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Theatre, Music, etc.
EVENINGS OUT

 


August 12, 2011

Late-afternoon Dancin’ brings crowds, donations

Cleveland--The 27th annual Dancin’ in the Streets benefit for the AIDS Taskforce of Greater Cleveland featured a later start time, a voluntary donation at the gate and surging attendance, bringing the event back to the fore as a major summer party in Cleveland.

“I’m going to say we had an attendance of about 4,000 people throughout the course of the day,” said organizer John Katsaros.

The start time was postponed until 3 pm this year. In previous years, it started earlier but had sparse attendance in the first few hours.

“From one to four or five, we were really kind of dead, so we opened at three this year and as soon as we started, it was packed,” he noted. “I’ve never seen it that crowded that early.”

“It was a nice, nice group of people, I have to say,” he enthused.

According to AIDS Taskforce chief executive officer Tracy Jones, the July 31 festival is expected to bring in about $22,000 to help the organization provide services to people with HIV and AIDS in the Cleveland area. In her recollection, this year is the highest-earning event, which ranged from $8,000 to this year’s $22,000, according to her estimates.

Katsaros noted a number of new faces in the crowd, which he attributed, in part, to promotion at SynergyFest, the Cleveland Synergy Foundation’s multi-sport festival that wrapped up the same day. SynergyFest materials encouraged participants to head over to Dancin’ after they were done with the athletic events.

Katsaros was also very thankful for the dunk tank, in which he was a frequent target. “I raised $175 in there myself. It was so hot that day that I loved getting dunked,” he recalled. “It felt so good.”

A dispute over the name

A controversy arose earlier this summer over the ownership of the event. After the 2009 Dancin’, Vision Video Productions’ Chris Rogers and George Honaker registered the business names “Dancin in the Streets” and “Dancing in the Streets” with the Ohio secretary of state, then asserted last year that, as owners of the name, they should be allowed to organize the event.

“Dancing in the Streets,” with a “g,” was for many years an outdoor dance party in Columbus put on by Union Station and Axis during Pride weekend. Vision Video also registered “Pride in the Streets.”

According to Katsaros and Jones, last year’s Dancin’ in the Streets, held on a Saturday night, was not successful.

“The money at the end of the event was never accounted for,” Katsaros said. “The only money I could account for were my presale tickets. The AIDS Taskforce, when everything was said and done, they received $500 from them. We don’t know what happened to the $5,200 it raised that day. It rained, so that was all it made at the gate, or the money from the presale tickets. Two weeks later they go the Taskforce with a check for $500.”

Katsaros made up for some of the shortfall with a $4,000 out-of-pocket donation to the Taskforce.

An email sent to the Gay People’s Chronicle from “Gertie Gossip” and signed “Miss Rhonda Reads” included a letter from performer Stevie Reese Desmond to the Spangle online magazine, in which Desmond asks why nobody attempted to trademark the name Dancin’ in the Streets, and “Rhonda Reads” alleged a conspiracy between Synergy and Dancin’, as well making accusations of “business identity fraud.”

Dancin’ in the Streets was started in 1985 as a benefit block party on West 9th Street in the Warehouse District. In 2004, the AIDS Taskforce decided it would no longer organize the event. Moves to larger venues like the Nautica Amphitheatre and Time Warner Pavilion meant that, despite Taskforce staff putting in hundreds of hours organizing the event, it made little money in return.

The following year, John Katsaros of Twist, David Peifer of Club Cleveland and Gregg Witbeck of Union Station decided to organize Dancin’ themselves, returning it to its roots as a street party. Since then, it has been organized independently of the Taskforce, but still reliant on the Taskforce’s insurance and license to vend beer and liquor outdoors.

“We still fiscally never walked away from the event because our insurance and our F2 [license] are necessary for the event,” Jones noted.

After the 2010 event, Vision Video announced that the 2011 Dancin’ would be held at Gordon Square, the location of the Cleveland LGBT Center.

When Katsaros and the Taskforce announced that the event was being held on Clifton Blvd., as in previous years, a fight broke out on Facebook. At one point, Honaker posted a video of photos from previous years of Dancin’ on the Taskforce’s Facebook wall, asserting the Gordon Square location. The post was deleted by Taskforce because of the location, and Vision Video rescinded an offer to “return” the name to the Taskforce.

“My partner wrote this beautiful tribute and editorial concerning 30 years of HIV/AIDS--and placed it on the CLEVELAND AIDS TASKFORCE Facebook--and your people deleted it. Consider the olive branch removed, we will continue guardianship of the name until your representatives can prove to us you are worthy of the name 'DANCIN IN THE STREETS' again!” a July 15 post on Vision Video’s Facebook wall reads.

One of the complaints about holding the event on Clifton is that Twist Social Club, located there and owned by Katsaros, benefits financially from the party. Attendees can order drinks in the bar if they do not wish to get them from the beer tent or vodka vending outside. However, Katsaros also donates thousands out-of-pocket each year. This year, he supplemented the $13,000 the event itself earned with $9,000 of his own, bringing the benefit to the Taskforce to $22,000 total.

Gordon Square, however, has no gay bars within six blocks. The Gordon Square building itself is the site of low-income apartments, so hundreds of residents would hear the thump of dance music until well after sunset.

“Where the event is located, all of the businesses are friendly and the community responds quite well to us being there,” Jones said. “We’ve never had a problem.”

Vision Video also wanted the money from the event to go to other AIDS service organizations in Lorain and Akron, although those groups hold their own fundraising events.

Next year, however, the AIDS Taskforce will return to an active role in the organizing of Dancin’ in the Streets.

“Now with new leadership and energy, we are placed to be more intricately involved in the leadership of next year’s event, and we plan to,” Jones said.

She also noted that the Taskforce had looked into copyrighting the name with the Federal Trade Commission, but it was already taken--not by Vision Video, but by a dance group. There are other Dancin’ in the Streets music and dance festivals scattered across the country, as well as a Motown revue. The name itself comes from Martha and the Vandellas’ 1964 song “Dancing in the Street,” which was covered by Van Halen in 1982 and Mick Jagger and David Bowie in 1985, among about a dozen other versions.

Neither Rogers nor Honaker returned calls for comment by press time.

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