Celebrate Brooklyn

It’s a fine sight to see Brooklyn dancing to Congolese music under a pink sky. The Prospect Park bandshell is right under the JFK flight path, and at every one of these free summer concerts I wonder why anyone would ever want to fly away from here.

On stage the announcer shouts a call and response.
    “What’s the national dance of Argentina?”
    “Tango,” someone yells.
    “Congo word! National dance of Brazil?”
    “Samba!”
    “Congo word! National dance of Cuba?”
    “Rhumba!”
    “Congo! Word!
    “National dance of Brooklyn?”
We are stumped.
    “Funk! Congo word!” He is beaming and sweating. “This is what Congo has given the world!”

Kanda Bongo Man comes on stage, a short, fat man in a pearly suit and boater. The backing dancers, wearing hot pink, are ripe and loose. We have just watched a Guyanese mask-wearing effigy dance wildly on stilts, then bend backwards to the floor until he lay like a scarecrow. Then he planted the stilts on the ground again, and made a great show–would he fall?–of arching back up. Those stilts were taller than a man, and the creature brought us to our feet, too.

Now the audience is standing, clapping, and dancing to Kanda Bongo Man’s music. Lesbian matrons in Bermuda shorts are jerky and abandoned, and their clumsy joy is catching. Beautiful men with dreadlocks shimmy. Plainer men bob their heads, and blocky Guatemalan toddlers march to the beat. Even the Irish girl who dances only at weddings, and then only when the father of the bride asks, dances here. Up on stage, a pair of African hips makes me blush like a virgin seeing Elvis on the Ed Sullivan Show–so that’s what this dancing thing is all about.

    “Keep it great–pay three bucks at the gate” say the signs for the Celebrate Brooklyn festival. Those three-dollar nights have been a great delight this season. I’ve seen Mexican rappers–“Mexico represenTANdo!”–and the Mark Morris Dance Company. I’ve heard the Brooklyn Symphony Orchestra play _Appalachian Spring_, and Barry Bostwick murder a brogue as an emigrant coming through Ellis Island. I missed my beloved Loser’s Lounge crew covering Bond songs before a screening of _Thunderball_, and I didn’t get to see the Alloy Orchestra accompany a Buster Keaton movie. I missed They Might Be Giants, pet band of the This American Life radio show, and saw only the soundcheck for the Neil Young Tribute on Canada Day. But I saw plenty more, and I slurped Bud next to interesting people. A furniture designer from Red Hook. A member of the Federation of Black Cowboys, who stables his horse nearby. A pair of bicycle activists, who later valet-parked my bike at another free movie under the Brooklyn Bridge.

These are my neighbors. Keep the Hamptons. I’ll take Brooklyn in the summer.

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