Jonathan Toubin can’t find an ironclad Boogaloo. For that matter, there’s little corroboration on the Mickey’s Monkey, or the Four Corners or the Hot Pants. And don’t even mention variations on the Zonk. One of the best-known DJs in the city, Toubin’s been seeking out videos and examples of old dances, trying to amass a catalog of 1960s and ’70s moves. They don’t always match up.
A New York nightlife staple, Toubin is embarking on a new mission: teaching the underground to dance. And dance together, no less. If you’ve been to any kind of show or club recently, you’ll know this goal might be lofty for a singles DJ obsessed with old rock and soul records (unless you’ve been to one of his legendary Soul Clap and Dance-Off competitions at Glasslands). But his mission now is that of an educator rather than a curator. On Thursday, he will officially launch Land Of 1,000 Dances, a multimedia effort that combines projections of retro dances with his collection of old soul records and live dancers—including Contortions mastermind James Chance, Kid Congo Powers and Anna Copa Cabanna—to help people learn crazes of the past.
"What was sad about The Twist was that people danced together before that," Toubin says. "These dances are the first ones people danced alone. But on the other hand, they are far less lonely than dances are today."
Toubin is trying to bring a sense of community back to nightlife, fighting against the alienation that’s seeped into cool culture. And if there’s anyone who can do it, it’s Toubin, soaked in charisma, honestly able to tout grandstand titles like America’s Favorite Soul Dance DJ—and if you read that last bit in the voice of Casey Kasem, you’re getting the drift.
On a bright and hot day, Toubin can’t walk to lunch down Grand Street in Williamsburg without running into four people he knows. He looks a little out of his element during the daylight: his hair is all tousled, his tuxedo shirt unbuttoned down his chest, his black jeans tight, his lace-ups a combination of leopard print and leather, his stubble coming in, his eyes tired. But even if he’s exhausted, you’d be hard pressed to find a more effusive personality, one as excited about a project as he. Or excited about anything really— Toubin’s smile leaks enthusiasm.
"This party is really important to me," he says. "We’ve been working on it quietly for a long time. Everything else I’ve done is sort of organic and random. And this, pragmatically, we need to do this and figure out how to do it."
He’s taking cues from dance-craze shows of the ’60s and ’70s like American Bandstand, to lead a new enterprise of rock ‘n’ roll dance. Where the Soul Clap and Dance-Off was more free form, Toubin’s aim with Land Of 1,000 Dances is to get everyone on the same page. And his vision is global: He’s recently brought his soul parties all over the world, to Israel, Mexico and even Manhattan.
"If we do this for long enough," he says, "these dances are going to become part of the culture again. People will take them to different states and different countries and they will just keep going and going."
He interrupts himself. "Aren’t these amazing by the way?" He’s talking about pupusas at a Salvadorian restaurant later. He sits across the table from Georgia Walker, winner of one Soul Clap and one of the dancers at this week’s party.
"There’s no emphasis in New York on dance and learning how to dance," Walker says.
Toubin counters: "There is, but in different communities. But not in counterculture or Downtown culture or art and fashion or Williamsburg rock ‘n’ roll culture. They have it for yuppies. You can go somewhere and learn to tango dance or some form of ballroom, but there’s nowhere to go to learn these kind of moves because they aren’t taken seriously in the dance community."
The dances’ relative simplicity lend to not just ease of learning, but also creativity. The moves they are teaching can be combined; James Brown’s Mashed Potato, for example, is far wilder than any other.
"How many mashed potatoes have we seen?" Toubin asks, sipping his watermelon juice.
"A ton," Walker says, getting up to demonstrate in the middle of the restaurant. Her cowboy boots sort of fly out to the sides alternately, and come to meet in the middle with a turned-out flair.
"It’s all in the feet, and it kind of doesn’t matter what you do with your hands. You just stomp it…" It’s the visual cues that will put this into the hands of those willing to try out the dances. Really, anyone could. And after Thursday, it seems safe to say that they will.
>> Night Of 1,000 Dances
July 14, (Le) Poisson Rouge,
158 Bleecker St. (betw. Thompson & Sullivan Sts.), www.lepoissonrouge.com; 10, $10.