A Brooklyn Beat

By Abigail Jones

Beneath a canopy of trees shading a makeshift dance floor, Justin Carter spins disco music that carries over the Gowanus Canal’s murky water, down Carroll Street, past the brownstones, tricycles, and misplaced luxury condos, until it reaches the sidewalk, pulling me closer toward a Brooklyn summer afternoon. It’s Labor Day weekend. It’s also the conclusion of the Sunday Best series, a weekly dance party held all summer at the BKLYN Yard, a ramshackle, verdant lot on the banks of the canal. Every Sunday, huaraches, sangria, and hours of daytime dancing attract hipsters, house-heads, and wannabes — and, this time, me.

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A security guard glances at my ID, studies me noticeably longer, and then nods. I’m in. Ten bucks later, I enter a sprawling, disheveled world that is miles (and at least ten subway stops) from my usual stomping ground. Loud, pulsating music reverberates off the brick buildings that tower around the lot. Most are covered in graffiti, and to the left, a rusting blue bridge hovers above water that has grown toxic after decades of sewage and industrial sludge. Here among the wreckage — countless fold-up chairs arranged in misshapen circles, beat-up, torn-open furniture, sticky picnic tables — the scene comes alive.

The crowd is thick with girls in oversized sunglasses and outfits I didn’t even know could be outfits. Boys sport skinny jeans and checkered shirts — or forgiving jeans, potbellies, and checkered shirts. Burgeoning hipster families tote babies and mutts. There is every race, color, and tattoo imaginable, because anyone belongs here, even me, my running sneakers, and boot-cut jeans (circa 2002).

From within this colorful human palate, disco music rises. At the mouth of the dance floor, Carter hovers between the turntables and records. He is short, soft, and bearded, wearing Nantucket reds and a striped t-shirt. He manipulates the music with ease, a wordless stream of beats and crescendos. His head bounces, and as the song intensifies, Carter’s shoulders lurch forward, his spine bending into a gentle C.

The dance floor is nothing more than a slab of concrete beneath trees, Christmas lights, and a dangling disco ball. Yet it heaves with people, and as I watch from a brown leather chair, the mob grows genderless. All I see are arms shaking. Floral patterns spinning. Shaved heads and anorexic bodies (on both guys and girls) pulsing. Someone wearing a bracelet made of bullets gyrates against anything that moves. And there, two guys light a joint, sucking hard and exhaling towards a barefoot toddler.

Unexpectedly, I hear words. Words! “I’m in…into your love.”  Beat. Beat. “I’m in…into your love.”

Everyone chants along, including me, and as the afternoon bleeds into evening, I start to feel what they’ve felt this entire time: an intense desire to dance. I abandon my chair and submerge myself into that sandpit of sweaty strangers. Carter may be the main attraction, but we feed his music, and as the disco ball twirls above our heads, the song beats louder, harder, until just like that, it’s time to go home.

Filed Under: Reflections

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