Smile Politely

Dance Music Therapy gives you life

“Just the view, the atmosphere, everybody is doing their own thing, but they’re also taking in the music in different ways.”

Virginia Smith-Hayes and I noticed a lot of the same things when sitting in Crystal Lake Park Saturday afternoon. And we both agreed what brought us out was 100 percent needed and worthwhile. It was both of our first times at Dance Music Therapy, and I hadn’t been to that park in a while, but with temperatures in the upper 70’s and the sun shining down, I couldn’t have gone on a better day. 

I came before everything was set up, so it was nice to experience the quiet and calm of the lake water and people paddle boarding or canoeing by, and then the transition of energy changing once the music started playing, and the event officially kicked off.

Terrance Stevenson, Kamau Grantham, and Mikki Johnson serve as DJs and organizers for Dance Music Therapy. The event got its start in 2016 with CU Change Makers, a local group using art and entrepreneurship to further social justice, as a response to some hardships within the community. Stevenson, also an advisor at the University of Illinois, told me they thought, “it would be a safe space for people to hear good music and share good fellowship.” Now the event has grown to be sponsored by the Urbana Park District, Krannert, and at this session, a community group teamed up with them to donate supplies to the school district. But their love for the power of music isn’t something new.

Grantham grew up in the 70’s, and the music his father played around the house had a huge influence on him. From there his passion grew, and he got into DJing at college where he captured moods through mixes he knew his friends would like. He hasn’t looked back since.

Stevenson started DJing at the age of 13, and recalls his first official gig being his eighth grade dance. For both men, DJing is a true passion. “I’d do it for free…It’s nice to get paid… but I’d do it for free. This kind of was our gift to the community.”

This was my first time attending Dance Music Therapy, and meeting Stevenson and Grantham, but I could tell that music and DJing is deeply rooted in them, and something they get joy from. I observed both of them often dancing along with the music and laughing with people walking by or sitting down.

In some cultures seeking therapy is seen as a sign of weakness, or it’s seen as a waste to pay to talk with someone about their problems. I asked what they feel the power/benefits of music and dance coming together are therapeutic. Grantham is also a licensed clinical psychologist and admits that the first thing that comes to most minds when they hear the word “therapy” is sitting on a couch talking to someone about their problems. While he says that is beneficial, “I think there are other ways to get therapy, which to me is really about healing yourself…but I also think music can be therapeutic, art can be therapeutic, building community and talking with other people can be. So we’re putting that all under one umbrella here, we kind of put it all together.”

You never know what has gone on in a person’s day before you see them in a particular moment. So to see so many people in the moment swaying to the music, dancing, and smiling, was really a great vibe. There was a little boy out on the lake with his family standing up on the back of a paddleboard dancing. Although I don’t know how safe that was, I couldn’t help but smile. Stevenson says, “The right song at the right time can literally change your entire space, your entire mood. Our goal is to provide music with a message that gives you something to think about.  There’s energy in what we play, and people get it. That’s the therapeutic side of things.”

I enjoyed singing along to some songs I knew, but I was still able to get into the ones I didn’t. The music was always easy to follow, but I was curious about the genre selection. The flyer says Deep House, World Beats, Rare Grooves, and Disco. So we talked about how they chose the music of Dance Music Therapy. According to Grantham, “I think music has the power to heal, music that has a message and a certain vibe is welcoming…I think house music comes out of that community of love and acceptance…we honor that tradition and respect all people, there’s a message in the music.”

I immediately got the message that these three men are putting out into the community: Dance Music Therapy is a place where you are invited to come as you are, and enjoy others’ company while listening to good music.

Now of course you can’t forget the dance in Dance Music Therapy, but they say it’s nothing to get nervous over if you don’t consider yourself a dancer. Grantham told me you don’t have to “be a background dancer for Beyoncé, or dance like Childish Gambino to be out here. I’m not much of a dancer myself, but what attracted me to this is the fact that people can come out and be themselves. If you’re having a good time and if you’re feeling it, that’s all that matters.”

Stevenson was thinking in the same way. “I’d say dance like nobody is watching, because chances are, nobody is watching. It’s not a dance competition, not a class, it’s a space for you to express yourself.”

The main goal for Dance Music Therapy is to continue to grow. Stevenson and Grantham both admit they are open to more partnerships and meeting with marketing associates. Eventually they want to become a festival in the area. The event is kid friendly, so they make sure the music is censored. People bring grills, but this time C & C Kitchen had a food truck and I indulged in a shrimp po’ boy with fries. At Dance Music Therapy you really get to enjoy what the lake and park have to offer, all while listening to music that’s bound to put you in a good mood. There are two more sessions this summer. I won’t miss my beat!

Photos by Anisa McClinton

Dance Music Therapy
Crystal Lake Park
206 W Park St, Urbana, IL, 61801
August 4th
September 8th
2 p.m- 10 p.m.

Correction: The last Dance Music Therapy for the summer is on September 1st, not the 8th as shown on the graphic.

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