Every once in a while I have moments where I feel like my life is an actual Step Up movie.
There are are a couple of things happening in the Step Up movie series, and several dance films throughout the late 20th and early 21st century like it: Commentary on social status and witnessing a dancer’s transformation.
Sample storyline: Classically trained (usually female) dancer enrolled in a pre-professional or conservatory program comes from a family that is well off and upper/middle class expectations attached to that. Female dancer protagonist falls in love with a b-boy. Classically trained dancer then grapples with their own privilege and artistry through being exposed to the world of hip hop. Alternative (or simultaneous) sample storyline: Hip hop dancer is out to prove themselves in an institutionalized and/or competitive dance setting. Hip hop dancer of either gender challenges the status quo of institutionalized training or queers the norms of the dance competition outcome. And it all completely galvanizes what happens on a proscenium stage.
In the classical concert dance world there can be underlying creative elitism – awareness of who has gotten which funding, which artist has certain accolades, and slowly working towards some kind of approval from those with seniority in the field. Lots of pretty, architectural dancing from lean bodies that emphasize how a dance is read, not necessarily how it is experienced. I’ve been disappointed by established dance companies in the past because the work didn’t move my soul.
Essentially, I think the Step Up effect is a process of self actualization through popular vernacular dances and community – being deeply connected with the kind of groove that classical or postmodern concert dance doesn’t necessarily teach you. And I’m aware of how present that has felt for me in recent months, especially through salsa and bachata.
I have these Step Up movie moments in my actual Philly life. Picture New Year’s Eve with all its anticipation in the air, walking through a rainy parking lot, bass blaring, seeing my friends from Hardwork Movement backstage at the Electric Factory, and feeling like such a cool kid inside. And the night didn’t end there – afterwards a friend and I went out dancing at a local Ethiopian bar/restaurant in West Philly to ring in the New Year. I felt free and deeply connected with the community I was dancing with.
Dancing at late night hours has completely rewired my approach as a performer. I feel transformed by what I’ve experienced dancing between 11 pm and 2 am. There are many profound things happening in those late night dancing hours.
And what’s refreshing and life giving in social dance is the feeling that none of the ego/production/spectacle stuff matters. In social dance, strangers of all ages and walks of life are absolutely extraordinary and there is a generosity extended in connecting with many different dance partners. I can meet someone dancing for the first time, feel shared joy and mutual appreciation, and receive an abundance of creative affirmation.
I’m also struck by the element of anonymity – what I perform in a social setting isn’t connected with any value judgement of my daytime vocation or class status. It feels like such a space to celebrate expressions of identity and redefine what identities can be in real time.
Dancing for hours late at night builds community building. Feeling reenergized through connection with music and people is empowering. The ease of leading, responding, co-creating with dance partners in real time connects me with my sense of fearlessness. And being part of a dynamic, moving dance floor as a collective while being celebrated by the community within is deeply healing.