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UD Low Down – Dance Your Way Home: A Journey Through the Dancefloor, Book Launch, Spiritland

Jojo Jones went down to the launch of Emma Warren’s new publication, Dance Your Way Home: A Journey Through the Dancefloor, a book covering the social history of global dancefloors. For the launch event in March, Emma Warren appeared in conversation with Fitzroy “Da Buzzboy” Facey (Soul Survivors Magazine) and Marsha Marshmello (NTS) hosted by Haseeb Iqbal (Worldwide FM) at Spiritland Kings Cross

The audiophile temple of Spiritland Kings Cross is the perfect setting for this evening of music and dance worship, celebrating a sort of bible of the dancefloor – Emma Warren’s new book Dance Your Way Home: a Journey into Dance. The atmosphere is cosy and inviting, I can see bespoke cocktails being poured and warm embraces exchanged. The analogue turntables are in full swing and I can spot, amongst the small crowd, a few well known faces of London’s music, creative & literary scene. I manage to nab a small high table in the picturesque room, lit with ambient lighting and projections, where I stand enraptured for the next few hours by the words that roll around the room.

Emma Warren has been documenting and observing London – and the world’s music and dancefloor scene – for decades. This is her third body of work after publishing Make Some Space: Tuning Into Total Refreshment Centre a documentation of Lex Blondin’s extensive jazz studio & concert space, and Steam Down: How Things Begin, a pamphlet chronicling the Deptford collective & weekly jam in 2019. There is no doubt that Emma is a champion of community spaces and community feel. This book makes no detour from that; a social history into the idea of the dancefloor, asking why do we dance? And why does it feel good? So it only feels right when after host Haseeb Iqbal introduces her, Emma begins by defiantly saying “everyone in this room is in this book…” I raise my eyebrows, imagining that a lot of her contributors are in the room, which I am proven right about by the cries of support from the crowd, but, given I had never met her, how could I be in the book? I come to understand that Emma means this book was physically put on paper by her, but that it was made by, AND for, everyone who has ever moved their body to music. Reading out an expansive list of dancefloor spaces that informed the book, including many global locations, as well as most importantly, her mother’s kitchen. As Emma puts it, “yeh I wrote it, but WE wrote it”

Emma Warren has been documenting grass roots culture for decades…

Warren is joined by two other panelists Fitzyroy, co-founder of Soul Survivor Magazine and all round jazz funk soul legend, alongside Marsha aka MarshMellow, longtime NTS resident and tastemaker. Haseeb introduces Fitzroy and Marsha by asking them to share an early and more recent dancefloor memory. This question made me smile. I felt blessed to be in a space where people were qualified to sit on a panel based on how much dancing they had done, how beautiful.

Both music-lovers recall visceral stories at this question and throughout the evening, some which will really stick with me. Fitzroy illustrates the early days of The Electric Ballroom in Camden where entry was £2.50 maximum, his poison of choice was a blackcurrant lemonade, and jazz fusion was the genre of the moment. Marsha describes clinging to her mother’s legs whilst they slow danced to lovers rock. The essence and heart that went into those homegrown dancefloors is clear, reminding me of my own mum who still does most of her cooking swaying along to Toots and The Maytals. Marsha reflects on her own memories saying,  “I couldn’t wait to be an adult and be part of the slow dance…[laughs] and then rave came along…” receiving the biggest laugh of the night. Part of the beauty of this evening, and of Emma’s book, is that it is not genre exclusive. Every type of music – from Jungle to R&B, from Disco to Dubstep – is mentioned, truly asserting the power of the all encompassing dancefloor as a sacred space above bpm definition. 

