Fran Moulton, 80, shimmied in her chair to the hip-hop beat at the Soul Line Dance Party in Kensington on Feb. 23, surrounded by others dancing in their seats.
The Richmond resident was one of about 50 people who gathered at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Berkeley to enjoy the public event, held by the church’s Social Justice Council especially for people of size and people with disabilities.
“I came because I knew I could dance sitting down,” said Moulton, who uses a cane. Moulton, one of the church’s six chaplains, has a dance background; she started in ballet at age 5 and progressed to modern dance while majoring in psychology at the University of Wisconsin. The event gave her a chance to rock out again.
The party, which was open to all, began with a potluck. Next, there was line dance instruction by Ifasina T.L. Clear, a Bay Area dance instructor specializing in accessible activities.
“We are all going to dance in our chairs at some point,” Clear told the group as they arranged their chairs in a semicircle in a large meeting room at the church, which despite its Berkeley appellation is located in Kensington.
“Now we will open our hearts,” said Clear, who was wearing a black net top over a bright red tunic. Sitting in front of the group, with Afrobeat music thumping in the background, she placed her right hand over her heart.
As the group followed suit, she flung her right arm to the right, then placed her left hand over the right side of her chest, repeating the gesture on the left side. It was a dance move almost anyone could copy, and the folks in attendance, including a number of seniors and a handful of rambunctious children, did so with gusto.
The church has a longstanding tradition of incorporating dance and the arts in worship, and for decades has held a singalong Messiah before Christmas and “Love Songs and Chocolate” around Valentine’s Day.
Founded in 1891 as the First Unitarian Church of Berkeley, the church moved to its present 8-acre site in Kensington in 1961. It has about 400 members, and is co-ministered by a husband-and-wife team, Revs. Kristin and Christian Schmidt.
At one point, a young boy suggested dimming the lights, and Clear responded, “The lights will stay on.” She added, “Matthew was trying to have us up in the club,” getting a laugh from the participants.
The entire group did the heart-opening exercise seated, and then Clear moved on to the line dance. A space on the side was reserved for chair-dancers.
After considerable effort, the instructor was able to group the standing dancers into four lines, then led them in a sassy walk across the floor.
“It’s all about how you feel about yourself. You’re flirting with everyone in the room,” Clear said.
Moulton was clearly having a great time in her chair, using her dance expertise to embellish the simple moves.
Next, the instructor taught the group the moves to “my favorite dance, Body Language,” composed mostly of a few steps to the left and right and a bodacious hip-switch. This dance was followed by the Wobble.
“It’s good to have a church that doesn’t just have services, but has dancing as well,” noted Elaine Dockens of Richmond, who often attends events at the church but is not a member. “This was fun.”
Erica Jones and Cynthia Perkins of Concord don’t belong to the Unitarian Church, but attended the event to take part in the dance event. The two said they have taken classes with Clear before.
“No matter what size or ability you are, whether you need to dance seated or standing, (Clear) teaches you to dance with a sense of joy,” Jones said.