For the last eleven years I have been spreading the energy and culture of House Dance in Atlanta. As a House Dance Scientist studying the community led me to concluding house dance was dying a slow death.
2012-2018 Soulful house music in Atlanta was peaking and in full swing. Every summer and fall there would be an influx of DJs who popped up at obscure locations or small dope clubs and created a vibe which was spirit healing.
Sound Table was the perfect venue for a soulful house vibe. It was a restaurant which doubled as a nightclub and it only held 100-150 yet the energy created was unforgettable. I’ve heard Rich Medina and Mase (De La Soul) spin on the same night spinning house for the first time in public. Listening to a veteran DJ try to impress a small room of people is an experience which amazes the mind and tantalizes the musical pallet. We were never told who was spinning at any time but we always knew it was going to be someone who was capable of creating a wonderful experience.
Now, Music Room was only two blocks away and it was literally an underground club. Upstairs was a speakeasy fully equipped with a bookcase that hid a doorway to a back room and restaurant. Downstairs was the club and…it was dark yet had a dope lighting show, the sound ripped through the room with a crisp clarity. The energy was sexy and gritty, the floor was unfinshed but it was still sexy with a hardcore feel.
The Department Store was also on Edgewood, a two story bar with windows that allowed us to enjoy the sun every Saturday at the first and only soul house day party, Celebrate. I’ve sung at the top of my lungs with sixty other house heads as Barbara Tucker led us with the sun setting at our backs. Roland Clarke, MIranda Nicole, Dj Be, Kemit and Salah Ananse have all put us in deep states of house love in a room big enough for a cool kickback.
2014 I had been in Atlanta for three years and noticed elite house dancers were not being treated with the same honor and respect as they were in New York, Baltimore, D.C., and Chicago. There wasn’t any house dance culture. After some research I came to the conclusion there was no unity amongst the dancers causing them to not be able to create a way of life.
As an investigative method, I shot a documentary entitled Urban Spirit Dancer; it explored the House Dancer and the community’s feeling about who they are and what they do. I spoke to DJs, dancers, promoters, event goers and was able to find out a significant amount of them had only been listening to house music for a few years. At the time I had been a house dancer and studier of the culture for over 25 years giving me a deep knowledge and attachment to the house dancer culture. Originally I believed the house music community was dishonoring house dancers when in actuality it was a newly forming culture of house heads, that’s when my mission became clear. I was to help build.
I began with what I knew, (A) Imposing my way of housing was not going to yield the maximum impact. Instead I applied Inclusion, Infusing, Observing and Reshaping in the spreading of the culture. (B) This mission required me to reach a young audience as well as open up my spirit and allow a protege to appear, one who would become my guide into the deep underground community of Atlanta street dancers. Leo Ra Soul appeared and I knew I had to make it my business to become an ‘Unc/OG’ amongst the younger dancers by being in their space. This built respect between us. I didn’t have to read my resume and ask for respect. They gave it because I was giving it.
Over the next five years the process of finding young dancers to introduce to house created two interesting and unexpected facts. First, I evolved as a dancer. In spending a significant amount of time watching and participating in cyphers I was incorporating new skills into my dance as well as reshaping my house flow to suit each cypher.
The Second; I was getting resistance from house heads when I spoke of integrating the young. Actual push back for integration, I couldn’t believe how many househeads didn’t want young people around. No one I came across wanted to participate in even bringing their younger family members. I will admit I was enraged. This disconnect went against everything I stood for and knew to be a truth. Then the lock down happened. I was trapped with my anger and one morning I found myself going back to my roots in hip hop to find a peace of mind. Instead of spinning hip hop, I played house music. Music I knew contained a healing frequency. I played every morning, sometimes into the night. I played for my neighbors on my street, I played for friends at their homes. I spent eight to ten hours a day practicing beat matching and blending, a skill I admired from New York mixtape legend DJ Ron G. Ron G was the first DJ to blend classic R&B with hip hop instrumentals. Bringing two songs together is similar to dancing with a partner, something I’ve mastered.
When ATL was at its height of violent protest Piedmont Park was the meeting place and start of all the marches. I didn’t want young people to go out and protest with a violent state of mind any more, I wanted to change their frequency. I bought some speakers, called a couple of DJs I was friends with, and reached out to as many dancers as I could and we converged on Piedmont Park. I played house music while dancers from all styles got down in a cypher for six hours. We danced at the highest level and for the next few weeks there were no violent protests in the city of Atlanta. We had changed the frequency. For the next two years Love Over Violence became a safe space all dancers could come to to connect their spirits with their dance style.
Spinning house music for young dancers is what has inspired me to become a house music dj. Seeing them heal and evolve the way everyone before them has fuels my desire to be a ‘dancer’s dj’, one who creates healing house frequencies.
House dance and Hip Hop dance evolved at the same time, they are Yin and Yang or twin siblings. House Music and House Dance were dying because of the commercialization and disregard of youthful energy. I am part of a rare breed as a house dance scientist and my abilities and knowledge are being called upon. I have spent 39 years in Hip Hop and 33 years in house as dancer and customer of both. I’ve danced at Demararas, Nells, Sound Factory, The Tunnel (when it was house and hip hop) and the Palladium in New York. SoundTables, The Department Store, Music Room, 992 Gallery, 595 North, Apache Cafe, Tambor, Free Your Soul, Afrique Elecrique and House In The Park in Atlanta. My style is timeless, my knowledge is wisdom. Each One Teach One.
Each episode of House Dance Scientist will explore dancers, dance events and spiritually significant moments to grasp a deep understanding of ATL Dance Life.
Photo Courtesy of Shannon McCollum