Over the past couple of months, I've found myself in a dozen conversations with people who are sick and tired of being sick and tired of the lack of public transportation in this Triangle area of ours. True, a plan is in the works, but in the meantime, we all continue migrating in every permutation of triangular path, alone or accompanied, in single four-wheeled gas-guzzling units. Whether or not you consciously acknowledge it, every time you get out of your car you feel just a little bit less the person you were when you got in. That's because commuting in traffic is boring, demoralizing, and makes your bum hurt on top of it all.
Regarding this fact of life, I recently had a small epiphany, which concerns this fall dance preview in the utmost: The exact opposite of, and antidote to, the ridiculous and isolating experience of commuting has to be dancing. Dance is a contact sport you enjoy and rely upon on one level or another for your very survival in this mass-mediated, corporate-subsidized, cultural fiction we call the Information Age. Hang in here, reader, there is such good news for you. Even if you don't currently know you love dance, you're getting ready to know. The dancers in your area, a group of trusty all-night-bakers-of-bliss-and-awareness, have prepared for you an array of activity designed to seduce you back into the real world. All you have to do is show up, sacrifice $5-$10, and the rest is history in the making. You don't believe? Then you've never experienced the soul-redeeming, politically awakening, ozone-friendly effects of a fine rump-shaking. The doctor is in.
Where on earth to begin? You have several options depending on your temperament and level of commitment. Do you want to study dance? Do you want to go out dancing? Do you want to watch dance? Move it or lose it. I have compiled for you a tantalizing menu of venues, resources, people and events that's tiny when compared to the girth of activity you will find once you start sniffing. The best place to begin is on the dance floor itself. Whether or not you believe it, no one is really watching you. If you can bend your knees, you are equipped to join any dance hall swarm.
In Raleigh, a great place to start is The WickedSmile, located at 511 W. Hargett Street. Call them at 888-2223 before you go to find out what the DJ is spinning, but expect traditional, early-millennium discotheque fare on most Saturday nights: happy, kinetic, jangling house music influenced by '80's and '90's dance hits and the heavier, darker rhythms of trance dance. What you'll love about the venue is the attitude the space creates. It's a children's book version of a nightclub. Two floors and well-placed mirrors allow people-gazing from anywhere in the house. Candles flicker in tiny caves along the high brick wall, and the DJs have a little plateau all their own right in the middle between floors so they can participate more directly in the flow of people. It's also easier that way to watch them at work. The lights are tricky: Every color, every size, every shape makes the foggy air look confetti-spackled.
Durham has a new bar/club called Ringside right downtown at 308 W. Main St. The owner totally renovated the space himself, and it is now a fantastical, harlequin-inspired lounge/dance hall/bar replete with checked floor, red-black-gold interior, pool tables and chaise lounges. The music is familiar dance tunes with an emphasis on the best of the '80s feel-good shake-your-fanny classics. Call 680-2100 for more information.
If you decide to hit Chapel Hill, you'll be surprised to find that Gotham, which used to be primarily an 18-and-over hangout, is kicking some serious butt on the club scene. The programming there has splendid variety, attracting the coolest, happiest queers on Friday nights for D.J. Insomnia and adepts of heavy house and trance for Radiance on Wednesday nights. They also have some phenomenal hip-hop star-DJs on a regular basis. Call 967-2852 for the current menu. Their address is 306 W. Franklin, but the doors face Rosemary Street.
Once you've started dancing socially on a regular basis, you'll want to know where you can go to start pushing the envelope of your style. Here you need to choose your influence. Durham Arts Council, 120 Morris St., offers some really good African dance classes with live drumming, as well as an excellent beginning jazz dance, ballet, a modern class, and a "contact improvisation" workshop. Call 560-ARTS for a full schedule. Also in Durham is the infamous Ninth Street Dance at 19201/2 Perry St., right next to Cosmic Cantina. There, you can study Argentine tango, hip-hop, t'ai-chi, salsa, or yoga. If you don't see anything you like, give the owner a good idea for a class she doesn't currently offer and chances are it will turn up on the schedule soon enough. Call 286-6011 to find out more. In Raleigh, there is the most excellent Arts Together located at 114 St. Mary's Street in a big gray barn. Visit their Web site because they offer a lot of kickin' dance classes: www.artstogether.org, or just call them at 828-1713.
