What a difference a year makes, right? How do you keep in touch with life as it was just over a year ago? Why are touchstones to normalcy so important?
A couple of weeks ago I had this note nearly written when I got word of my dad’s sudden passing. So, as a ‘touchstone to normalcy’, it seems appropriate to pick up where I left off. If you read no further, let me thank you now for your kind words and outpouring of support these past two weeks.
Ya gotta admit, this past year has been anything but ‘business as usual’. Think back, it was just over a year ago that the ominous rumblings coming out of China were confirmed by reports of community spread of something called coronavirus starting in Seattle.
It’s charming and quaint to recall how tentative folks were about dealing with the oncoming tsunami of COVID-19. By late January it was “Gee, I hope this doesn’t interfere with our trip to Europe for Spring Break!” In mid-February, I was like “Wow, this could be a real hassle, they are canceling tech conferences in San Francisco!”
By early March I was emphatic. “Dance Jam is going dark until further notice.” Some of my crew and regulars protested “C’mon, just open the doors and put a couple more fans in to circulate the air. Have people sign a waiver and take responsibility for their own risk. We want to dance!” Nope. Within days the local health department dropped the hammer and put the kibosh on all in-person gatherings.
Other event organizers in the area were optimistic. Ecstatic dances and recurring classes were making announcements like “We’re going to close for three weeks out of an abundance of caution, see you in April!” Well, that certainly didn’t pan out the way they thought now did it?
How folks in this community have navigated the sudden shift to life during a pandemic is all over the map. Some dances are thriving with hundreds of people cheerfully joining in on their little Zoom windows like an animatronic Brady Bunch. Others have given up entirely and are patiently waiting until they can gather safely in person once again.
As the DJ at Dance Jam, I’ve found the shift to be two-fold. First, there has been the shift from face-to-face to at-a-distance. Navigating the various streaming technologies is still a work in progress. What’s just as interesting and somewhat more gratifying is the shift in audience.
In Berkeley every Friday night we had a good number of dancers show up each week, two or three dozen out of maybe a hundred or so semi-regulars. With the dance moving online not very many of those folks are showing up, (although a number of them are supporting the Patreon which is much appreciated).
However, due to the fact that I interact with a lot of folks in the online universe, (mainly citizen journalists, political figures, and vinyl enthusiasts on Twitter and Reddit), a surprising number of these folks have discovered my shows and tune in regularly.
It’s changed my approach somewhat and freed me up musically, to be honest. Most of my new fans don’t care about being on Zoom, simply listening to a live audio stream and interacting in the comments is fine. People really appreciate the album cover art, I generally post photos of the LPs as I spin.
The thing about playing to a live conscious dance floor is there’s an expectation to be all things to all people all of the time. You have to play a spiritually enlightened mix of mainly instrumental polyrhythmic music from around the world and rarely if ever, play the same piece twice. Except that you also have to play popular tunes with lots of vocals and a 4/4 beat and repeat them regularly.
You have to taper off to quiet stillness except that you also have to keep people dancing to the very end. And be careful not to play anything from any number of genres that are likely to trigger someone in a negative way, and that can vary from day to day and dancer to dancer. So the fun part is reading the room and going with the flow, while the downside is dealing with complaints because it’s hard to please all of the people all of the time. I definitely miss the energy of moving and grooving dancers!
Spinning records online is a different kettle of fish altogether. It’s much more like radio where people are either enjoying what you are playing and sticking with you, or turning the dial and going somewhere else. No one hangs around to complain.
As it turns out, a fair number are both on the East Coast, (Hello Baltimore Crew!), and are also big fans of Blues, Rock, and Americana jams. So I’ve added a Wednesday show from 5-8 PM where I delve into a wider range of genres at a time that’s more amenable to East Coast listeners. Friday nights remain more dance-oriented at the usual time of 8-11 PM.
With Covid hanging around longer than we might like to admit it’s going to be a while before we’re all sweating and swaying and swinging around with one another on a dance floor. Some estimates are saying seven years until it’s fully behind us, at least here in the USA. Let’s hope they are very much mistaken.
At any rate, life asks us to go with the flow. With the recent demise of my Dad eclipsing almost everything else in my world at the moment I’m just taking things one step at a time. A dear friend shared a bit of wisdom with me that what I’m going through right now is a fundamental structural change internally and that I just need to be patient and let it unfold at its own pace.
Structural change indeed. That’s what it feels like, and a lot of what I’m going through right now is just feeling what I’m feeling and paying attention to what comes to the surface. I’m sure I’ll have more cogent thoughts to share as time goes by.
Meanwhile, thank you so much for your warmth and condolences, and keep on keeping on…
Much love to you and your families,
Director of the Dance First Association
Publisher of Conscious Dancer Magazine