The birth of the Dance Free movement began out doors on the Cambridge Commons, Cambridge, MA, in the mid sixties when the Town Fathers granted permission for festivals to take place each Sunday afternoon throughout the summer. Rock and folk concerts were held on one side and drum and flue jams took place on the other side of the Commons. These spontaneous jams inspired many people of all ages, backgrounds, and ethnicities to dance freely alone, together, in small groups, and huge circles barefoot on the grass and ecstatic in the sun.
In 1968, Ted Moynihan, an artist, dancer and drummer asked Revered Kenny of Christ Church across the street from the Commons, if the church would allow weekly Wednesday night gatherings where the free-style dancing could continue on a year-round basis. He did and DanceFree was born.
DanceFree first met in the basement of the church’s rec hall with Ted’s equipment, music, and theatrical sets. By 1969, it outgrew the basement and moved upstairs into the church’s main hall. At that point, DanceFree was run by David Wood he created, a light show, longer periods for dancing and a half-hour “middle” (for guided creative movement activities and theater games) In the fall of 1969, Roz McClellan ran DanceFree for a few months until she departed for the Lama Foundation. She enhanced the light show and DanceFreee’s numbers continued to grow to about 60-80 regulars.
Then, in early December 1969, Allison Binder (Marshak), a creative movement/expressive arts specialist became DanceFree’s artistic director. Under her 17-year guidance DanceFree was transformed into what she called a “sacred space-not in the religious sense- rather as a precious ritual for the community to come together through dance and music to celebrate and revere life, humanity, our planets, and the cosmos.” Inspired by what she can only describe as a mystical, visionary experience which occurred while she was dancing-free with a group of strangers to drums and flutes outdoors in the UCLA Berkeley’s Sproul Plaza, she imbued DanceFree with a vision that saw “creative dance as a powerful vehicle for the expression of universal love, joy, creativity, human unity, as well as for healing, higher consciousness, and spiritual transformation.”
She understood that DanceFree was a place where “dance was for all the people” and purposefully sought to attract diverse participants where adults of all ages, races, creeds, etc could come together in peace and joy to celebrate life through dance. After a half-hour Best of Boston television segment on WGBH’s Channel 2 featuring DanceFree in 1970, the number of participants swelled way beyond the 180 maximum with lines waiting to attend stretching down the street into Harvard Square. Throughout the seventeen years the numbers averaged between 140-165 people each Wednesday night.
Allison believed in DanceFree as an art form with a beginning, middle, and end as well as the importance of preparing the body and soul for the ritual in the beginning and also for grounding the ecstatic energy at the end in order for participants to leave with their “feet on the ground.” So, in addition to the two one hour free-dance segments to taped music and the half-hour middles, she added the beginning half-hour meditation/warm-up and the 15 minutes of chanting/sing-a-longs at the end. She dramatically increased the light show to over 25 projectors including carousel, special effects, and movie projectors; expanded the concept of the middle to include occasional guest performances from artists in the Boston area; created a yearly talent show put on by members of the DanceFree community; 4 annual costume balls with seasonal themes; and organized many outings for the community to spend time together beyond the Wednesday event. She also created many DanceFree benefits for a variety of organizations throughout New England, and put on yearly DanceFree-By-The-River for the Cambridge River Festival.
In 1971 Allison began an additional Friday DanceFree at Boston University, then at M.I.T. and finally from 1973-1976 at the Joy of Movement Center (the birthplace of Dance Friday when she no longer chose to run DanceFree on Friday nights) which she co-founded with Ken Estridge in 1973. Under her leadership, the sounds & tunes were terrific, the middles were magical, the light show was spectacular and the Berkeley vision became manifest. Scores of participants became best friends and many marriages occurred. During the seventies, a DanceFree commune was formed.
By DanceFree’s tenth anniversary in 1978, the movement had spread across the country and around the world. Participants took the idea and established DanceFree like events in Northampton, New Haven, New York City, Tucson, Miami, Santa Monica, San Francisco, and Honolulu Hawaii and in Amsterdam, London, Jerusalem, Buenos Aires, and Poona, India to name a few.
Under the auspices of The Joy of Movement Center in 1973, DanceFree became a non-profit organization and the name DanceFree was trademarked. Then at the end of 1985, Allison married and moved to the Washington DC area. She invited Litty Medalia and Alan Lee, participants from the very beginning, to beome the new leaders and upon their agreement, passed on a written form of the vision that been given to her that long ago day in Berkeley, CA. Because she planned to begin DanceFree in D.C. she asked Litty and Alan to find a new name for the Wednesday event at Christ Church. And, so DanceFreedom came into being in 1986.” Incorporating as a 501c3 nonprofit in 1987.