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No shoes, no drugs, no judgment: Greenfield Greendance by Dance Spree kicks off

  • Attendees of the Greenfield Greendance Dance Spree event freestyle dance at the Episcopal Church of Saints James and Andrew on Saturday, Jan. 6, 2018 in Greenfield. RECORDER STAFF/DAN LITTLE

  • Nika Fotopulos dances with her 3-year-old daughter, Ella Iacona. RECORDER STAFF/DAN LITTLE

  • Rick Stone, of Greenfield, freestyle dances during the Greenfield Greendance Dance Spree event at the Episcopal Church of Saints James and Andrew on Saturday, Jan. 6, 2018 in Greenfield. RECORDER STAFF/DAN LITTLE

  • DJ Nikos Marmaras plays music during the Greenfield Greendance Dance Spree event. RECORDER STAFF/DAN LITTLE

  • Attendees of the Greenfield Greendance Dance Spree event join together in a circle dance at the Episcopal Church of Saints James and Andrew on Saturday, Jan. 6, 2018 in Greenfield. RECORDER STAFF/DAN LITTLE

  • Rakia Chandler, left, dances with Petrus Slaghekke during the Greenfield Greendance Dance Spree. RECORDER STAFF/DAN LITTLE

  • Rakia Chandler, from left, Petrus Slaghekke and Rick Stone freestyle dance during the Greenfield Greendance Dance Spree event at the Episcopal Church of Saints James and Andrew on Jan. 6 in Greenfield. RECORDER STAFF/DAN LITTLE

  • Nika Fotopulos dances with her 3-year-old daughter Ella Iacona during the Greenfield Greendance Dance Spree event at the Episcopal Church of Saints James and Andrew on Saturday, Jan. 6, 2018 in Greenfield. RECORDER STAFF/DAN LITTLE

  • Rakia Chandler, from left, Petrus Slaghekke, Jasper Lapienski and Rick Stone freestyle dance during the Greenfield Greendance Dance Spree event at the Episcopal Church of Saints James and Andrew on Saturday, Jan. 6, 2018 in Greenfield. RECORDER STAFF/DAN LITTLE



Recorder Staff
Thursday, January 25, 2018

GREENFIELD — Women sway and swing to low, mellow music in a bohemian atmosphere. A young couple dances sensually only to dance separately with a second man when he cuts in. A long-haired man prances back and forth, completely independent of the folks around him.

No, this wasn’t at the Woodstock festival in 1969. This was at the Episcopal Church of Saints James and Andrew in Greenfield earlier this month.

The first installment of Greenfield Greendance by Dance Spree was held Jan. 6. Dance Spree is the third-oldest freestyle boogie in the world. Originating 40 years ago in Northampton — it remains vibrant to this day— it is a not-for-profit, all-volunteer organization dedicated to providing a safe space for people to dance like nobody’s watching — because they’re not.

“It’s been the catalyst for a lot of other things in my life, a lot of friendships. It leads to finding out other things,” says organizer Jasper Lapienski. “One thing I think is important is that there are many hundreds and thousands of organizations around the world that, to some extent, (trace their roots) back to Dance Spree.”

About an hour into the Jan. 6 event, one of the organization’s founders, Dick McLeester walks in. Before cutting loose on the dance floor, inside the dimly lit building that hosts part of the church’s Mistletoe Mart and Craft Faire each year, McLeester explains how Dance Spree came to be.

He explains he and others living in the Amherst/Northampton area in the 1970s visited Dance Free in Boston and decided to try it out in western Mass.

“Basically, the idea is, ‘Create a space for open-ended dancing. Do a wide variety of music,’” he said. “I’m pleased that it lasted.”

Like a high school dance, most people showed up fashionably late on Jan. 6 and moseyed onto the dance floor in their own good time. There’s one strict rule at Dance Spree — no shoes, no drugs, no judgment. You are allowed to bring footwear, but it is not permitted past the check-in table. Dancing with socks on is allowed.

“When most people are dancing barefoot … if you track sand and mud into the room, it creates a big problem,” Lapienski says.

Dance Spree remains faithful to its commitment of all attendees being substance-free before and during an event. This dates back to its founding.

“At the time, there was really no place to go for adults who didn’t want to drink alcohol and smoke cigarettes. A big motivator of its origin was people wanted to create a space where you could go and be social with people of any age because once you take alcohol out of the mix, there’s no IDs requested, (there’s) no age limit,” Lapienski says.

The music coming from DJ Nikos’ setup was soulful and exotic, the type that makes worry and pain melt away. Participants danced the way the music made them. The only things missing were incense and Ravi Shankar. In contrast to the event’s slow pace, kids ran around the room, gaining speed to slide on their knees. There is no structure to the ordeal — people chat and have side conversations while they dance, sometimes stopping to talk more simply.

Eventually, Lapienski declares it is “halftime” and invited everyone to sit in a circle. People introduced themselves and Lapienski explained the history and culture of Dance Spree. He stressed the importance of the straightedge environment and introduced friend Rakia Chandler, who offered to sing a song she wrote. Chandler, sitting on and beating a conga drum she placed parallel to the ground, explained she recently fulfilled a dream by moving to western Massachusetts from the Boston area. She encourageed everyone to sing the song’s refrain with her.

“So grateful to be home (So grateful to be home) / Here with you (Here with you),” the attendees sang with Chandler.

The song was rife with Biblical references, including how Chandler has been searching for redemption “ever since the Red Sea parted” and how she longs for the days of the Garden of Eden “when it was all good/So we can eat from the tree of life.”

When the song ended, people in circle thanked Chandler for sharing and she got a side-hug from Lapienski. Attendees held hands and sauntered around the room while DJ Nikos played “Imagine” by John Lennon before the freestyle dancing continued.

“It’s something that should be in every community. But in a lot of places in the country, there’s not something like this available, unfortunately,” said McLeester, who also founded the now-defunct Food For Thought Books, a not-for-profit bookstore in Amherst. “I just think it’s a good thing for people to be able to dance and move and have that freedom and to be able to feel like that can be a regular part of our lives and our communities.”

Dance on

Greenfield Greendance is expected to continue almost every Saturday night, and Friday-night Dance Sprees in Northampton will continue. Greedance will be canceled due to other special events, such as April 21, when Dance Spree turns 40 years old. According to its website, the goal of the Greenfield event is to bring more dance to an under-served region, making it more accessible to people in Greenfield, Shelburne Falls, Montague, and Brattleboro, Vt. Some of those people are wife and husband, Nika Fotopulos and Mike Iacona of Guilford, Vt., who brought 3-year-old daughter, Ella, on Jan. 6. Fotopulos said they often attend the Northampton event because it is child-friendly and “we like to dance.”

They say they plan to come back.

“There’s not a dance like this in Brattleboro,” Iacona said.

Lapienski took over management of the organization on Dec. 30, 2016. He had started attending with his father in January 2002, when he was 11, and has been going on a regular basis ever since.

“There was long period of time, through the ’80s and probably through the ’90s, too, where you had two choices — you could go to a bar or a club, or you could go to Dance Spree,” he says. “It’s really hard for me to find anyone with 25 miles of Northampton who has not been (to Dance Spree) in the past 40 years.”

If you go ...

Admission costs $5 to $10, depending on how much they can afford. Lapienski says some people pay more to subsidize costs for others. Ages 9 and under get in free. A season pass gets you in for three months — for Greenfield, it’s $20; for Northampton, it’s $30. Lapienski says the fees pay mostly for equipment upkeep.

Dance Spree is a member dance of Dance New England, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that hosts an annual 10-day, all-ages summer camp.