Mix It Up at After Hours Dance Camp in Winston-Salem
By Chesley Polk
It’s 2017 and the world is still imperfectly awesome. Winston-Salem clearly aims to add to the awesome. The city is filled with creative minds that offer reminders of self-expression and fun. For Julianne Harper, UNCSA Dance Alum and Downtown Person-to-Know, dance is not only her profession, it is an outlet, and now, she’s sharing her joy with others.
On the third Wednesday of each month, Julianne hosts an After-Hours Dance Camp at PAZ Studios on popular Trade Street. This, however, is no ordinary dance camp. This is a party, usually beginning before the studio. The scene:
A diverse group of women and men meet up at Single Brothers, a downtown favorite, and get into the spirit over a cocktail, glass of wine, or just a few excited laughs. You can feel the nerves of the newcomers and sense the excited readiness of the returning bunch. Julianne joins the group and gets to know the new ladies while sharing favorite memories of classes past with those who make a point to come every month. As party time draws near, there is one last “cheers” from the group followed by a joyful jaunt to PAZ studios, practically next door.
Once in the door, the sounds of Michael Jackson, Madonna, or Beyoncé can be heard with such infectious beats the room cannot help but swish a hip or shimmy a shoulder. The shoes begin to come off and we ascend the stairs to a studio filled with strong and beautiful women and men, all ready to leave everything at the door. At the door, tossed away, you’ll find any fear of judgement, self-judgement, and the insecurities that connect us all (maybe more than anything). In their place, you find respect, confidence, joy, and a reminder of what it is like to live uninhibited and have some fun.
People find their spots in the room and Julianne leads the group through what she refers to as a “guided dance party” where there are no expectations, no requirements; no right, no wrong. There is no pressure to prove anything to anyone other than yourself because, as she puts it, “We are all queens tonight!” There is a warm-up to get the hips, and shoulders, and necks, and toes, and eyebrows, and every other possible body part warm. The movements swing from sharp and synchronized to slow and seductive, as smiles leap from every face in the room. A sense of community is immediate. The group moves toward the studio windows that peek over Trade Street. The studio, from this angle, is reminiscent of a beautiful wooden runway. The group swishes hips and shimmies shoulders as, like a glorious stampede, we strut from window to wall. Laughs echo throughout the studio, almost drowning out the music. The room is glowing – both from the joy being exuded and from the reflective beads of sweat that form serving as proof of the physical benefits of the party.
As the party goes on, Julianne introduces some choreography. She makes steady mention that her body cannot do what other bodies can, nor can our bodies do what her body can; an important reminder for the many “non-dancers” in the room. We learn bits of choreography at a time. Between bits, we are moving throughout the room, sometimes landing beside an old friend, sometimes beside a stranger. As the group gets lost in the moment, it becomes apparent that strangers have become friends and friends have bonded even closer. After the choreography, or our rendition of it, is learned, the chance to show off arrives. Julianne splits the group in half. While one group struts its stuff, the others urge them on. As this party wraps up, the quiet energy we began with is replaced with joyous laughter and a hug from each person.
Julianne and I move to Single Brothers for a glass of wine and a recap. She mentions what drove her to start the project.
“We don’t move in public anymore,” she begins. “We stifle our movements to present ourselves in a certain way. We fight our impulses out of fear or doubt resulting in a lack of this expressive form of communication called movement. I want to see more people feeling confident in public. Belly up to new experiences, not the bar. I want to see people alive.” As she completes this thought, as if Wes Anderson were directing our night like a movie, in come several ladies from class. Some carry drinks, others just a smile. We are not noticed but, we notice them. They are all moving, dancing, being alive. Julianne and I share a glance and she whispers, “like that.”
Wanna go? If you’d like to join the party, come March 15 and every third Wednesday of the month. The cost of the camp is $10. Meet at Single Brothers between 8-8:30pm where Julianne will join you. The party wraps around 10:30pm. Find the Camp and Julianne on Facebook. She also offers an adult tap class on Monday nights and hopes to have an After-Hours Dance Camp focusing on some more masculine movements soon.
– Chesley Polk is a teacher, writer, director, and actor with a BFA from UNC School of the Arts. Follow him on Instagram at @chesleywesleypolkadot.