November 1-8, 2006

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'brazen' square dancers

Square Deal: 'Brazen' square dancers take to the streets.

Nūz: Santa Cruz County News Briefs

Dancing in the Streets

Santa Cruz is home to many eccentric practices, but it's hardly the first place you would expect to hear the wild yee-hawing and geometrical foot-stomping associated with one of this country's oldest dance forms. The unassuming observer may be even more surprised to find liberated square dancers busting their moves unabashedly smack-dab in the middle of a busy Pacific Avenue.

But a motley crew of about 40 'brazen' square dancers don't particularly care what you think or assume. They ignore the honking of angry motorists and the snapping cameras of amazed tourists. These square dancers came out to learn new dance moves, meet new people and enjoy themselves to some ferocious Old Timey music.

The square dancing began innocently enough on top of the Front Street parking garage on the evening of Oct. 15, before progressing southwest toward Laurel Street. Dancing took place in front ofO'Neill's surf shop, Taqueria Vallarta (where the street was taken over by the dancers for 15 to 20 minutes) and at the Santa Cruz Metro Station, before the exhausted and dwindling troupe called it a night in front of the Poet and Patriot Pub.

Some participants were new to the dance form, but many had prior experience, either from the two other brazen square dances that have taken place in the last year, or from more traditional sources.

Michael Donehoo square-danced in Athens, Ga., before coming to Santa Cruz four years ago and prefers the fresh air of Santa Cruz's streets to the stuffy auditoriums he frequented in Georgia.

"The sense of fun is amped up more when you're outside and in public. There's a sense of spontaneity, a fresh feeling that you don't get in a big expensive venue," he says. "I've gone to the bars, but I never really meet anyone. Here I danced with five people I didn't even know, and I got to kiss them."

Dancing in the busy downtown district, at no charge to participants, offered a sense of reclaiming public space rarely seen in this modern world.

Korè Bobisuthi, a Cabrillo student and first-timer at the event, says, "People were just able to walk up and join because it's available. My friend just happened to walk up and she joined for a couple of dances."

The dancers were graced by the presence of live performers, experts in the Old Timey tradition, who came from as far away as San Francisco and Napa to play pro bono.

Karen Celia Hall, fiddle player, enjoys playing for the raucous crowd of temporary street performers, but stresses that the entire event serves a higher purpose.

"Music has been co-opted by corporate and commercial interests. Music is only seen as legitimate if people make money off of it. It's like its not real if it's not coming from a CD or a big star," she says as she accepts the few scrunched-up dollar bills that have been donated. "It's important to remember that there are musicians all around us in our community. This is what public space is for. People often think the streets are for cars, but they don't have to be."

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