For International Dance Day, today we fondly share remembrances of the Dance Liberation Front.
20+ years ago (circa 1999), all of the performers and producers from Surf Reality and Collective Unconscious formed the Dance Liberation Front to protest then-Mayor Giuliani’s resurrection of the city’s antiquated and unfair cabaret laws, which stipulated that no venue that sold liquor could allow dancing on the premises without a special license, under penalty of fines, arrest, closure, etc (I think that’s how it went.). If someone was caught dancing in your joint. It was Puritanical and pointless and existed only to be misused. The law was finally overturned a few years ago, a development that was greeted with great joy by the city’s theatrical community, especially the folks in alternative theatre, the variety arts and the burlesque community, for obvious reasons.
Though I had a regular vaudeville show at Surf Reality, and participated in these joyful protests, which weren’t just protests, but dance-ins, I was far from being one of the movers and shakers (you can only catch a couple glimpses of me in Tom Tenney’s video below and in the photo above) but I wrote about it for several papers–that was my way of doing my bit. (I’m not much of a dancer, but you can see me in full costume towards the back in some scenes in the video.). Tom Tenney’s record catches actions in Times Square and Orchard Street, as well as planning sessions etc . This was back when a protest could be pretty fun, and these ones in particular were meant to be precisely that. At one of the actions, dozens of passers by were induced into doing the hokey-pokey.
Beyond the issue itself, the value of this footage is that it captures an entire movement of performers at a certain moment in time, the Lower East Side’s alternative comedy and variety scene, comedians, musicians, performance artists, actors, etc of the turn of the last century. People like Rev Jen Miller, Faceboy, Michele Carlo, Reverend Hank Flynn, and dozens of others. I’m still friends wiith many of them, but most have scattered to the four winds geographically, so seeing them all in the same place is a bit of a mind blower. Tom Tenney, who took the video, and Rob Prichard, who ran Surf Reality, nowadays produce Radio Free Brooklyn.