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'We ask parents to help their kids understand the vibe of the room. It's sometimes hard for kids, because they see adults doing playful things and they don't get that it's not uncontrolled exuberance going on," says Mel Lions, one of the facilitators of DanceJam, a weekly event hosted by San Diego's Center for Moving Arts. Though people of all ages are welcome, most dancers found at this Friday night freeform forum range from their thirties to fifties. "I'd love it if there were more people in their twenties," Lions says, "but that just hasn't happened yet. However, these are not the stodgy fifties; these are people who are still totally into their bodies and are enthusiastic about expressing themselves." Reflecting on the first time he attended DanceJam on his forty-fourth birthday six years ago, Lions says, "I was never really much into bars or the disco scene and never got into my body that way. But it didn't matter how awkward I moved or felt, there were smiles on people's faces and it was welcoming."

"DanceJam changed my life," says Sandy Orr, one of DanceJam's regular DJs. Orr began attending DanceJam in 1990. "It opened up a part of me that I had forgotten about...my body and heart are much more aligned than they were."

According to movingarts.net, DanceJam is "a volunteer-run, community-sponsored, open-floor dance." Some people dance with Hula-Hoops or streamers, where others prefer contact-dance improv. "Contact dance is a modern dance form that started around 1970," says Lions. "It involves dancers lifting and sharing their body weight; it's very acrobatic. That's the dance I got attracted to."

Lions describes one example of this imagery-based dance form that he learned during "the seed under the ground," an exercise to instruct dance students in interaction. "One person would be a seed and curl up into a ball and their partner would be the ground and encompass them, close them up. The seed would have to grow out of the ground, and the ground would offer resistance." The exercise ends when the "seed" is standing on its feet, having grown into a "sprout."

"This is not a meat market," says Lions, "but it's a nice way to connect with people. Babies have been born from the result of people meeting at DanceJam." Orr met her boyfriend, Todd, at DanceJam six years ago. "We have a lot of single women who come here, and they don't want to be groped or harassed. This is a safe place for them." The few times he has encountered men who have shown up drunk, Lions was able to turn them away without a scene.

"I don't think there's ever been a time when someone had to be picked up and thrown out...I suggest to whomever it is that this is something different than what they are looking for. There's never been a fight or anything that lowered the vibe like that. There's almost like an aura around this thing that keeps it protected, and I trust that."

No one genre of music dominates at DanceJam. The DJs rotate each Friday. "One guy plays a lot of techno stuff, another one plays mostly house dance music. I play the most traditional DanceJam kind of set, which is a lot more variety and a lot more international," says Orr. She enjoys worldbeat music and will also mix in Latin, African tribal, and jazz. Most DJs start the evening off with slow, ambient music and then gradually build on the music or, as Lions puts it, "Dial up the beat." Hip-hop, country-western, classic rock 'n' roll, and contemporary rock can all be heard in the same night. As new music becomes popular, DJs incorporate it into their sets. "People are there to move," says Lions. "And you can move to almost anything."

"The main thing I always look [for in music] is if it's danceable," Orr says. "These people are not professional dancers; they want stuff that's accessible." By accessible, Orr means songs in which "the beat is pretty straightforward and easy to understand." Orr sometimes steals away from the CD player to dance during one of her songs. "For me, all dance is good. I just go and do what my body feels like doing." - Barbarella

DanceJam Friday, July 29 7:30 p.m. for Contact Improv Jam 9 p.m. for DanceJam Sunset Ballroom at Claire de Lune Coffee Lounge 2906 University Avenue North Park Cost: $5 before 9:30 p.m.; $7 after Info: 619-298-2687 or www.movingarts.net

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