In the 90s I got some serious schooling in music, dance & community.
My mom worked at Hank Lopez Community Centre in East San Jose, a place that hosted B-boy jams where many legendary crews got their chops. She took me down every week and encouraged me to get involved, but as an insecure pudgy lil' white kid I was too scared to participate. I watched on the side though and saw every corner of my sprawled-out city come to the East Side to get down and dance. Later I started going to jams in Alum rock in the East Side and watched again as the Filipino's, the Mexicans, the Vietnamese, the Whites, the Blacks and all their cousins, friends and family would come get down as one, and showed more mutual respect than I can remember seeing in school. Hip-hop has a bad rep for misogyny, but it was at those jams where I first saw girls get up and be badass. Anyone who put in the work, showed dedication, and respected the culture, got respect back regardless of their colour, gender, age, religion or style. The only thing that was cheap, was talk. There was more peace and calm and genuine fun at those gatherings than I can remember anywhere else.
I was too young to put it into words then. It wasn't until I experienced that togetherness of real London Nightlife that I connected the dots. Going to parties in places like Plastic People reminded me of those days at Hank Lopez. They taught me that music and dance is our universal language, and its power is the ability to transcend all barriers the human race imposes on itself. They are the two most powerful instruments in creating unity, and defeating hate. It's hard to believe we are all so different, when everyone is rocking down to the same rhythm together. It is difficult to hate those who are hanging out, getting down, and just freaking the fuck out with you.
Over time, The #UNiTY crew has found that the various dance scenes and party scenes in London have somehow become two separate entities. The dance events catering for the various genres within the city operate within a niche microcosm The club/party scene is a big bubble of DJs, producers, promoters and people who are strictly into the music. It is very strange that both these amazing worlds, who share so many positive similarities, rarely cross. This separation runs through so many levels of our society and community. Our world is divided and many young people feel overwhelmed by the sheer amount of bad news we get bombarded with everyday. We are so divided at the moment that we have to tread on eggshells every time we have a friendly conversation with a stranger, and the discussion even tickles towards politics. We know it shouldn't be like this. We feel we are more connected than ever, but then how did Hillary Clinton get the Democratic nomination and how the fuck did Donald Trump become president of the United States?
It would seem we're not as connected as we thought we were, even in our own little communities. So many scenes are only looking inwards for inspiration, and only care about themselves and the people who care about what they do. We live in a world where the most powerful tools that link us, such as the internet, blinker us to anyone outside of our social circle who might hold a different opinion. At worst, it is a way to safely cuss out people we don't agree with. We have to learn to look outwards and not inwards. So next time you find yourself out of your comfort zone at some party that turned out a little different than expected, heed the words of a wise funky man who once said, “Free your mind and your ass will follow”. We gotta open up some minds and get more asses out there shaking. Have you ever seen someone shake their ass and be a hateful prick?
We are smart and passionate people. We are just overwhelmed. So what to do? Take some baby steps. Make small wiggles with strangers on the dance floor. Talk to people on the street. Extend hands and open doors to each other cause you know what? The power of music and dance is the power of societies coming together. All people make music, all people dance to music and all people love having fun. This is what my crew and millions of good people out there are all about.
The positive things we learn from the dance and music scenes spill out into greater society, and do effect change on an everyday level. As dancers, djs, musicians, producers, artists, and all round good eggs, we can work together to spread those fun, welcoming and inclusive vibes and project them into the wider world. It is important to help grow and spread these values because we are their custodians, and they are the most powerful forces for peace on the planet. So use it for good. Bringing together people from different scenes all over the world to boogie and laugh is our way of doing it. What is yours?
JAMuary will take place at Stour Space this Saturday HERE.
Photography courtesy of Loi Xuan Ly (from #UNiTY Crew)
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