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Strollin’, eatin’, drinkin’, joustin’ and, oh yeah, dancin’ in the streets
Cleveland--The 23rd year of Dancin’ in the Streets took off on August 26, bringing thousands to the “gayborhood” of Clifton Boulevard on Cleveland’s west side.
There was some heavy rain early in the day during set-up, but by the time the gates officially opened, clouds were a thing of the past.
“Judy and I were so hysterically upset that we almost wanted to throw ourselves in front of the circulator [transit bus] when it started raining, but then the sun came out,” said David Peifer of Club Cleveland, one of the organizers of the event. “Judy” is Judy Price, formerly of the AIDS Taskforce of Greater Cleveland, the beneficiary of Dancin’.
Price moved to Baltimore about two years ago, but returns periodically to help organize the street festival and other events.
With music provided by Doug Burkhart of Grand Poo-Bah’s Records, Rob Black, Robin Harris and “Cleveland’s own special DJ” Rob Ganem, it was a full day of high energy dance music that kept people moving, even those on the sidewalks away from the dance area in the middle of the street.
Peifer was especially impressed with the efforts of Larry Parsons, who ran the office at the event, and new volunteer coordinator Vicci Simpkins.
“She was fabulous,” he said. “It was one less thing I had to deal with this year.”
He estimated a volunteer crew of 80 to 85 people, who kept things running smoothly throughout the day, from admissions to drink tickets to tear-down.
There were also booths for the AIDS Taskforce, Progressive Urban Real Estate and the new store Kitsch City. In addition, a booth collecting signatures to overturn an anti-stripper bill was staffed by three friendly and engaging young women whose eyes flashed red every time the they heard name of Phil Burress, the Cincinnati-area anti-gay activist who pushed for the law.
A booth selling traditional and chicken gyros, souvlaki and baklava did a brisk business, although the crowds also provided a boost for nearby restaurants.
While the mechanical bull from the 2005 festival did not make its return this year, the climbing wall and jousting arena were back, providing an athletic outlet other than dancing.
The 20th anniversary event in 2004 marked the end of Dancin’ in the Streets as an official, AIDS Taskforce-planned event. It had started as a dance party on West Ninth Street before morphing into a larger, circuit-style party held in Tower City Ampitheater. Years of declining attendance and rising costs, however, resulted in the decision to end the event.
The following year, however, John Katsaros of Twist, Peifer and Gregg Wittbeck began planning a return to its roots as a street party, with the aid of Price.
The first year brought about 2,000 people to Clifton Boulevard between West 116th and West 117th Street. Last year saw about a 20 percent drop in attendance because of rain, but the sun and warmth this year meant that the fuller crowds of 2005 returned.
Peifer said there are still sponsor checks to be collected and ticket stubs to be counted, so final figures for attendance and funds raised are not yet available, but he and Katsaros are pleased with the preliminary results.
Peifer thinks that the organizers have formulated a winning event. When asked about possible changes in the future, he said, “I don’t think there’s really much to change. We just want to keep it simple and fun, which is what Dancin’ is all about, see people you haven’t seen in a while, have a good time and pledge your commitment to the AIDS Taskforce.”
He also noted that, since the move to Clifton, he’s noticed more women at the event, and that they tend to show up earlier in the day than the “dancing boys.”
The one change they would like to make, obviously, is to get even more people out for Dancin’ in the future.
“Community turnout was great this year, but the feeling is that we can pack that entire block in, then we’ll expand it,” Peifer said. “Hopefully we’ll be on four or five blocks down Clifton in a few years.”