What follows is a selection of photographs, along with the stories of the friends, neighbours and chance acquaintances. All the people are connected with one another, meaningful for some allusive reason. A bit like why so many of us love to dance to music.
Robyn is a copy writer originally from the north of England. She is a single mother of a five-year-old and has minimal family support. Her quiet demeanour belies the best sense of humour in town and a strong moral compass. I value her deeply as a friend. Her father was very sick when we did this shoot and it turned out he only had a few days left to live. He died before she could visit him to share last words.
We choose to shoot in front of her couch – the picture above the desk reads: “Don’t forget you are sitting on a chair on a planet in an infinite universe we hardly know anything about.” This sets the scene.
“I haven’t danced in years. And I miss it,” she tells me as we turn up Prince’s Controversy. She didn’t need any coaxing. A transformation occurs – passionate, bold, playful. Prince grants Robyn permission to let it all go.
Inge is a stylist. When I enter their home the shoot becomes a collaboration, working with her to accentuate the photographic opportunities that present themselves. It’s very creative and doing this with Inge was great fun. We settle on shooting in the bedroom, a mysterious space covered in drapes, DJ decks conveniently at the foot of the bed. She tells me how much she likes the layers. “I loved this project so much,” she tells me after the shoot. “Because you aren’t posing when you’re really dancing.”
Aron has become one of my closest friends. A journalist, DJ and writer. His mother was a celebrated author who suffered a very public fall from grace. It’s an experience that scarred Aron, but has also led him along a path of self-discovery and forgiveness, defining his identity afresh since his mother died of cancer last year. At one point during our shoot Aron drops Roy Davis Jr’s Gabriel, which he’d played once at club with his mother standing next to him. It is the single moment he recalls where music was the glue that bonded them.
My neighbours at No 5. You’d struggle to find a pretentious bone in their bodies. Stien built her house with her bare hands, in spite of the naysayers, reconnecting with her father in the process. Her father used to live in a squat for many years, living at a distance from one another, but working on the house has brought them in sync.
They call him WikiPedro, you want to be on his side in a pub quiz. Pedro has been my sidekick on many a dancefloor and always has a party planned. Which is funny considering his day job, high up in the ministry managing politicians and what not.
Geer, left, is an arts fundraiser and activist, Bart an executive director. Together they overcame their obstacles and fears of heteronormative standards to create a beautiful bustling home for the whole family of seven: four homosexual parents – the two gay dads and two lesbian mums – and three young kids. They are the first to speak out against the injustices done to others in the LGBTQI community and testament to the mistruths about the nuclear family as a necessary unit at the heart of society. Whitney Houston’s Million Dollar Bill whisks us all to the happy place where we play in their loft apartment dancefloor, dancing around jumping with joy.
The first to jump at the chance to dance in their living room, no questions asked. “Music is everything to me. Everything,” Shayne tells me as she welcomes me into their riverside apartment. It’s almost true. She’s rather fond of her black cat, Lipstick, and her boyfriend, Olivier, too. She does not hesitate over which music to put on and it’s clear dance is a portal for Shayne. She used to work behind the bar at a major club venue and deeply misses the atmosphere, friends and music.
Olivier, ever the welcoming host, opens with: “Every time I see you I wonder why I see you so rarely.” It’s such a warm thing to say and I wonder the same, feeling gratitude for the camera in my hands, the conduit for our meeting.
Bob, 75, is from Brooklyn. It’s Raining Men, on repeat in his apartment. The one and only song he cared to dance to, and he must have danced to it 20 times. Some accomplishment considering the spinal abscess he has spent the last two years suffering from, unable to walk unaided. His health regimen this past year depends on the good deeds of friends and neighbours. A social character with a hundred stories before the starter arrives. Typically at the heart of the gay and lesbian Jewish community, lockdown has hit Bob hard. He glows at the fact he received his first vaccine dose and boasts how he’ll be immune by June.
Anne is a primary school teacher and an excellent dancer. Bas is the architect who designed my home, and all my neighbours’ homes, two of which feature in this photographic series. We won the right to buy the building from the landlord after four long years and the project has become Bas’s life’s work.
Walking into their home you soon realise Bas is not your average architect. His vast record collection of obscure music with a penchant for Indonesian psychedelic rock is punctuated only by his 70s Berlin-era synth pop setup. He’s working on a recreation of Absolute Body Control’s song Figures, which he hopes to perform live as soon as lockdown allows.
Bas tells me authoritatively that 1979 by the Smashing Pumpkins is the best track to dance to ever made, which he and Anne go on to prove.
Impeccable music taste and my neighbours at No 11. Romeo and Juliet vibes are in the air, perhaps due to the internal balcony. She is a lawyer and singer, with a stunning voice wasted on law (my opinion). He is the first to get his hands dirty to help when required, an advertising creative in a new company and a DJ. With no offices to go to, and no clubs to DJ in, their lives have been transformed. Now parents to a young boy, they are kind, generous and conscientious. And they love music – there is a great selection of tracks as they dance in their fairytale living room.
Avigal lives alone, upstairs from her sister, and keeps herself occupied during lockdown running a shakshuka and humous takeaway service from her home. Feeding the city from her kitchen with recipes that have circulated around her family for generations. A family that centres on food. This week hadn’t gone as well with the orders and she welcomes the opportunity to dance the night away – another deep passion of Avigal’s, after a childhood wish to be a dancer. She sees the shoot as permission to be one for the evening. We turn her living room into a dancefloor and she throws herself at the project with delight and a little bit of mischievousness. “This is what music does to me,” she says, “and I hope you don’t mind twerking!”
Tamarah and Bram are two artists living up high in a skyscraper apartment. They keep it pristine, but tonight the room turns into a no-holds-barred party. “It’s the lighting,” says Tamarah. “I think I’m going to keep it this way.”