Delve into an alternative realm where dance and music coalesce, attracting free, footloose spirits. Sally R. Sommer’s documentary “Check Your Body At The Door” provides rare footage of the underground House scene of the 1990s and intimate interviews with pioneer House dancers. Like New York City, its place of origin, House dance is a melting pot containing elements of Salsa, African circle dancing, Funk, and more.
To ‘check your body at the door’ means to leave all baggage at the door and to enjoy one’s self to the fullest. Underground clubs were a safe haven where ‘Clubheads,’ as the dancers proudly called themselves, could escape after working 9-5 jobs.
The documentary explains the differences between House dancing and Hip-Hop, shatters negative media portrayals of underground clubs, and clarifies how these sanctuaries provided more than a place to dance; for many dancers, underground clubs were a means to get off the streets, break cultural reins, and explore artistry via movement.
The film’s colorful subjects range from Co-producer Archie Burnett, who wore out his mother’s rug with his dancing, to the late Willi Ninja who also appeared in “Paris is Burning.”
Hit the play button and be prepared to be mesmerized by hypnotic hand and head spins. Follow the ‘Clubheads’ and find out why House is also called freedom dancing.
An Interview with Sally R. Sommer, Executive Producer of ‘Check Your Body At The Door’ and Professor at The School of Dance at Florida State University:
Sammi Lim for The Dance Enthusiast: Any project spanning 30-years is definitely a labor of love. When you first decided to produce “Check Your Body At The Door,” did you estimate its long-running duration? While many might have lapsed into boredom, how did you stay self-motivated?
Sally R. Sommer: I began thinking we’d knock this film out in two or three years. Naïvely, we did not gather 85% of the moneybefore starting to shoot. This put us in the position of jumping from one little clump of money to the next, going on hiatus in between, as I raced to submit the next round of grants. This “labor of love” went on for 19 years.
The National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), and (NIPAD), National Initiative to Preserve America’s Dance, a project of the Pew Charitable Trust, generously supported the project — however any grant needs about two years between the writing, submission, review, approval and ultimate receipt of funds. And no project will get funded year after year. Had I been making a documentary about the poor beggar outside the club (socially PC) I could have been fully-funded. But a film about clubs? And club dancing? Never! Not politically correct.
Production crews came and went. But the dancers remained stable and “there.” The ‘Check Your Body’ group had births, deaths and MIAs, but the dancers remained true and loyal; we had forged a family based on respect and love of good dancing. Simple and straightforward.
I got physically tired, but never bored. These people are endlessly fascinating to me as friends and movers. They are my chosen family.