When a circle forms in the middle of a nightclub dance floor, it's often one of two things: Either someone in a drunken party has decided to bust out "the sprinkler" or a posse of breakdancers takes over to showcase its acrobatic power moves.
But at the Floor, a unique multi-genre dance night held every third Monday at Hollywood's King King, anything's possible (except, perhaps, the sprinkler). Because it attracts professional dancers and dance enthusiasts from all over the stylistic map, you're just as likely to glimpse a swing dance couple sweeping through the circle with flips and aerials as a pair of tango dancers gliding across in a sultry embrace, or a tap dancer banging out a jazzy freestyle duet with the band's saxophonist.
Gathering a diversity of styles was a primary motivation of the night's creators, Carolina Cerisola and Sascha Escandon, professional dancers who met in the salsa scene. When they started the Floor in 2008, they saw a need for a place where people from different corners of the dance community, who seldom cross paths, could come together.
In Los Angeles, says Escandon, "There's so many different worlds — the funk world, the salsa and the swing world, and underground flamenco — so it's very nice to get everybody in the same room and realize that we all share the same talent."
The night's focus on improvisation also sets it apart. Cerisola, who has a background in improvisational dance in genres from salsa to burlesque, wanted to replicate the spirit of La Bomba de Tiempo, an improvised percussion show from her native Argentina. She and Escandon envisioned a jam session where musicians and dancers could let loose outside of the structured demands of professional gigs.
And a jam session it is. At the Floor, everything — from the dance moves to the live music to the singing and occasional live poetry — is improvised. Saxophonist and musical director Walter Davis leads a core group of musicians (guest players often drop in) through multiple styles including Latin, R&B and hip-hop, while DJ Uniek merges his samples with the evolving sound. Though Davis and the other musicians are used to freestyling on the spot, he says, what's different at the Floor is that the musicians follow the dancers instead of the other way around.
"This is the first time we've ever had a conversation back and forth between dancers and a band," Davis says. "We create something that's comfortable for the dancers to express themselves, not just do our thing."
The back-and-forth is aided by the physical location of the band: on the floor. "That's part of the reason the name is 'the Floor,'" says Escandon. "All the musicians are on the floor and all the dancers are on the floor, and the audience is intermingled everywhere. So everyone's a participant, whether they like it or not."
The unconventional mix creates an atmosphere in which patrons feel free to experiment and break the rules. Dancers of all genres share the same music, so breakdancers might try out a merengue beat, while salsa dancers might jump into a funk number.
The common context also fosters "a conversation between genres of dance," according to Doug Silton of Pasadena, a professional West Coast swing and Lindy Hop dancer who's a regular at the Floor. One night, for example, Silton spontaneously collaborated with a house dancer, even though he'd never seen house dancing before and she didn't have partner dance experience. "We had this communication, which was great."
Lisa Bellamore of Los Feliz, a publicist for the L.A. Philharmonic and avid salsa dancer, says the Floor has expanded her dance horizons. She's been exposed to swing, tango and hustle and been challenged to give solo dancing a whirl. "I dance in a way here that I don't dance anywhere else because I feel like I can," she says.
And even though the floor is jam-packed with professional dancers, participants don't need to be pros to have a good time or get in the circle. You'll find dancers "at their best and even worst," explains Bellamore, "because there's no judgment here. Everybody just wants to dance and bring you in. It's so upbeat and positive and supportive."
For some though, the greatest pleasure comes from simply watching. With such a high level of skill on display among the pros, it's a little like tuning into the TV dance competition "So You Think You Can Dance." And the spectacle is different every time.
"You never know what you're going to get," Escandon says. "It all depends on who walks in the door."