Get Down Girls

At a Dance Dance Party Party event the rules are simple: no booze, no boys – and no judging. Ladies, you’re free to let loose

From Friday’s Globe and Mail

VANCOUVER — It’s a Sunday afternoon, and in a small, corner room of Vancouver’s Mount Pleasant Community Centre the fluorescent lights are switched off.

The electrifying chorus of Journey’s Don’t Stop Believin’ blasts from a portable stereo, and the roomful of women go wild.

Fists punch the air, bodies bounce, heads shake and hips shimmy. As the women jump and gyrate haphazardly around the linoleum floor, they nod at each other in encouragement and grin. This is a typical session of Dance Dance Party Party, an uninhibited, women-only dancefest that has evolved into an international phenomenon.

Two years after starting as a small New York get-together, DDPP has caught on throughout the United States and New Zealand, and in recent months new chapters have sprung up in Vancouver, Toronto and Guelph, Ont.

The concept is simple: Bring together a bunch of women, turn down the lights, pump up the music and dance.

There is no instruction, no booze, no boys and, importantly, no judging. “Like a lot of women, at any age, I wouldn’t go out dancing without my male friends. The club scene’s too aggressive, too sexual,” said Xanthe Faulkner, 25, who joined Vancouver’s inaugural DDPP session last weekend. “If one doesn’t want to be approached but one wants to dance, there’s nowhere to go.”

Rewind to 2006 and that’s precisely how DDPP’s New York founders Glennis McMurray and Marcy Girt felt. The two disliked the sexually charged atmosphere of Manhattan’s nightclubs, and they weren’t interested in enrolling in classes to get their dancing fix. So, they gathered their girlfriends together at a dance studio and DDPP was born.

As straightforward as it is, not everyone understands the concept, said Ms. McMurray, 28. She frequently hears the question, “What do you mean, you just dance?”

“Explaining it as a workout program is the best way for people to understand what it is,” she said. “But we’re really working to make it a phenomenon for women to kind of find that inner child.”

Any mention of the “inner child” is enough to make some people squirm, Ms. McMurray said, but there is definitely a childish silliness to the events. Most women haven’t cast their inhibitions aside and grooved so freely since their adolescent slumber party days, she said.

At a typical 90-minute session, each participant contributes $5 to $8 to pay for the use of the space. Participants are encouraged to DJ, so depending on who’s in charge of the music, the set list can include everything from Amy Winehouse to 50 Cent.

Sara Bynoe, who organized the Vancouver chapter, came across the idea while surfing the Internet. “I was like, ‘This sounds awesome!’ ” she said, adding that she was drawn to the notion of free-form dancing.

But the DDPP revolution may take time to pick up steam in Canada. Only 11 women, ranging in age from early 20s to mid-40s, attended the first session. But they gave enthusiastic reviews.

“It’s nice to be able to do what you want and not have to follow along [to an instructor],” said Christine Hackman, 37.

Added Ms. Faulkner: “I loved it. It’s a fantastic workout.”

These types of free-form dance parties aren’t for everyone, however, said veteran Vancouver movement instructor Jane Ellison.

As a workout, she said, they could be limiting since participants don’t learn new movement patterns or body alignment techniques. Instead, they tend to fall back on familiar moves and repeat them, so they don’t necessarily work through a full range of motion.

“But if people just want to have fun and dance, I’m all for it,” Ms. Ellison said.

In Toronto, Crissy Calhoun held her first DDPP session in early March at the Centre for the Arts. In spite of a snowstorm, seven women showed up. Ms. Calhoun expects more will turn out to future events, which she hopes to run once a month. More than 60 women are now signed up to her chapter’s Facebook group.

“At first, it was a kind of shuffle dance-y before people busted out the big moves,” Ms. Calhoun said. But after getting over their initial shyness, people were soon performing spontaneous choreography and challenging each other to dance-offs.

“It’s a freeing sort of experience because you don’t have to dance cool. You don’t have to look pretty,” she said.

Special to The Globe and Mail, April 11, 2008


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