A liberating experience

A liberating experience
By NEELY STEINBERG  |  April 16, 2008

SHOELESS, NOT BRALESS: The author gets down, and simultaneously, funks it up.

In 1968, with the hippie Zeitgeist in full swing, a lively bunch of locals began meeting weekly on the Cambridge Commons to dance freeform to the wild drumbeats. The gatherings eventually became known as Dance Freedom. Decades later, the locals are still dancing every Wednesday night, though drummers have been replaced by DJs and the venue has moved indoors, to Cambridge’s First Congregational Church. This past Wednesday, April 9, marked an important milestone for Dance Freedom, a music-and-dance experience that has attracted thousands over the years. It was the group’s 40th-anniversary extravaganza.

When my sister-in-law, Danna, first told me about these weekly boogie jams, I couldn’t help but chuckle. I envisioned a bunch of hippies with hair down to their asses, bouncing around, trying to relive the glory days of Woodstock and the fabled Summer of Love. Tickled as I was by the concept, it’s not the type of social event at which you’d ever find me.

Eventually, though, my amusement gave way to curiosity, prompting me to suck it up, slap on my finest commune threads, and head on over to the anniversary party for a little rug-cutting session. Though I contemplated going balls to the wall — braless and deodorant-free — my modern-day sensibilities got the better of me: a pair of headlights and stinky armpits was where I drew the line.

When I arrived at the church, I was greeted by an intoxicating aroma of patchouli, BO, and a few other unidentified odors. No matter, because everyone was disarmingly friendly and inviting. Attendees were giving one another long hugs, stroking each other, meditating — acts that, for a newbie such as myself, were deemed both awkward and comforting. Another refreshing aspect of Dance Freedom’s environment was the sartorial autonomy — you can dress like a socialite or a schlep or anywhere in between. The people there just don’t give a shit. There’s no judgment, no pretension.

Before the bulk of patrons showed up, a man approached me. “May I dance with you?” he politely asked. I grabbed hold of his hands and we moved together for several minutes to a New Age tune. “Listen to your heart, feel your soul, let the child within you come out,” he cooed. I had no idea what the hell he was talking about, and frankly, I was half-mortified. But wouldn’t you know it: 30 seconds later, we were artfully weaving across the dance floor together. I was free to move my body however I wanted without derision from onlookers. Soon, I threw my initial inhibitions to the wind, and actually started to enjoy myself.

A large dance circle started the official festivities, and by 9 pm the party was in full gear. By this point, the hall was packed with all sorts of people — baby boomers, students, even corporate-looking types. The DJs varied their music selections, playing rock, reggae, pop, and R&B. People danced in different ways — salsa, hip hop, free-form, in groups, alone. One man, who could have been the poster child for spandex, seemed to spend the entire night perfecting the tango-gone-bad. Eventually, I met a 30-year Dance Freedom veteran who, upon asking him to dance, picked me up and spun me around like a tetherball. Classic.

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