Wanna dance?

For five days in September, in a storefront furnished with a single bed and four tvs on Front Street in the South Street Seaport, performance artist Brian Lobel danced to showtunes for eight hours a day and invited passersby to join him. Below, Lobel talks about the piece, “Hold My Hand and We’re Halfway There,” which was sponsored by the Lower Manhattan Cultural Coun­cil’s Swing Space program.
“Hold My Hand and We’re Halfway There” is about the pleasure of dancing by yourself in your bedroom—but it’s more complex than that.
Some people dance by themselves in their bedroom because they don’t have friends or because they feel alone and isolated. Other people dance by themselves because they’re isolating themselves and want to listen to “The Wiz” completely uninterrupted. So it’s about both of those: the duality of are you alone or are you lonely?
This room is not so far from the dimensions of the bedroom where I grew up. I would often put on one of my mother’s records of musicals, choreographing them, thinking that I was a star, making something shining and shimmering.
I would have been so embarrassed had anyone ever seen it but those were really good and formative times. I think they helped make me an artist.
There are a lot of people who are isolated for a period and do great things. But it can also be really scary. During my performance, I isolate myself, show that isolation, and ask people to interrupt it. They can see that being isolated for so long is potentially scary—my feet bleed, for example, and I smell, no matter how much deodorant I put on.
Doing this was also a reminder about the world economy that is so scary. Ten percent of Americans are out of work, so there are a lot of people at home, isolated, looking for jobs, sending out resumes, sitting by themselves.
“Hold my hand and we’re halfway there” was always a very magical sentence to me. There was this idea that there was something beautiful about community that could take you farther than if you are alone.
I beckon people to come in because the world has told them not to, because there’s a layer of ickiness that they have to get through. Most people just walk by and don’t stop. Some people just stand outside and watch, That’s fine, in some way that’s joining me.
Sometimes I wished more people would come in because it’s much easier to dance with other people: you dance off of them, you look at them, you have fun with them. Being alone if you’re not really feeling the song is a chore.
I found that people liked to dance to the twisting scene in “Pulp Fiction,” and “Grease” and “Dirty Dancing” are popular because everyone knows them. “A Chorus Line,” which makes everyone feel like a star, is also good.
I had cancer when I was younger and something about being ill is that your body is on display for everyone. I think it’s similar for pregnant women. People see really obvious signs of differences or specialness and they think about it, they want to touch it.
The experience of illness made me more comfortable with the literalness of people watching my body—whether I liked it or didn’t like it, whether I was comfortable or uncomfortable with it.
But I definitely do still feel embarrassed sometimes. Today a lot of big guys were setting up a market nearby, and I know this probably sounds really heterophobic, but I felt really namby pamby.
When I performed this piece in London,  a kid actually stood in front of me and made fun of the way I was moving and talking and I had that terrible memory from childhood of being made fun of. And then all of a sudden I thought, “You know what? I don’t care and there are people who will join me.”
There is a long tradition of endurance and performance work and I’m trying in some way to nod to those pieces.
But what I’m also hoping to do is add  a little bit of humor, and also to make it accessibile to anyone who happens to be passing by. I want to say to people: however you want to join the work, you’re welcome.