Just as writers need blank paper and painters need blank canvases, communities need accessible open space to gather and celebrate. Public dances are examples of active community-making art that manifests itself through the people themselves. Although these kinds of ephemeral social events or artistic “products” are much harder to assess than tangible works of art, they are nonetheless important and vital masterpieces in our cultural consciousness.
This is why a simple parking lot, free of cars and open to all ages and abilities in our community, can potentially be as important as any book or painting. This is what happened last Saturday when Kairos Alive! teamed with the MN Historical Society, Malamanya, and Centro Tyrone Guzman Community Center to bring an intercultural and intergenerational Dance Hall to the Latin American Community. Together, with over 150+ people from over 10 countries, we transformed a “blank canvas” of rough and cracked asphalt into a colorful and meaningful moving picture! Although fleeting, the event endures as a memory that is both a legitimate work of art and an education in the transfer of legacy.
The experience of elders dancing with their grandchildren, families gathering around their grandparents and young and old alike moving in unison to a common beat upon common ground is more than social entertainment. It is a fundamental proclamation of core social values, a demonstration of cultural resiliency and an experimental practice of peaceful interrelated living.
Far from being only a creative exercise, I experienced authentic mentoring when two elder men at the end of the dance requested that the drummer (a young man in his 30s) drum especially for them; they wanted to keep dancing! Soon they were tearing up the parking lot with their elegant footwork and passionate spirit! I watched with awe as these two elder men held the attention of every younger man in the band. When they invited me to join them, I felt for just a few brief moments a feeling of brotherhood and male solidarity that I seldom experience.
A powerful exchange happened for me in that moment, in that parking lot, and I am not the same because of it. Although I hardly speak Spanish, music and dance served as a language that enabled me to communicate with these men and learn how to be a little bolder, a little bigger and a little freer.
When they left, both men expressed how happy and young they felt! Could it be that they needed us too? I don’t know, but I am certain not to forget the memories we made together on that parking lot canvas. Like my favorite works of art that enrich my life, I’ll remember that Saturday afternoon on Chicago Avenue as being more colorful and more joyful because they were there.
Kairos Alive! Lead Teaching Artist
Please take a moment to watch me join the elders in a parking lot dance!