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Film: "Check Your Body at the Door"


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This event is part of "African American Dance: Form, Function and Style!", sponsored by the Theater and Dance Department, Five College Dance Department, Arts at Amherst Initiative, Office of Diversity and Inclusion, Center for Community Engagement and African and Caribbean Students Union.

About the Film: This project was begun in 1990, when little serious attention was being given to underground House dancers. Club footage from 1980 and early 1990 showed hundreds of torsos bouncing to music, but few dancing bodies. "Check Your Body at the Door" is a large project involving 30 years (and counting) of shared relationships and histories, many people, and a lot of thinking, planning, teaching, watching, plus hours and hours of dancing – and years of filming. Its mission is to educate people about underground-club House dancing, and dancers: Through the film and and workshops.

The phrase “check your body at the door” came from the dancers. It means all sorts of things. Check your body at the door so your spirit can be free. For Brahms “Bravo” Lafortune it means “at some point tonight, I am going to lose my mind. That’s what I came here to do: to lose my mind.” For Archie Burnett “you take your attitude, your baggage, and all of that, and ‘check it at the door’ and go into the club a totally different person…aggravation free, stress free, life-problem free.” Check your body at the door also means being frisked, or, “Check it out,” it’s good. Burnett explains the metaphysics: "You give up something of yourself in order to get something...and it’s a good way to let the establishment know you come in peace."

Production began in 1992, initially funded by the National Endowment for the Arts/Dance Heritage Initiative. Directed by co-conspirator and House dancer/skater, the late Michael Schwartz (d.1994) of "Character Generators," filming was done in every available type of equipment from 16mm, Super8, and many different sizes of video cameras on many different kinds of celluloid. It was filmed in the clubs and at Lincoln Center Clark Studio Theater. An 11-minute trailer was edited by Gary Bradley in 1994. In 1996 director and artist, Charles Atlas, joined the project along with Bobbi Tsumagari as co-producer. Important footage was filmed 1996-7 in the clubs, on the jobs and with families by Charles Gelber’s crew of Gelber Television. Director Atlas and Photography Director Paul Brown finished filming in 1998 and Atlas’s edited, final rough-cut of Check Your Body at the Door was completed, September 1999. In 2007 Marc Ray did additional pickup footage. Then in 2009 Shoko Letton began finalizing-editing. In 2007 Alessandra Larson joined the team as co-producer and managed seeing it through to release in 2012.


Free and open to the Amherst and Five College Community.