The Freestyle Boogie is an unregulated dance form that invites each of us to be inspired by ourselves, our energies, and that of those around us. There is no caller, no steps to learn, and no intention of how each dancer must interact with other dancers, if at all. Mind and body-altering substances, such as alcohol, are prohibited, and shoes usually are too. Children are welcomed, as are men, women, transgender people, and people from all cultures and walks of life - specifically, welcomed just as they are, to dance as they please.
The first freestyle boogie in the world took place in Boston in the late 1960s. Dance Free, now called Dance Freedom, revolutionized the world of social dance by eliminating all rules, measures of skill, and formalities of dancing with others. The original format consisted of drumming, a "middle," or time to circle up, and a pre-arranged mix-tape; after that, all else was created by those in attendance. Over time, the format shifted exclusively to mix-tapes and then, beginning in the late 1990s, to live DJs, who chose songs one by one in a mutual dance with the room.
** note that as of today, Dance Freedom itself does not allow children; most other freestyle boogies do.
Dance Spree was the first freestyle boogie established outside of Boston and Cambridge. In the Spring of 1978, Steve Baumohl, having recently moved from Boston to Northampton, rallied his friends and on April 21 launched Dance Spree. In the ensuing decades, the freestyle boogie grew first to a regional phenomenon, spread to California, and is now visible around the world.
Music at a Freestyle Boogie
At most boogies, the music is produced by a Disc Jockey, or DJ. The relationship between the dance and the DJ varies - some organizations pay DJs in cash while at others they spin for fun; some dances adhere to guidelines regarding the types, volume, and variability of the music while others, such as Dance Spree, offer the DJ the same freedom to experiment as they do the dancers; some are organized by the DJs and some by community organizers who in turn recruit the DJs. Some DJs, to this day, prefer to pre-mix their playlists for greater precision, however most prefer to live in the moment, playing to their inspiration (and sometimes to requests from dancers).
Some boogies, however, use live music. Also called a dance jam, the live music is typically produced by skilled musicians who improvise as a group, weaving notes together in the same spontaneous and intuitive manner as the dancers. Dance Spree Live, the Dance Spree house band organized by Glenn Smith, puts on a few dance jams per year at Dance Spree.
Over the years, the success of the freestyle boogie inevitably meant the branching of the family tree. Contact Improvisation, a slow-moving freestyle dance involving constant physical contact between two or more dancers, grew out of the freestyle boogie in the 1980s and has since spread around the world. Sanford Lewis, creator of An Intimate Dance, the preeminent documentary film on contact improvisation, at one point frequently attended Dance Spree.
Around that time, the dance wave (more popularly known by the trademark 5Rhythms) also became popular, which formatted the music into a scheduled rise and fall of tempo that brought the energy of the dance full circle, although this required a dancer to be present for the entirety of the program. Out of the dance wave came Ecstatic Dance, favored by those who enjoyed the dance wave but wanted more flexibility with the form. Ecstatic Dance is so popular today that the term is often used in place of freestyle boogie, and in practice the two forms are often indistinguishable.
Numerous other variations exist. Many, like 5Rhythms, are either registered trademarks or otherwise the creation of one or a small group of people (such as Bioluminosity, formerly offered by Dance Spree but created and exclusively facilitated by DJ Bonnie fireUrchin).
Consent within Dance
Lacking any form and without the obligation to find partners, many people have difficulty in finding the most appropriate way to engage other dancers. Some freestyle boogies have used visual cues like colored wristbands (for "don't dance with me," "ask first," "just come dance," etc), others have displayed safety statements with lists of intentions at the entrance, and numerous other methods. At Dance Spree, we occasionally announce our intention for safe and consensual coexistence, and leave it at that.
No precaution can create a completely safe space, but because we are all dancing together, it is always vital to be sure that you have one another's permission - however you get there - when dancing together. If, at any point, a dancer feels uncomfortable or even just doesn't understand something, a manager is always present who can work to address it or try to provide clarity.
The Boogie at Dance Spree
Today, Dance Spree's particular flavor is oriented towards equality of human beings and self-direction. While street shoes are prohibited, dancers are permitted to bring dance or other indoor shoes to wear, provided they take care not to step on anyone's bare toes. We prohibit the use of drugs, alcohol, marijuana, tobacco, and sage, and request that you do not attend while drunk, high, or smelling like cigarettes.
Except for special occasions, there is no formal warm-up period at Dance Spree boogies. As former Dance Spree organizer Jimi Two Feathers always says, "It starts when you get there, and it ends when you leave" - hence, you warm up when you get there, and you dance once you're warm. We hold a halftime circle, typically around 9:00pm in Greenfield, in which we briefly greet one another and celebrate the dance. The second half begins with a circle dance, in which, for one song, all who are willing take hands and dance as one being, weaving themselves in and out. Most DJs will prepare a special song that is conducive to circle dancing.