No Boom Boxes Left Behind
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No Boom Boxes Left Behind

Tom and Gary's Decentralized Dance Party made its return to Toronto Wednesday night.

Two workers on a scaffold at Bay and Adelaide stared down, nonplussed, at the parade as it passed below: a long, lively procession of dancers, decked out in neon workout gear and toting dozens of boom boxes all blaring the same tune.

This spectacle, of course, was the 38th instance of the Decentralized Dance Party (DDP, for short), held in Toronto last night for just the second time. The DDP is a migratory outdoor dance, the music for which is sent via a portable FM transmitter to boom boxes in the hands of those who attend. It’s the invention of friends and Vancouver residents Tom Kuzma and Gary Lachance.

As Lachance explains it, the idea came about virtually by accident. “A whole bunch of us would just go out at night, meet up in the park, and we’d just bike all over [Vancouver],” he said. One night, a couple people brought boom boxes along, each tuned to the same frequency. “It made a really cool distributed sound effect,” Lachance remembers, “and then I had the idea of getting 100 boom boxes together, and our own transmitter, and creating what we’ve created here.”

Wednesday night’s theme was “extreme physical fitness,” and so it was in brightly-coloured and sweat-wicking layers that the soon-to-be dancers gathered near the corner of Front and York Streets at 7:30 p.m. Nearly 45 minutes later, they set off—roughly 100 strong and with Kuzma as their leader—first through Union Station, and then north on Bay Street.

They lingered (with Bon Jovi playing) by the waterfall in Cloud Gardens park, assembled briefly on the steps of Old City Hall, and flooded the rink at Nathan Phillips Square.

By 20 past nine, it was raining men, and the DDP was approaching the Albert Street entrance of the Eaton Centre. But the partygoers didn’t linger there. Instead, they passed through to Yonge Street and congregated briefly in Yonge-Dundas Square before pushing north again.

Unlike previous DDPs, Wednesday night’s party wasn’t organized solely by Kuzma and Lachance; Instead, it was put together in collaboration with the Rhubarb Festival at Alexander Street’s Buddies in Bad Times Theatre—which was also the endpoint of the event, and site of the equally dancey after-party.

They also got a helping hand from Toronto Police, who sent ten bicycle cops and a cruiser to escort the party for its duration, and to facilitate street-crossings. The police officers, for whom Kuzma had nothing but praise, seemed to be enjoying themselves as well. One, dismounted in the intersection at Queen and Yonge to stop traffic while dancers crossed the street, sang along to Human League’s “Don’t You Want Me,” her gloved hands drumming softly on the seat of her bicycle.

Organizing roaming outdoor parties will always be risky, but Lachance’s DDP manifesto condemns drunken idiocy. “We always try to keep it positive,” Kuzma told us once everyone had filed into Buddies.

“It’s all about having a really wicked time without getting aggressive and destructive,” he said. “That’s the goal.”