A piazza for dance, and community
- Published: June 30, 2011
Bringing people together to dance under an open sky resonates on many levels for Judith Wolert-Maldonado, who’s organized outdoor Dance Piazzas in the village every other Saturday night this summer.
First, she sees the event as a way of building community.
“I think of this as cultivating community through dance,” she said in a recent interview. “I like the word “cultivate” because it’s like feeding the community. It means building stronger relationships between neighbors and friends.”
And a dance piazza also honors Wolert-Maldonado’s family heritage in Argentina, a country in which most towns feature outdoor squares where people dance every weekend.
They do now, that is. For many years under Argentina’s past military dictorship, any sort of outdoor gathering was outlawed. So the festive celebrations that she remembered as a child abruptly stopped, to be replaced by soldiers standing on street corners with guns.
But now dance plazas are returning to Argentina, and for Wolert-Maldonado, and many of her Argentinian cousins, these events are now also a symbol of human freedom.
All of these factors came together for Wolert-Maldonado this summer, with the bi-monthly Dance Piazzas she’s organized at the Art Park at 100 Corry Street. The events take place at 7 p.m. on the first and third Saturdays of the month, with the next event, featuring the bhangra dance of India, on July 2.
“It’s all free,” she said in a recent interview. “I just want people to come out and dance.”
The idea for holding an outdoor dance event in Yellow Springs sprang from a conversation Wolert-Maldonado had several years ago with villager Marybeth Wolf, who has Italian roots. Both women fondly recalled the outdoor community dances they’d attended in their respective home countries, called dance piazzas in Italy and plazas in Argentina. They lamented the lack of such community events in this country.
“So I thought, we should just make one here,” Wolert-Maldonado, also known as DJ Juju, said.
Two summers ago, with a grant from the Arts Council, Wolert-Maldonado organized the first series of Dance Piazzas at 100 Corry.
This year, she again felt the call to organize the events. Having moved to Yellow Springs in 1996 to attend Antioch College, Wolert-Maldonado said she loves this community, but recently began longing for the ethnic diversity of north New Jersey, where she grew up.
“I thought, I’ll try to bring some of that here,” she said. “It’s my way of dealing with missing the East Coast and Buenos Aires and my own ethnic community.”
Consequently, the dance piazza events showcase a variety of ethnic dances, and dance professionals. Each event starts with a lesson from 7–8 p.m., followed by DJ Juju spinning Latin and world tunes.
In May the series began with Middle Eastern belly dance, and earlier this month Lali Chaves of Puerto Rico taught the salsa and merengue. International folk dances were taught on June 18.
At the next dance piazza, on July 2, Karanvir Singh will teach the bhangra of India, and Jill Christie of the Dayton Ballroom Dance Club will teach swing dance on July 16.
The Nuestro Orgullo youth dance troupe will teach Mexican folk dances on August 6 and Brent Del Bianco and Mariya Tarakanova of Louisville will teach and perform flamenco on August 20. On September 3, BabaaRita Clark of Columbus will teach West African drum and dance, and Dayton musician Rick Good, formerly of Rhythm in Shoes, will teach Appalachian clogging and play old time music on September 17.
Following the instruction each time, DJ Juju spins a mix of Latin and world music that reflects the music that became her own first love.
“The first sounds and rhythms that shaped DJ Juju’s musical tastes came from the scratchy and well-loved recordings of diverse Argentine folk artists, Argentine tango and South American cumbias in the heaps of vinyl records that her father could fit into his suitcase when he left his homeland for good,” she has written.
While two years ago Wolert-Maldonado relied on friends and volunteers to teach dances, this time around she wanted to bring expert dancers to Yellow Springs.
“This year, I wanted to pull out the stops,” she said.
She feels strongly that artists should be paid for their efforts and though most are coming for a reduced fee, the total amount she’ll pay runs into the thousands of dollars. She’s so far snagged a $300 grant from the Arts Council, but that’s all. It’s a big risk, but Wolert-Maldonado is willing to take it.
“I decided this is happening, no matter what,” she said.
She’s actively looking for corporate sponsors — so far she has two, Toxic Beauty Records and the Arts Council — and also welcomes donations. And if anyone is looking for something to do at around 6 p.m. on the first and third Saturdays, she’d be grateful for help schlepping her DJ equipment and canopy.
“People think a large group is organizing these,” she said. “Really, it’s me.”
Wolert-Maldonado is willing to tote her DJ equipment and take a financial risk because she believes strongly in the power of dance, not just to bring people together but to understand other cultures. She hopes that dance piazza participants learn something about the countries whose dances they’ll try.
“If you can’t travel there, why not learn their dances?” she said.
She emphasizes that you don’t have to have a partner or be a good dancer to come to the piazzas. And all ages are welcome. While in this country dancing is often associated with young people, in Argentina the public squares are filled with middle-aged and elderly couples who have been dancing together for years.
“In Latin America, you dance until you can’t walk anymore,” she said.
So DJ Juju welcomes to the dance piazza the young and old, the single and coupled, the graceful and flat-footed. All you need is a willingness to take a risk and try something new, she said.
And those who don’t want to dance can come too, to experience the music and movement of worlds very different from their own.
“I feel honored,” she said, “for our village to be receiving these people who are sharing their dances with us.”