When a friend invited me to the World Dance Party a couple weeks ago, my first thought was, “Is this going to be a bunch of hippie white people dancing off-beat to Putamayo CDs?”
Still, it was free, so I put my skepticism aside and made the short trek to the the New Holly Gathering Hall. And I’m glad I did.
The hall was packed with an enthusiastic crowd reflective of the eclectic 98118. The dance floor was full from wall to wall with folks from young to old, decked out in glad rags from saris to hijabs, vibrant printed head wraps to peasant skirts and Birkenstocks.
And just as diverse as the crowd, were the dishes making up the multi-ethnic potluck and the tunes spun by the DJ. From Bollywood to bachata, each song was accompanied by a volunteer dance instructor calling out the steps.
There was something brilliant about a pop-up world music night that by definition was completely inclusive. There was an energy to it, like contagious laughter, the music, the dancing, the whimsy of it all felt infectious.
As the dance leaders guided us through various movements sometimes pausing to explain the origin of a dance, I felt myself getting sucked into the groove. We danced in circles and lines, with partners, holding hands our just in our own personal orbits.
“You kind of rally people around these events because there’s food and dancing and it’s a family event,” explained Jake Hellenkamp, a resident of Columbia City who recently joined the event planning committee. “I’ve never been in an environment quite like that where there is so much positivity and everyone is just there to have a good time.”
Since its inception the planning committee has been a nebulous body including volunteers from the Vietnamese Friendship Association, the Southeast Seattle Senior Center, Union Gospel Mission, South Park Community Center, the Duwamish River Cleanup Coalition, the Central Area Senior Center Sliders dance group, and various other organizations — as well as people living in the neighborhood who just wanted to join in. Other groups like Washington Women’s Foundation and even Pepsi who have donated money, venues, or sodas to keep the parties going.
“It takes about $500-$1000 to run a party depending on the venue,” explained Tagoipah Mathno, the current chair of the planning committee.
She’s been helping to put together these events since 2011. As a resident of New Holly who grew up in the Rainier Beach area, she views these dance parties as a way to cultivate a more close knit community.
Living in the area myself, it was refreshing to be out dancing close to home. There are some good restaurants in walking distance in Rainier Beach, but normally the nearest spot to get my shimmy on is Columbia City.
“I love hearing ‘this is my first time’ or ‘this is my second or fifth or tenth time,'” Mathno said. “I love just hearing their remarks and seeing their reactions.”
So somehow once again the 98118 is getting it right in terms of thawing the Seattle freeze.
“It’s a great opportunity to experience another ethnic group’s culture through dance,” said Ian Dapiaoen, a first time party-goer, who attended with his wife and two children.
The consensus seems to be that food and dance is a winning combination that supersedes cultural differences, at least for a few hours.
The goal is to make these parties a staple of communities everywhere.
“We’re planning one dance party at a time, but what we would like to do is come up with a tool kit, a step by step so that these can be replicated,” said Hellenkamp.
And the plan seems to be gaining traction. The Shoreline Community Center just hosted their own World Dance Party and there is talk about one happening on the Eastside soon too.
The next event will be held downtown at the Seattle Center — you can find the music on May 24 from 1:00-2:00 in the Armory Loft-West.
“It’s a bummer we have such a short time slot,” said Hellenkamp, “but it is also a great way to showcase our organization for a wider audience outside of Southeast Seattle,”
To keep track of upcoming World Dance Party events, or to get involved, check out their facebook page.
Lakas Dapiaoen, 3 years old, gets down at the World Dance Party. (Vine by Ian Dapiaoen)