In Celebration of House Dance

Inspired by a video posted by house dance legend Voodoo Ray (of him and a few of the old heads turning the Japanese on to the physical expression of house), I thought I'd return to the blogosphere with a reprint/post of a story I wrote four years ago on this unsung dance style for New York Press.  While it's primary focus is the first Annual International House Dance Festival, it's one of the rare pieces on a scene—and its history— that gets overlooked by the media. And, as an old club head myself—The Choice, Zanzibar, etc.— I wanted to represent in print.

Celebrating an Unsung Body Revolution
by Marcus Reeves
Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Thirty years after developing in underground NYC dance clubs like the Loft, the body revolution known as house dance is finally getting an aboveground celebration. This week marks the first House Dance Festival, which honors the dance style with a film screening, workshops, a dance contest and, of course, a huge party for house music enthusiasts. “We thought the artform needed to get wider recognition,” explains Kim “Red” Hayes, a member of House Dance International (HDI), the organization sponsoring the event. “We wanted to finally bring together key individuals and groups that helped create and develop house dance culture.”

Like the disco-era from which it sprang, house dance is a freeform combination of movements melding ballet, modern, tap, capoeira, salsa and, with the early 1990s infusion of breakdance moves, a touch of hip-hop. The dance never benefited from massive commercial exposure like its Bronx cousin, but gained momentum—and further evolution—with the popularity of NYC house music culture amongst the hip-hop generation in late ’80s and early ’90s. The most notable symbol of this union was the trendy and fleeting hip-hop music offshoot, hip-house.

Globally, the various styles of house dance were spread by exceptional practitioners like Ejoe Wilson, Brian “Footwork” Greene and Caleaf Sellers who’ve danced on tour behind pop music acts like Mariah Carey. While it never became popular enough to advertise products like Fruity Pebbles or Sprite, a quick YouTube of house dance will show you folks as far away as Taiwan executing the dance as deftly as their New York brethren. “New York has it own scene,” explains Hayes. “And so many places have their own scenes. We just want to bring that together so we can acknowledge what a large community we are and recognize the impact we’ve had.”

Appropriately, the festival will open with a premiere of Sally Somner’s documentary, Check Your Body at the Door, about the history of house dancing. On July 13, HDI holds preliminary dance competition rounds to choose finalists for the July 14 competition. For those looking to learn the house dance style or brush up on their technique, workshops will be held at Alvin Alley Dance Studios. Afterwards, the finals of the festival’s dance contest will take place at Club Shelter followed by an afterparty (but, of course).