Now you need an inroad to the vast world of artistic production and choreographic work happening around here. One of the most phenomenal organizations I have found is the ChoreoCollective. It was founded three years ago by choreographers and dancers working independently across the Triangle who wanted to end a period of artistic isolation. The Collective stands for collaboration, renewed avenues of communication within the dance community and with the community at large, and a safe space for experimentation and development of new work. Members meet every week in a schoolhouse on Highway 54 and take turns "leading," which could mean teaching technique class, guiding improvisation or directing an experiment of any kind. This fall, there will be a benefit concert at the Street Scene Teen Center that will raise money for the Center and for Choreo's March concert, dates TBA. Call Director Susan Quinn at 932-6301 for more information.
Courtney Greer of Even Exchange is organizing a showing of new work at Arts Together entitled "Come As You Are." It will take place Saturday, Sept. 9 at 8 p.m., and features the work of Heather Mims, Michelle Pearson, Kathryn Auman, Tiffany Rhynard and Karola Luttringhaus. Greer says that the function of this concert is to provide a casual, intimate gathering where dances can be shown and witnessed in a small space. As a dance teacher at Enloe High School, Greer articulated the need to set an example for her students by producing work that's stripped of the formality, size, and money that are often associated with the larger, touring companies. She says she wants to initiate a tradition of smaller dance performances in friendlier spaces, because, "In this push-button age of e-mail, voice-mail, and rapid technology, we need to illuminate and appreciate life, human contact."
Rachel Brooker, founder of the new Brookerdance, will be carrying the torch forward with two evenings of work to be shown at Ninth Street Dance on Friday and Sunday Sept. 8 and 10 at 7:30 and 5 p.m. About this work, she says simply, "I'll be exploring themes that are relevant to my life." There will be live music provided by Mark Grierson, and the suggested donation is $5, $2 for students. There will be a trio entitled "What Happens in Darkness" and a solo performed by Brooker. It should be exciting to watch these dances in such a tiny, but quite wonderful, space.
Late this month, Peter Carpenter of StreetSigns will offer "Prepare and Be Ready For," a work inspired by a painting housed at UNC-Chapel Hill's Ackland Art Museum, "Still Life with Dead Deer, Heron, and Hunting Implements," by Jan Weenix (1642-1719). Carpenter says, "This dance examines wealth, luxury, grace and death. Human mortality, grace and weakness are frequent sources of inspiration for me."
About the overall nature of his art, he continues: "I've worked to encourage people to see the spaces where they work, where they live and walk, in different ways. I want people to ask themselves whether they're seeing a pedestrian body or a dancing body. It expands our consciousness of the places where we live." On a whim, I ask him why he makes dances, and he replies, " I make dances because I can't stop making dances." Enough said. The dance will take place at 2 p.m. on Sept. 24 at the Ackland, and it's going to be riveting. Call 960-4299 for information.
Now would be a good time for you to ask yourself what you can't stop doing, and whether you like it very much. If you're content to commute and remain a nondancer, whether or not a railway materializes to provide you with a real world peopled by moving bodies, the best you can do is call the Department of Transportation. To find out what's being blueprinted, call (877) 368-4968, get a copy of the plan, and give State Transportation Secretary David McCoy a piece of your mind. In fact, we should all do just that. But once we win this little battle, the water's going to break. We can all only take so much privacy and expedience before our bodies rebel. Let's remember now how good it feels to be shimmying in real time, all of us citizens flapping in the promised land. What are you waiting for? Get outta that Honda and shake it!