This past Sunday, July 25th, was the 20th–and last–“Dancin’ in the Streets,” the GLBT dance party benefitting the Cleveland AIDS Task Force.
I went to the event, held this year at the Scene (formerly, Nautica) Pavilion on the west bank of the Flats, mostly out of a sense of nostalgia and memories of the past. I was present for the first Dancin’ in 1985, and, oh, how things have changed. In 1985 there was a desperation on the part of the gay community to raise funds to do something for the mostly gay men who were dying of AIDS. At that point there were no treatments, no protease inhibitors, no drug cocktails. When you got sick, you died. Period. And usually quite soon. The message was “safe sex.”
A small group of people (many of whom are now dead of AIDS themselves) organized Dancin’ as a street party for the brand new “Health Issues Task Force.” (This was before the days that AIDS could be mentioned publicly.) This was before the days of the big gay “circuit parties” and Dancin’ was a novelty, with a kind of raw energy that you don’t see much in our postmodern, metrosexual times. There was beer to drink (and lots of it) and grotesquely drunken lesbians were a regular feature. (I’m sure that there were lots of drunken gay men too, but they didn’t tend to get into cat fights on the premises. Yes, I know I’m being politically incorrect, so hold your letters.)
Dancin’ has been held in a variety of venues over the years, starting with W9th Street between St. Clair and Lakeside; the old Donald Gray Gardens, down behind the former Cleveland Municipal Stadium next to the lake (my personal favorite); the corner of Huron Road and Euclid Avenue; Mall C; the Tower City Amphitheatre.
I haven’t been to every Dancin’ over the past twenty years, but for the past couple of years it has seemed to me like an event whose time has passed. The kids who make up a lot of the crowd now were infants and toddlers when it started. The energy is gone. Circuit parties are routine. Cleveland now has a very successful gay pride parade and festival that has taken some of the reason for Dancin’ to exist. Drugs have turned AIDS for some people into a manageable disease. The original attendees and activists are either dead, burned out, or disinterested in the event. (One’s perspective at age 31 is different from 51!) A couple of years ago there was no mention at all that it was a benefit for the AIDS Task Force. At least this year, there was a recapitulation of the event’s history and why Dancin’ has been important for our community. And a plea to continue to “play safe.” Use a condom! Don’t combine drugs with sex.
So it was bittersweet for me. I’ll miss Dancin’, but sometimes you just have to move on.