People can surprise you. Case in point: a person who rides a bright blue, adult-sized industrial tricycle dubbed “the trikeasarous” around San Francisco blasting Jackson 5 and Panjabi MC from the attached speakers in order to instigate impromptu dance parties and generally make people smile is someone you’d expect to be a bit wacky in person, an expectation further compounded by the fact that you have seen a picture of said person wearing a giant discoball costume and sparkly pants on Halloween. But while Amandeep Jawa, iTunes software developer and weekend dance-party-starter, certainly has a sense of humor, he has a decidedly un-wacky demeanor.
“I started flashdance to share the things I feel and love,” he says. “But unconsciously, I think it is also an expression of my politics. Flashdance is all about bringing people together.”
Flashdance is Jawa’s monthly free dance party, voted “best of the Bay” by the SF Guardian, and held in various public locations around the city. Jawa alerts potential dance party goers via email about a week before the event—soliciting music choices and convenient flashdance times. At the appointed hour, people show up to dance, and Jawa supplies the tunes. Jawa says he got the idea from visiting Paris and participating in salsa filled proto-flashdances: “I thought, ‘why not in San Francisco?’” The fact that he is very picky about music also led him to want to play DJ for the public. He calls this DJ tendency “musical imperialism.” Thus, Jawa’s 3rd discoball Halloween costume (perfected in four different iterations: Discoball 1.0 through 4.0) contained speakers built into its Styrofoam interior that had the ability to turn its wearer into a “tiny, roving dance party.” The public dance party seed had been sown, and there was no going back.
In the interest of full disclosure, I must admit that, due to illness and bad timing, I have yet to actually attend a flashdance, though I am itching to. Jawa’s accounts of the events, told both during our interview and on his blog, are an intriguing mix of the unexpected, the deeply silly, and the profound. “There are tons of memorable moments,” he says. “It’s hard to choose a few.” He recounts the reaction of tourists (flashdances invariably take place in very public locations in San Francisco, like the Civic Center, Ferry Plaza, or 16th street BART station) stopping and staring with a “what the hell is going on here?” look on their faces. “After a while, it’s like, ‘Get in here!’ and they join in.” At a recent flashdance, Jawa remembers breaking it down with a really old lady and a group of Filipino breakdancers (“People bring their moms!”). A woman had just come from a funeral with her friends, and she “needed a night out. She said it made her feel alive, and she was weeping by the end of it.”
Jawa’s antics might seem like just a bit of good natured silliness, which of course, they are, but flashdances are about more than that. An avid bike lover and urban dweller, Jawa sees the future of human life in cities: “I think cities are the only way we’re going to make this world work, and the only way cities work is by making them interesting, joyous places to live. Cities are creative and intellectual centers—that happens when you put a diverse group of people close together and let them stew. Flashdance is a celebration of what I love about people and cities.”
This has also been a more personal journey—flashdances have helped Jawa express himself and his political views in an interesting and joyful way. “There was a point when I realized, ‘No, this is just who I am. I am going to do this.’” He has been overwhelmed by the response flashdance has received. “There is such generosity,” he says, “a communal sense of joy. It brings it out of people.”
I just moved to San Francisco, after having lived in fairly rural areas for most of my life, and for me, these last few months of city living have really underscored Jawa’s emphatic city love. Late afternoon one Sunday I am walking around the Haight when I hear the telltale sounds of “Raspberry Beret” blaring through speakers somewhere behind me. I turn—it could, of course, be coming from car speakers—but there he is, Indian summer sun glinting off his electric blue adult-sized tricycle and a straw hat shading his eyes. People on the street are stopping to watch, people in their cars are honking their horns. All of us are grinning.
Is this what it feels like to fall in love with a city? I think so.
|Shruti Swamy is working toward her Masters in Fine Arts in fiction at San Francisco State University.|