That dance group in Haas Pavilion

I love street dancing. That’s not the right term, I know, I suppose I mean hip-hop, but sometimes hip-hop’s mixed in with the suggestive movements in my head and this group didn’t have that, though I like the dance with suggestive moves too. Street dancing as in dancing on the street, dancing on the pavement, in overlarge hoodies and ponytails swinging, girls and guys, dyed hair. Crisp movements, undulations, dramatic stomps, taps, rolling on the ground. Sneakers.

It’s 11 o’clock at night and these guys are out in Haas Pavilion, the open space in front of the stadium. Music’s blasting as usual; the neighboring group of drummers have gone home so there’s no interference tonight. Half of the group—maybe 40, 50 people?—are facing the steps to the stadium, the rest are sitting down, watching. The watchers are hooting, cheering, yelling out names, some pulling on flannel in the Californian December.

Everyone’s so good. All of these dancers, as individuals, all so good. They must have a hell of a try-out process—any one of these people could teach a class on movement, no problem. The quick jumps that seem effortless, snaps of arms and legs that are sharp and defined, solid cores. They’re in the middle of a pedestrian area—people wander around them, a homeless guy pushes his shopping cart past, looking over as he continues on. They move in synchrony, and half-synchrony (in the back they stand / in the front they hunch), in third-syncronies, in little eddies and bubbles of synchrony, people running in and out from the sidelines, forming groups and dissolving, over and over, always different.

My favorite part: a white car comes by. Pedestrian zone, mainly, but cars are technically allowed through. This is a performance, this is their performance—it’s at least six minutes long, continuous, this is a run-through of work from the entire semester. The music continues on as individuals back off, move off, let the car pass. Everyone mills for a few seconds, then whoever’s in charge of the music resets it, and everyone joins up again and restarts. Seamless, no commentary necessary. Back to the group, back to the plan, back to the movement, each individual playing their part, the seconds of individuality, decisions, unexpectedness melted into the pavement, gone.

“Switch!” someone on the staircase yells, and the cheers start up (they never stopped), the group on the ground moves onto the stairs, the group on the stairs moves onto the ground, still laughing, yelling. There’s constant movement on the sidelines. One guy does a practice bow-like snap, a girl walking by pulls his hood off, he spins, I can’t tell if it’s performed.

I’m off to the side, watching. Today I sat in on a meeting of highly competent people, each belonging to different specialties, each extracting the information they needed out of each other to best work together. We’re at the lunch break, and “To maximize random delight,” I hear the organizer Jordan say, before he walks by my chair and stamps my napkin with “SCIENCE.” He deposits the custom-made stamp besides me; I clap my hands and exclaim. Lots of science, lots of laughter, lots of ideas, lots of cooperation, among different groups of people who work in Seattle, Italy, Berkeley. I’m grinning as a leave the room to go to class, snagging a scone on my way out. Good people, happy people, working together.

The dancers are reaching the part of the song that I’ve heard before, and the ones on the stairs are laughing at the lead dancer in front. He’s wearing a baseball cap on backwards, baggy jeans; he’s giving them great faces, I bet. There’s something about this kind of dance that says this is who we are to me, more than ballet or tap or anything else. Something about the motions of it, the patterns, the clothes, the no-nonsense shoes, the way people don’t do it for money, don’t do it for anything, get together every night in front of this stadium to do it just because.

Who we are as individuals, who we are as a collective. Watch us move, watch us dance. Watch us part the patterns for a car, watch us join together in almost lossless time. Watch us do this for the art, for the warmth of effort, for each other; watch us cheer, watch us support, watch us live.

I love street dancing. It feels raw to me, practiced and effortless, but with a fundamental trueness still in there. Someone asked me if I’d live on this world if there were no people, and of course I still would, but I’m hardwired for this:

For the art, for the beauty, for together and separate, for a visual, auditory, kinetic demonstration of my favorite parts of humanity, of the best parts, of the parts where we tell ourselves and everyone watching, everyone walking past us, everyone laughing on the stairs, every person dancing along with a shopping cart or staring silently, smiling quietly, the robots of the future and all the organisms of the now: look at us, look at us doing this thing, look at us dancing in the darkness and the strobelights: this is who we are.

This is who we are.

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