Preview: Dancing in the Streets on 9/4


They're dancin' in Ann Arbor.

They're dancin' in Ann Arbor. / Photo from The Grand River Folk Arts Society

As a kid, I flunked jazz, tap, and ballet. I could never quite get the hang of a shuffle or a step-ball-change. And forget the ballet positions. As an adult, I tried taking ballroom dancing, and while I didn’t flunk out, I still wasn’t able to master the one-two-three rhythm without stepping on my partner’s feet.

So I figured that dancing just wasn’t in the cards for me, until a few years ago when I happened to be in downtown Ann Arbor on the Sunday before Labor Day. The streets were blocked off and people were dancing in them. But these weren’t any dances I had ever seen before: someone was calling out the steps, minimal hopping around, and there certainly weren’t any chassés with jazz hands.

While I was standing there, someone asked if I wanted to do the dance. Immediately I told him that I couldn’t dance. He asked if I could walk. Um, yeah. “Then you can do this,” said my new friend. “Come on!”

And dance friend was right—if you can walk, you can do these dances! I later found out that the style of dance I was doing was called an English Country Dance. In this type of dance, the caller tells you to do things like take hands with your partner, turn all the way around, or skip up four steps. I followed the caller’s directions and sure enough, I was dancing! When I asked my dance partner what this wondrous event was, he told me it was called Dancing in the Streets because, well, that is literally what everyone was doing.

Lucky for all of us wannabe dancers, this event takes place every Sunday before Labor Day—September 4th this year!

If the English dance doesn’t get your toes tapping, there are many other fun things to do! There will be three Maypole dances, several swing dance lessons, and concerts from local acts including Annie and Rod Capps, Blue Caledonia, and Commonwealth Collective.

The North Main stage features the international dances where dancers can receive lessons in the dances of North Africa and the Middle East, belly dancing, flamenco dancing, and international folk dance; performances will follow the instruction.

The stage on East Washington showcases Anglo-American dances such as the Scottish dances, contras, and English Country.

With this much variety, there is something for everyone! Even for those of us who still can’t do a plié.

Patti Smith is a special education teacher who lives in Ann Arbor with her husband and cats. She is the author of two books about Ann Arbor, the most recent is a history of the People’s Food Co-op. Visit her at or @TeacherPatti on Twitter.

Dancing in the Streets will take place in downtown Ann Arbor on Sunday, September 4 from 1:30-6:30 pm.