Wednesday, January 19, 2011

WTF Wednesday - The Power of Music and Dance

Tonight I worked at the homeless shelter and had an experience that was both entertaining and touching. Let me create the setting for you. The shelter is located inside a millitary armory. The good men and women of our armed forces actually let us use their facility during the cold months to allow homeless men and women to eat and sleep there.

The inside of the shleter looks like a a gym or big room. Mats are placed next to each other. On one side of the room, women sleep. Men sleep on the other side. Blankets are passed out around 9:00PM. The men and women bring some of their belongings. Some bring sleeping bags, books, or clothes.

The place lets people come in around 6:00PM and at 7:00PM a line is formed and they are fed. The food is pretty good. Don't ask how I know.

Tonight, we had a sound system and we played 70's funk music. Real, hard-core funk music- the kind you would see played on Soul Train. Immediately the whole mood of the shelter changed. People were smiling and dancing; Whites, Black, Mexicans, everyone. One Mexican lady was dancing and encouraging staff and other homeless people to join her. "Come on join me", she kept saying.

She danced for about 1 1/2 hours straight. Different people would take turns dancing with her and later some staff members got in on the actions causing some of the homeless people to cheer the participation of anyone who dared to let loose. At one point I yelled, "Soooooooul Train" like the host used to do back in the day. One black lady smiled at that.

The joy of the music and the dancing was contagious. One Filipino guy started dancing as well. "These are the jams", he kept saying. One physically challenged lady even got in the act. She had trouble walking but she gave it her best effort to boogie the night away. She did end up falling on her ass and we all laughed. But it was all fun. One man came in using a walker and he lifted the walker up to simulate dancing.

I had two epiphanies tonight. First, I realized how tight knit these homeless people were. Many knew each other and looked out for each other. Before working with this population, I saw the "homeless" as an abstract idea. They were a concept. In time I'm seeing their humanity. Too often marginalized people become invisible metaphorically. But after seeing the same people over and over again, I have come too see their humanity. Each person has a story and unfortunately many times the stories are tragic. I overheard a lady say, "I've been through all the domestic mess for 17 years. "What made you finaly leave him", asked a staff member. "He went to jail up and I moved on. I didn't want to deal with the bloody mess again."

The other epiphany was how powerful music and dance can be to unite people. Here we were in a homeless shelter but for a moment we were all a part of a festivity. This is not only true of music and dance but of art in general which has the powerful ability to transcend. Just before leaving the shelter, the lady who had been dancing the night away turned to me and said, " I want you to remember something while you are driving home. I want you to remember to dance. o.k?"

I wont forget.


  1. This is the best post ever, Israel! You are right. Never underestimate the power of music to galvanize. People who share the common bond of adversity can shed their worries and party with the best of them when given half a chance. A good meal is the first step. The mood altering music and permission to dance, laugh and be silly is the next step. Working with these people is a valuable experience for you as well as them, Israel.

  2. Music feeds your soul and your spirit. Dancing enhances that. In the words of Ren McCormick "Let's Daaaaance!" :)

  3. A beautiful story. I can just see all those people grabbing the chance for an evening of fun, music and dance. My respect to them!

  4. That's a touching story Israel, thank you very much for sharing it with us. I need to start volunteering at a soup kitchen or homeless shelter or something.


  5. power of music....pretty deep stuff.
    Sad that they can only use the shelter during the "cold months." The rest of the year they're out of luck I suppose?

  6. I think it's awesome that you work there and I think people tend to forget they're people not just a problem and that homeless people have a community of their own, necessary to survive. Plus anything that can unite people even for a night, is a good, positive force. Music is awesome!

    I live in a city where we have minus thirty a lot in winter and I always fret about the homeless here. Where do they all go? You can't be out there for more than two minutes without thinking you have hypothermia, believe me. It's frightening. Bless you and people like you who're helping.

  7. Great story, Iz, thanks for writing this one down.

  8. Great story, Israel. Man, you have a terrific job. I can't sit still myself, when I hear good music. It just fills the soul with joy. I'm happy people got some joy that night.

  9. Ah, My most favorite blog so far! Great music, brings back memories! Though the jive talkin in the beginning of the video was hilarious. You touched my heart with the homeless. Awesome, man. Just awesome.