Music is Love and Dance Is Life

The second season of Dance Is Life came to an end in Central Park, with an extra dose of musical magic from Soul In The Horn

By Alisha Petro  |  Photos by Tharuis Lee and Stephen McFadden

DJ Natasha Diggs hops off stage to strike a pose with John Rinaldi at the Dance Is Life season finale. Photo by Tharuis Lee

On any given Monday in Central Park, you’ll hear a symphony of sounds—birds chirping, cars honking, children laughing. But on Monday, September 12th, there was another layer of harmony. It was the season finale of Dance Is Life, an intergenerational dance party celebrating the Hustle, hosted by close friends Natasha Diggs and Abdiel. On this particular Monday, there would be horns, drums, and the sounds of a community singing in joy while rejoicing in dance.

Approaching the bandshell, I hear the lyrics, “Let’s go dancin, let’s go have some fun!” until I’m surrounded by a crowd of people dancing their hearts out. “The chance we get to come alive…is when we go out after our 9 to 5…” the lyrics continue. Partners spin around dancing the Hustle to disco and house music, as roller skaters glide by. Natasha does her signature twirl behind the turntables, while dancers jump onstage for their moment to shine. When the timing is right, she quickly abandons her decks for the dancefloor below, sprinting back for the next transition.

Dance Is Life founders, Natasha Diggs and Abdiel, dance on stage at the Naumberg Bandshell. Photos by Stephen McFadden
Sal Rentas (left) has combined his two passions, roller skates and Hustle, since the 1970s. Photo by Stephen McFadden
Mr. Magique does his signature move—Hustling with multiple dance partners at once. Photo by Tharuis Lee

Meanwhile, Abdiel shares a dance with nearly every guest that arrives—alternating from lead to follow, between different styles of dance—as if each dance were created custom for each partner. In Hustle, traditional gender roles are shattered, with women leading other women (and men), and vice versa. Many dancers switch between the two roles, sometimes mid-dance. It’s this freedom of expression that has made Hustle such a welcoming form of partner dance, since its creation in the early 1970s.

Soon, the sounds of horns and drums join this NYC symphony, and guests are joyously lost in the music. Soul in the Horn has arrived, and DProsper has brought the talented Mazi and Khaz with him, for a one-of-a-kind performance.

Although the end of summer is near and it’s getting dark earlier, the energy grows stronger and brighter. The dancers and music seemingly become one, with the crowd cheering at the end of songs like “I Want You” by Marvin Gaye. The applause is as much for themselves as it is for the performance—a cheer of joy and togetherness. After many near-last songs, Natasha puts the real one on, “Free” by Deniece Williams. The track ends, but the lyrics continue. “I’ve just got to be me, free, freeeeeeee,” the crowd breaks into song, with shouts of “New York City!” and “My hometown!” sent into the stars. 

Mazi from Soul in the Horn on the trombone. Photo by Stephen McFadden
Khaz from Soul in the Horn on the drums. Photo by Stephen McFadden
Abdiel takes turns dancing with party guests. Photos by Tharuis Lee
The Naumberg Bandshell at dusk. Photo by Stephen McFadden

The magic of Dance Is Life began last year, on February 14, 2021, a Valentine’s special on www.soulinthehorn.com. The stream aired early on a Sunday afternoon, allowing families to participate, and included a brief Hustle lesson by professional dancer Abdiel. An avid participant on the SITH weekly Global Vibrations stream, Abdiel had taken the “zoom room” to the next level with flawless Hustle moves, alongside Natasha Diggs as virtual DJ. A local NYC movement had gone global, with people around the world dancing together in harmony, while learning about this vibrant partner dance, born during the disco era in NYC.

Memories near Bethesda Fountain from the first season. Video stills by Alisha Petro

Natasha and Abdiel took the next step, moving the event from online to real life, to Bethesda Fountain in Central Park, where large crowds historically danced Hustle in the 1970s. The party continued every other Monday through summer, to return annually. Both the Soul in the Horn and Hustle dance communities instantly caught on, as did visitors of the park who stumbled upon the party. Dancers started bringing their children, as they did on the Valentine’s Day live stream. This unique combination of ages and backgrounds, formed the Dance Is Life community that we embrace today. The stream continues via Natasha’s Instagram Live, where viewers watch each party in awe. This perfect harmony of friends and strangers—in person and online, local and global—makes one message loud and clear. “DANCE IS LIFE.”

Dance Is Life plans on returning to Bethesda Fountain in Summer of 2023. Follow @danceislifenyc on Instagram for future party announcements and coverage from past events.

The Dance Is Life community gathers at the end of the finale for a group photo. Photo by Stephen McFadden
Abdiel and Gianna connect on the dancefloor. Photo by Tharuis Lee
Gemma and Gil dance the Hustle. Photo by Stephen McFadden
Natasha Diggs at the turntables, streaming her view of the dancers on Instagram Live. Photo by Stephen McFadden
The stage is open for all at Dance Is Life. Photo by Tharuis Lee
Manon and Perez share a moment in freeform dance. Photo by Stephen McFadden
The crowd joyously dances past sundown. Photo by Tharuis Lee
Sound system and lighting for Dance Is Life is generously provided by Karlala Sound System (@karlalamusic). Photo by Stephen McFadden