

We really work on being respectful. Our music is not particularly loud, and if we are asked by a resident of the park to leave, we leave. If we cannot play without waking someone up, we simply move to another spot. We are not blocking sidewalks or pathways. Yes, we sometimes express some very strident ideological beliefs, but we truly are encouraging safety for free speech and expression so long as that expression is basically respectful and does not threaten the safety of others. We want people to be as energetic and boisterous or as soft and gentle as they want to be within those commonsense boundaries.

Of course, if you already dance, we would love to have you. We do find that critical mass encourages others who would be on the fence. However, if you do not think you dance, if you think it does not make sense for you to dance, well, please consider it and stop making sense! Dance changed my life and put me in the joyful exuberant place I have been now for many years. It was people publicly dancing who planted that seed; help us plant some more.

If you are curious about more details or can’t make this one but would like to dance with us, please reach out! If you are hesitant that you, too, can dance, let me convince you that you already can!

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