Part of the beauty of this evening, and of Emma’s book, is that it is not genre exclusive. Every type of music – from Jungle to R&B, from Disco to Dubstep – is mentioned, truly asserting the power of the all encompassing dancefloor as a sacred space above bpm definition

Jojo Jones

The first question Iqbal poses to the Dance Your Way Home author, is simply “what inspired this book?” The answer, honestly, flawed me. “Dancing in the dark is a human need, dancing is medicine”. Emma says she wanted to dig down into the deep dark sea space of the dancefloor and see what she found. What struck me was that I had never really thought of the dancefloor in that way before (as a medicinal, holistic space). An area for moving to music authentically and expressively, however we feel right, a place that transcends age and culture. But moreso, Emma’s deep-dive helped uncover the idea that these spaces can help us feel connected with ourselves, with each other and with music. A feeling of ‘collective euphoria’ is often how a club or festival is described, but what Emma has tapped into is not the escapist, floating-away-from-reality, euphoric feeling, but the conscious grounding of the dancefloor. Indeed, the quote at the beginning of Dance Your Way Home reads ‘Escapism has always been an adjective used to describe the dance. That’s an outsider’s view. Solidarity is what it offers”Theo Parrish

A sentiment I hadn’t considered for a long time, was the importance of creating these dancefloor spaces for young people, especially under 18s. Haseeb mistakenly calls dancing ‘primitive’ during the discussion, which Emma quickly addresses and corrects, stating that it is actually a highly evolved act; “Dancing expresses what we can’t with words.” The value of free events for teenagers to practice being on the dancefloor would help them learn this early on, preventing being overwhelmed by clubbing culture once an 18th birthday ticks by. I wish there had been for me, and for the next generation, spaces like the ones Emma mentions in this book. The book recalls countless youth clubs, community halls and even football clubs who used to put on under 18 raves, programmed like proper club nights with successful DJs, with the aim of influencing kids to love music without the drugs. The significance of youth club culture is also expressed by Marsha, with records and sound systems being the norm in the afterschool clubs of her teenage years. Fitzroy responds similarly with tales of his 17 year old self dashing his trusty blackcurrant lemonade to dance to the hypnotic beat of ‘Planet Rock‘ by Afrika Bambaataa & Soulsonic Force. I regret not piping up in the Q&A to ask what the four music lovers thought about the future of dancefloors, and how we can sustainably keep them as alive, as they are in Emma’s book. Of course there aee dance crazes and TikTok choreography, but the feeling of being lost in the dance is one that, after this evening, I feel more passionate than ever about preserving. I remember being a 13 year old and losing my mind over the idea I could be in a room with my friends all singing and dancing along to the same song, and to be honest I still get giddy over the idea.

When asked for one record that ignites the dancefloor for them, Emma answers with ‘Salsa House‘ by Richie Rich and describes that indescribable feeling of being “just gone” whenever she hears it. When a tune you’ve been bumping in your headphones is mixed in by the DJ in the club you’re in, or screaming along with thousands of others at a festival, it’s bliss. I recently experienced this feeling afresh at the newly renovated club Koko in Camden, and felt like the 13 year old dancer in me could sleep easy. I think It’s crucial we pass on the opportunity to have that feeling to the next generation of dancefloor fillers.

In the closing questions Emma reminds us that it just takes one person to loosen up and start dancing for a space to become a dancefloor. Each panelist is asked who their dancefloor partners are, as dancing is “vulnerability and beauty mixed together” (according to Fitzroy). And  we should cherish those moments, the dancefloor, and especially those dancefloor partners who give us the courage to be there. I made sure, at the first chance I had, to message my dancefloor partner, telling them how grateful I am for them and the dances we’ve shared together. 

Emma closes the discussion by reading out the pre-epilogue of her book which I cannot try to recreate. A reading that no-one wanted to end, and I wasn’t surprised to overhear one listener express the goosebumps it gave them. I urge everyone to buy and read Emma’s book, find their dancefloor whether that be in Ibiza or your bedroom, show love to your dancefloor partner, but most importantly, keep moving in time to music.

Buy Dance your Way Home: a Journey into Dance

Follow Emma Warren HERE.

Listen to Jojo Jones on the first Wednesday of the month 11am-1pm on Voicesradio.co.uk 

@jojo_j0nes  https://www.jojojones.uk/

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