We’re fools whether we dance or not, so we might as well dance. ~Japanese Proverb

A message from the City of Cambridge Manager’s Office:

“Put on your dancing shoes and join us as we move to the groove.”

Well, okay. If you insist.

In times of budget cuts and knotted purse strings, one gets a sense of priorities. Hats off to the City of Cambridge for continuing to prioritize the age-old communal art of getting down.

On Friday June 26, the City hosted a massive dance party on Massachusetts Avenue and the City Hall lawn. Turns out, the City knows how to throw a party – there’s no cover, age restrictions, dress code, velvet ropes, or $5 bottles of water for sale. Just townies and neighbors and friends, some of whom planned to attend, others of whom wandered up Mass Ave to investigate the music echoing through Cambridge. First conceived in 1996 as part of Cambridge’s 150th birthday celebration, popular demand and a keen sense of priority transformed the party into an annual, much-anticipated event.

The kiddos kicked off the party at 7:00, getting their grooves on before bedtime. As the sky darkened and the lights rose and swirled on City Hall’s facade, people poured in from every direction, as though summoned. Some watched from the City Hall lawn, others stood on the sidewalk, and most beelined for the street to dance away the week or June’s consuming rain.

As I circled the crowd to get my fill of people watching, I crossed to the south side of Mass Ave and noticed that the racial configuration of the crowded had changed – the party had become a microcosm of Boston’s ethnic cartography.

That’s where Michael Jackson came in.

More important than relief from the weather or stresses of the week, the dance party provided a venue for people to grieve and celebrate Michael Jackson in the most appropriate way – by breaking it down together where people normally aren’t supposed to go.

At around 9:00, the standard dance music gave way to a Michael Jackson tribute. People flooded in from the periphery, pulled toward the center, the crowd contracting like a giant jellyfish and then, after an intense guitar lick or fade out, expanding, exhaling. For about 45 minutes, hundreds of people – black, white, Asian, Hispanic, corporate, homeless, yuppie, hippie, old, young – busted a move to Way You Make Me Feel and Billie Jean. Glowing raver chicks joined a group of little girls hula hooping and compared tricks. A flashmob-esque dance to Don’t Stop Till You Get Enough broke out near Bigelow Street.

The tribute culminated in Thriller, which inspired hundreds of people to curl their hands into zombie claws and emulate the undead. What better way to honor Michael Jackson than by vamping collectively in the street?

The crowd thickened until it became nearly impossible to avoid stepping on someone’s foot or catching an elbow in the ribs. Still, people grooved on unfazed, equalized. As the night wore on, the humidity rose. Everyone danced in the sweat of his neighbor with good humor and impressive stamina. At around 10:00, a light rain began to fall. Illuminated by the green and purple spotlights, the rain looked like fat snowflakes or silver confetti falling down toward a magical place.